Rod Strickland knew Irving would be special at a young age

Kyrie Irving and the Celtics enter the 2018-19 season as the favorites in the Eastern Conference.

Former NBA point guard Rod Strickland, the godfather of Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving, says he knew Irving was going to be a special talent the first time he saw Irving play in a competitive setting.

Strickland has known the Irving family since Kyrie was in third grade. Irving’s father, Drederick, and Strickland are good friends and Strickland helped Drederick raise Kyrie after Kyrie’s mom passed away.

Strickland had seen Irving dribble the ball from time to time in the backyard and used to tell Drederick, “he’s going to make you some money.” The first time Strickland saw Irving play in an actual game was at LeBron James‘ camp and he says Irving put on an absolute show.

“My first eyes on Kyrie as a hooper, I saw him play in Springfield, Massachusetts,” Strickland told Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson on Scoop B Radio. “I mean in a competitive setting, he was at St. Pats, and then I saw him at the LeBron James camp. And once I saw him at the LeBron James camp, I mean he was ridiculous. I saw the right hand, the left hand, all the layups and how he maneuvered.

“He made passes, but he was such a gifted scorer and ball-handler that he could put the ball in the hole. But I knew he was special right away. There are some things that everybody’s not doing, so when I see somebody play with both hands, the way he was playing with it in high school, that’s special. You don’t see that a lot.”

Strickland says he’s very proud of the way Irving has developed his game and thinks Irving is one of the best players in the NBA.

“I mean just look at the game,” Strickland said. “He can shoot the ball, he finishes at the bucket, he can take contact, he has a mid-range, he can pass the ball, he checks all the boxes. And he’s physical. I handled [the ball] pretty well, and he’s got a lot more stuff than me, as far as maneuvering and getting in the paint and getting by people.”

Irving’s first season with the Celtics was cut short after he underwent season-ending knee surgery in April. Before going down, Irving was averaging 24.4 points and 5.1 assists in 60 games with the Celtics while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Irving, 26, will be an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2019 if he declines his player option and likely command a max contract. He is set to make $20.1 million in 2018-19.