The City of Norfolk honored Norfolk State basketball legend Richard ‘Pee Wee’ Kirkland earlier this week, receiving a proclamation from the city in front of an enthusiastic audience.
Kirkland first earned a name for himself as a playground standout at Rucker Park in Harlem, New York and later becoming an all-city guard at Charles Evans Hughes High School in Manhattan, New York. His play earned him a scholarship at historically black Kittrell College in Tarboro, North Carolina, where Kirkland averaged 40 points per contest before heading to Norfolk State in the late 1960s.
Taking the court alongside NBA Hall of Famer Robert Dandridge and a squad of talented sharpshooters under the direction of head coach Ernie Fears, Kirkland helped earn the Spartans a national reputation. They averaged a nation’s best 106 points per game and were featured in Sports Illustrated magazine en route to winning the 1968 CIAA Tournament title, the second championship in the program’s history.
Kirkland was named the MVP of the Spartan’s 134-132 triple overtime win over North Carolina A&T in the tournament’s championship game. Kirkland eventually became just the second NSU basketball player drafted to the NBA in program history.
After his college success, Kirkland was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. However, he made a life-altering decision, choosing street life over his hoop dreams. Unfortunately, this led him down a troublesome path, resulting in two stints behind bars in 1971 and 1981-1988.
Once out of prison, Kirkland decided he wanted to positively impact the children of Harlem. With assistance from Nike, he established the “School of Skills,” a campaign that focuses on basketball and life skills that has grown into a national campaign. He now inspires countless young athletes as a motivational speaker.
“It means everything. This is why I do it,” Kirkland said. “Young people all over the country respect the name Pee Wee Kirkland, they know when I first said to myself that I committed my life to impacting their lives, I said I was going to do it until I dropped. And I meant that. I haven’t dropped, so I’m still doing it. Norfolk State created a reality in basketball that no place can override. It was the people. There was just a love affair that came together that just never ended.”