Off The Grid
A quest to find former St. John’s PG Erick Barkley.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
For as long as I can remember, I have always been into basketball in a big way. For the first 11 years of my life I had an infatuation with the game but would not consider myself a “fan.” I didn’t follow any team particularly closely; I was as fair weather as they came.
But, that all changed in 1999 when I was 12 years old. ‘99 was the first time in my life that I took anything seriously—I was the biggest St. John’s Red Storm fan in the world.
Everyday at school during recess, my friends and I would imitate our favorite players on the team—Ron Artest, Bootsy Thornton, Lavar Postell, Anothny Glover and Erick Barkley. This team embodied the spirit of New York City and captured my imagination to the fullest degree. In my opinion, no team—professional or collegiate—has represented NYC better since. They were tough, gritty kids coming from some of the roughest sections of the 5 boroughs to team up and unleash hell on the Big East that season.
At the center of it all was Barkley, who was the best player on the court that season. Yes, Artest has all the accolades and the lengthy NBA career, and Thornton was the MVP of the Big East Tournament, but it was Barkley who was the driving force behind all of them. Barkley was a tenacious defender and had a pitbull mentality—once he got on you, it was a fight to the death, and more often than not Barkley was the victor. Plain and simple, he shut down opposing point guards, harassing them the length of the court for 40 minutes a game.
But Barkley wasn’t all defense, the kid had tremendous all around game. He was a cerebral offensive player, and put up numbers good enough to be considered for the John Wooden award. Granted, many NYC point guards often can’t live up to the immeasurable hype surrounding them, and it must have been even tougher for a kid to play for the hometown squad. But, Barkley not only had the game, he also had the work ethic to put together a solid pro career, either domestically or internationally.
So what happened? After leaving St. John’s after his huge Sophomore year amidst swirling controversies and rumors of him taking improper benefits (it was later revealed that the extent of his “illegal” actions was borrowing a friends car) the unflappable point guard was chosen 28th by the Portland Trailblazers in the 2000 NBA Draft. After spending two years in the League, it seemed as if Barkley fell off the face of the Earth.
After reading an article in a back issue of SLAM by our Editor-in-Chief, Ben Osborne, I began to search for Barkley out of curiosity to see what he has been up to for the last decade. The problem was, nobody seemed to know where Erick Barkley had gone or what had happened to him. The man had pulled a Houdini-esque disappearing act, a near impossible feat in these modern times.
Not too long ago Ben bumped into Artest at an event and asked him if he had any idea on the whereabouts of his former teammate: he had no clue. A short while after that, Ben spoke with Speedy Claxton, whose family Barkley had lived with during his senior year at Christ the King High School: he hadn’t heard from him in years.
With modern technology and constant connectivity, it is almost impossible to fall completely off the grid. I took to the Internet only to find that he is one of the few people on this planet who does not partake in the social media phenomenon. After days of digging, I came across this picture (#12) and discovered that he had played for the Quebec Kebs last year, a professional team in Canada. I called their office with high hopes that this may be the break I was looking for, only to discover that he had been released from the team and they had no idea of his whereabouts.
After scouring the interwebs relentlessly, I discovered that he was supposed to work at a summer camp with former Florida St. player Benson Callier. I got in touch with Callier only to find out that Barkley was a no show at the camp due to “personal issues.” After leaving messages with former St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis and trading e-mails with the St. John’s athletic department I gave up; some people just don’t want to be found.
A few weeks ago, Ben told me that he had spoken to someone who knew where Barkley was. He was reportedly “back in Queens and very unhappy,” but could get us in touch no problem. This was it. After weeks and weeks of searching, he finally turned up.
After following up and getting no response, I felt a sense of relief. Why? I’m really not sure to be honest with you. Perhaps it would have pained me to speak to someone I looked up to whose career never panned out. Maybe I didn’t want one of my childhood heroes to have any resentment toward me for bringing up bad memories. Or maybe I wanted to hang on to that childhood innocence of imitating one of my favorite players during recess as a kid. Whatever the reason, I’m glad we never spoke, for now I will only look back on that ‘99-00 St. John’s team with great memories and a thankfulness for being the first team that led to my true love of the game.