“Legend in two games like I’m Pee Wee Kirkland.”
–Pusha T, Grindin’
The name Pee Wee Kirkland means a lot of things to a lot of people. For many people, he was a streetball legend/ New York City OG who did a couple of stints in the prison in the 70s and 80s. But to folks in Norfolk, VA and around the CIAA, Richard Kirkland was once the lightening-fast motor for a high-octaine Norfolk State offense that averaged more than 100 points per game nearly two decades before the 3-point line was added to the college game.
Kirkland’s time at Norfolk State has largely been the stuff of legend for years, but we got a chance to hear from the man himself in recent interview. Kirkland adds to his legend a couple of times in the piece, but what many fans may find most interesting is that he claims that John Wooden sent scouts from UCLA to basically take him from Norfolk State.
“They said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said you was the best point guard he ever seen,” Kirkland told VLad TV. “We want you to leave and come to UCLA, and next year, you‘ll be bringing the ball down, but you and Kareem will be playing together for four years. You and him will be drafted 1 and 2. We guarantee that.”
Kirkland, who had already sat out a year after playing at Kittrell (NC) Junior College, asked the scouts how he could play if he’d already sat out another year and he’d have to sit out another.
“They said we don’t recognize this basketball. Which meant, they didn’t recognize black college basketball at the time,” he said.”
“I said, I’m not going,” Kirkland said. “I’m not leaving here.”
Here are four other interesting takeaways from the interview.
He almost followed Earl Monroe’s footsteps at Winston-Salem State
I had the choice to there or Winston-Salem. Either with Big House Gaines at Winston-Salem or Coach (Ernie) Fears at Norfolk State.
He sacrificed to fit coach Ernie Fears’ system
“When I went to Norfolk, the coach told me they needed a passer. I was kind of shocked. Why would he want me? I just led the nation in scoring with a 41 point average. Why would he want me to be the passer?
He said ‘we got some guys out of Virginia that can put the ball in the basket.” So I said okay, so I went along with it. And the guys he was talking about — they could put the ball in the basket. (Those guys included future NBA All-Star Bob Dandridge as well as great scorers like Robert Bonaparte and Hook Shot Grant.)
All he asked me was, could you get by two men? I said, I’ve been getting by two men all my life.
Norfolk State averaged better than 115 points per game that season. Without a 3-point line.
Kirkland claims he only had only three turnovers all year at Norfolk State
If only tapes of all Norfolk’s games existed.
Norfolk State won the classic CIAA Championship against the North Carolina A&T because they let him take over
Coach Richard Pitts, assistant coach said to Coach Fears, ‘the only way you’re gonna win this game is to let Kirkland shoot the ball. Coach looked at me and says ‘is that right?’ I said yup. I’ve been want to shoot the ball all year because that’s what I do…score.
Kirkland scored nine points in the decisive overtime, and Norfolk State beat A&T 134-132.
Ironically, every coach, all 11 coaches voted for me to get most valuable—but my own coach.
Eventually, they said that they wanted to go back to playing the way we did. In the NCAA they wanted to go back to regular. So I stopped shooting — we lost that game.
And just like that, Kirkland’s time at Norfolk State was over. He remains one of the best HBCU players never to appear in an NBA game more than 50 years later.