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Pee Wee Kirkland: The Streetball Legend Who Chose Drug Trafficking over the NBA

In this episode of RED CARDS, we meet Richard "Pee Wee" Kirkland, an icon of Harlem’s early street basketball scene. Given the chance to play professionally, however, Kirkland chose a career in drug trafficking instead.

by VICE Sports Staff
Dec 11 2018, 4:02pm

Richard "Pee Wee" Kirkland began playing basketball in the streets of Harlem when he was nine years old. By age 13, he split his time between playing ball and committing robberies to help finance a growing drug empire.

In college, Kirkland was the 1968 MVP for Norfolk State, turning down an offer from UCLA to play alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kirkland was then drafted by the Chicago Bulls but turned down their offer when he realized he could make more money in the drug game than the pro game.

With law enforcement on his tail, Kirkland found himself behind bars twice between 1971 and 1988. From there, he made a change, becoming a motivational speaker and inspiring young, inner-city athletes to take a different path out than he did.

RED CARDS, presented by Ryot, is a six-part series exploring some of the most notorious true crime stories in sports. New episodes available each Tuesday.