The Dwight Connection: Pee Wee Kirkland, coach and son come full circle

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This isn't just a story about basketball.

It's a story about family, opportunity and fate.

“It’s like something you couldn’t believe would happen, but it did,” Pee Wee Kirkland said.

Richard "PeeWee" Kirkland grew up in Harlem and was the guy to beat during the 1960s and 1970s.

“I could do things that other kids couldn’t do,” he said.

He was a high school all-star and a regular at the famous Rucker Park.

“I was the only player to lead in scoring at Rucker for two consecutive years,” he remembered.

Pee Wee's prestige stretched from the courts to the airwaves.

Glory and glitz that quickly turned to drugs, guns and gambling.

A lucrative lifestyle he couldn't shake despite being drafted by the Bulls in 1969.

“I made a decision to be in the life of crime, to be in the wrong life,” Pee Wee explained,

Pee Wee spent ten years in prison for tax evasion and conspiracy to sell drugs.

"It took me 40 seconds to make the decision," he said. "It took me 40 years to correct it.”

His journey to redemption started in 1997, when he got a job as the head basketball coach at the Dwight School.

“I was such a hard, rigid strict coach and I demanded respect," Pee Wee remembered. "They respected me and it was all about their grades.”

That toughness translated to a title, the first time it happened in 113 years.

Pee Wee only coached for two seasons.

“Being in that atmosphere had an effect on me," Pee Wee explained. "The next thing I know I wanted to go back to school and I did, to Lincoln University, got my master’s degree in human services, thesis in youth violence. So it propelled my life in the right direction.”

“I do remember like it was yesterday playing for Coach Kirkland,” Dave Brown said.

Dave Brown was on that championship team.

"Him putting us together, kind of integrating this team of kids from really all over the world,” Brown remembered. "I mean it was really a melting pot of a basketball team."

Related: It's a "G" Thing: Dwight School Chancellor Stephen Spahn brings passion, tradition and a lot of game to his 50 years of education 

17 years later, Brown came back to Dwight as the new head coach,

“When I found out he was coming to coach it was like sparkles in my eyes, my eyes just lit up," Pee Wee Jr. said.

“Pee Wee Jr. happens to be one of the most unique players I ever coached,” Brown said.

Maybe it's because he's the son of the legendary streetballer.

“My father, he’s been there since day one, he’s like my best friend,” Pee Wee Jr. said. "Everyday when I was younger I just would go to the couch, roll the ball and he’d roll it back so that started my love for the game.”

Pee Wee Jr. trained with his dad his whole life.

“PeeWee (Jr.) when I first met him was extremely talented, in his individual basketball skills” Brown explained. "But the element of team play need to be instilled into his game and that’s something that once we were able to do it, we won 22 or 23 straight games.”

During the 2013-2014 season, the Dwight School basketball team battled its way through the state tournament, taking home the trophy and bringing the trio's story full circle.

"To kind of just relive, redo it, was just an awesome experience especially with ]Pee Wee's] son being a part of it,” Brown said.

Right after the win, Pee Wee Sr. remember something Coach Brown's father said to hi at the beginning of the season.

“I wish Dave can do for your son what you did for my son when coached at Dwight," Pee Wee Sr. said. "And at the end of the year I had to tell his father to his face, your son did exactly what I did for Dave.”

As for Pee Wee Jr., he graduated last Spring. He's taking a gap year to figure out his next moves off the court and on.

 

Additional footage from 1-LOVE documentary

 

PRODUCED BY: KIM PESTALOZZI