Stromile Swift: The NBA’s forgotten high-flyer

Stromile Swift: The NBA’s forgotten high-flyer

Stromile Swift (seriously, what a great name for a basketball player?) was a McDonald’s All-American as a very slim yet athletic pogo stick of a 6’11 big man. He was raw and loved to go for athletic plays but he did attempt the odd traditional play.

He would end up at LSU where he led the Tigers to a successful NCAA tournament run with a team that was short on scholarships yet made it to the Sweet 16. Swift shared the team with two other future NBA players – Jabari Smith and Ronald Dupree. Swift was the man, though, averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds as a sophomore on 61% shooting, mostly because he loves dunking. And man does Stromile love dunking.

Swift would come into the NBA as a #2 overall pick and he gets forgotten quite a bit. Picked during that disaster of a draft in 2000, which did produce some nice players but the lottery selections were a mess, he came in as a project type, just as the league was gaining more confidence in taking projects fairly high in the draft with the success of Dirk Nowitzki after his own rough rookie season.

Stromile was drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies and was given every chance to succeed. The Grizzlies, despite being absolutely awful, had given Swift all of the patience they could afford him. In fact, he was the last player to have played for Vancouver once the team left for Memphis. He would start a few games but couldn’t quite beat out Bryant Reeves, Vancouver’s very first draft pick who was now quite overweight and saddled with neck and back problems, and Ike Austin, who was also very overweight, and an always-injured Lorenzen Wright, and an always-changing-teams Tony Massenburg, and an always-terrible Jake Tsakalidis. Stromile was tall and slim and full of athleticism but short on skill, which is why his coaches would try to limit him to play against second units so that Swift could feast but it never happened. Why? Because Stromile loved to dunk, and he loved to go for big highlight reel blocked shots, and he didn’t like to do anything else. As he was trying to carve out a place in the league he would attempt to play like any normal player would but then he was invited to the 2001 Dunk Contest, where he placed fourth with some fairly mediocre dunks. You may have noticed he acquired a nickname in the Dunk Contest, “The Stro Show,” though. Stromile would spend the rest of his career trying to give everyone The Stro Show and it turned him into kind of a joke.

After he was given countless chances in Vancouver and Memphis, he escaped to the Rockets with a 4 year $22 million deal, which he earned solely from his draft position and the potential label. Swift would continue to come off the bench to deliver The Stro Show, as he would chase guards to try and block them as hard as he could and then point in the air on the other end to end every possession with an alley-oop. It sounds awesome but it’s hard to explain how sad it felt, at least to me. It seemed obvious to me that he was an NBA version of the guy you see at a rec center who doesn’t practice anything but his dunks. Stromile wouldn’t even attempt a normal shot as his career grew longer and lived on his reputation – The Stro Show.

He would bounce around a bit – back to Memphis, to New Jersey, even Phoenix gave him a shot, which I don’t remember at all but Basketball Reference says he was there so I believe them. He’d continue to come in and do nothing but produce highlights. His best, in my opinion, was as a Net when he dunked all over fellow LSU alumnus and guy-who-doesn’t-work-on-his-game-either Tyrus Thomas

But when a guy with so much talent like Stromile comes into the league and seems to voluntarily take the Jeremy Evans role, it just feels like such a waste. And yet, it wasn’t, because Stromile lasted for 9 seasons and made $43 million while being the embodiment of a video game big man who had all of his attributes spent on vertical, blocks, and dunks.

After being cut by the 76ers in training camp, Swift went to China, where he continued dunking on and blocking people much smaller than him, and showing off a few moves that laid dormant while stateside. He does not look nearly as happy playing in China but few experiences produce as much joy as dunking on someone so easily hateable as Tyrus Thomas.