‘Everybody lives their own life’ – DJ Strawberry on fatherhood, baseball and choosing his own path.
DJ Strawberry is very, very used to people seeing his full name, Darryl Strawberry Jr., and doing a double take. “Not the real Darryl Strawberry?!” they’ll say, as if the 36-year-old basketballer could conceivably be a 60-year-old baseball legend.
It doesn’t bother him, really. Being a professional athlete, and a former NBA player, the Zamalek shooting guard is well used to navigating questions about his father, their relationship and the obviously different sporting choice he made.
Speaking to ESPN ahead of the Basketball Africa League finals in Kigali, Rwanda this month, Strawberry said: “When you grow up with a parent that’s as famous as my dad was, you kind of get [used to it].
“I can travel through the airport and one of the TSA guys will see my ID and they’ll say: ‘Oh, Darryl Strawberry Junior? No… Not the real Darryl Strawberry?’ I will say: ‘Yeah, that was my dad,’ and they’ll go: ‘Oh, I was a big fan of his!’
“It is what it is, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making a name for myself and letting people know who I am, as well as still being his son.”
DJ, who was drafted out of Maryland by the Phoenix Suns in 2007, was actually a better baseball player than hooper as a youngster, he says. But he chose basketball very consciously, both because he loved it more and because he wanted to forge his own path, a dilemma that kids of famous parents usually need to confront.
“I think I was better at baseball, but I loved basketball more,” he said, adding: “At that age, Kobe Bryant was just coming up. We were huge Lakers fans. My whole family was Lakers fans, and we kind of got into basketball a little bit more at that time.
“I think [watching Darryl Sr. play baseball] pushed me more towards basketball. I grew up seeing everything that goes on around baseball, and basketball was something new to me, it was something kind of different.”
It’s common knowledge, for MLB fans at least, that Mets and Yankees legend Darryl Sr. had a troubled time off the field for a good while at the end of his career, and that translated into a tough time for DJ, who was a teenager at the time.
In 2002, when his father was in jail for solicitation of prostitution and violating probation, a 17-year-old DJ told ESPN The Magazine: “My mom, she’ll always throw in a joke about my dad. Like, ‘You don’t want to end up like him, do you?’ Or, ‘You want to go live with him in prison?’
“It just makes me not want to be like him even more. We joke around with it, but it’s nothing to joke about.”
Two decades on, DJ says that his comments were misinterpreted as hostility towards his father when in fact he intended only to make clear that he wanted to live on his own terms.
Strawberry, when asked whether he and his father enjoy a positive relationship, explained: “Me and my dad, whatever problems he went through were his problems.
“You never know what somebody is going through in their life in that point in time. At the end of the day, he’s still my dad. We had a great relationship, and it never really wavered.
“I think people took it the wrong way when I was younger and I said that I didn’t want to be like him. It was more that I didn’t want to go down the same path as him. I wanted to create my own path.
“I think I did a pretty good job at that, but at the same time, that’s still my dad. Whatever he went through, he went through. I still love him to this day.”
Parenthood, always potentially a tricky and fraught endeavour, is made even more so when there’s a generational tendency towards conflict. DJ has his own kids now, and is conscious of not making the same mistakes his dad did, while also recognising his grandfather’s influence on Darryl Sr.
The 36-year-old has broken a proverbial generational curse. Having watched his father’s strained relationship with his grandfather, he sought to ensure that the father-son relationships in the family improved thereafter.
He said: “Everybody goes through their struggles. I don’t know exactly the things that went on, but I know that he had a difficult relationship with his father as well, and they reconciled before he passed away.
“I just didn’t want that burden on me of me and my father not getting along and trying to reconcile at the end.
“Whatever he went through, I know he still loved me and I know that he didn’t do anything to intentionally hurt me or my brothers or sisters. It was just what he was going through himself.
“Everybody lives their own life. The more you grow up, the more you start to realise that.”
The idea of everyone living their own life, which DJ applied to his own so long ago, has carried through to his own kids. While his son does play baseball like his granddad, DJ says he is welcome to change his mind, or even not play sports at all.
“My older son plays baseball. He’s following after my dad’s footsteps. He gets some training from one of the greats and he’s pretty good, so we’re gonna watch out for the next Strawberry coming up in baseball,” DJ said, fondly.
“I’m supporting the kids in whatever they choose to do and making time for them — showing that I love them more than anything. I don’t care if he plays sports. [My support goes for] whatever he does, as long as he’s putting his best effort into it.
“I’m not going to force basketball on any of my children. Basketball was my choice, baseball his choice. Everybody loves their own life. Really, whatever he wants to do — whatever he has a passion for — I’m supporting 100%.”
He added of them supporting him in return: “My kids are the most important thing to me. They mean the world to me, and I do this for them. They love seeing me play and watching me on TV. Hopefully, the [BAL playoff] games aren’t so late, so that my younger ones can stay up a little bit and watch a little bit of the games.”
Strawberry’s basketball career has taken him all around the world after that one season with the Suns, from Italy to Lithuania, to Israel to Spain, and now he plies his trade for Egypt’s biggest club after signing on in January, as they seek to defend their BAL title.
Zamalek will face Seydou Legacy Athlétique Club (SLAC) in the fourth quarterfinal on Sunday at Kigali Arena at 18:00 CAT [12 noon ET, 9am PT]. The White Knights are favourites to take the title, having won all five Nile Conference games on home soil in Cairo.
But DJ says they’re certainly not taking anything for granted: “Everybody expects us to win it again. When you win a tournament one time and you come back as defending champions, then people expect you to win again.
“Now, teams are going to be coming after us because we’re the defending champs, so there are going to be no surprises.”
The BAL airs on ESPN in Africa, and on ESPN+ and ESPNEWS in the US.
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