With his career up in the air, Stromile does his mother and his hometown proud.
When it comes to Stromile Swift, his career has had more ups and downs than your favorite roller coaster. Originally picked by the lowly teal-jersey-rocking Vancouver Grizzles, Stro spent his rookie year north of the border before relocating to Juicy J’s neighborhood.
In the City of Blues, Stro would become a key part of a team that finally lost the franchise’s playoff virginity with back-to-back playoff appearances in the ‘03-04 and ‘04-05 seasons. That summer Swift would become a coveted free agent seeming to be ready to fulfill his potential. He signed a $22 million deal with the Rockets only to be shipped back to Memphis as part of a Rudy Gay/Shane Battier trade.
That Grizzlies team was never able to recapture that postseason magic and midseason 2008, the Grizzlies traded Stromile to the Nets for Jason Collins and cash. Unfortunately for Stro, Jason Kidd, who is an alley-oop catcher’s dream, was busy whining his way out of New Jersey. He would get to play exactly one game with Kidd and catch exactly one alley before Kidd was sent back to Big D.
With the Nets in full-blown rebuilding mode, Lawerence Frank couldn’t find consistent playing time for Swift and on March 1 he was cut. Three days later the Suns signed Swift to finish the season and fill part of the void left by an injured Amar’e Stoudmire.
Not only has Stromile endured a rocky NBA career, back home in Shreveport, LA he’s dealing with larger issues. His mother, Mary Swift, was diagnosed with kidney disease the same year the Stro was drafted. Mary was his greatest supporter and at the same time kept him grounded and humble. Part of the agreement Stromile made with his mother when talking to her about declaring for the Draft was that he would eventually come back and finish his degree. She made him sign a contract and reminded him of it on a regular basis.
In January, Mary Swift succumbed to a nine-year battle with kidney disease. The entire Swift family was devastated. Out of their mourning they decided to do something special to honor their mother. Stromile and his sister, Shalanda Swift-Watkins, founded the Swift Foundation, an organization to help raise awareness for kidney disease and fund programs for youth in Shreveport.
“One thing people don’t know is that kidney disease is a silent killer. That’s something we want to do with this, raise awareness,” Shalanda says.
Chronic kidney disease affects 26 million Americans, according to the National Kidney Foundation. African-Americans are among groups with a higher risk of developing kidney disease. Blood and urine tests can help diagnose kidney disease, but the illness often goes undetected until it’s too late.
The Swift Foundation’s first event was the “Mary-thon,” a three-mile fundraising marathon to raise money for kidney disease research. The weekend of events began June 25, which would’ve been Mary’s 57th birthday. Friday was Celebrity Casino Night at the Horseshoe with Kyle Lowry of the Rockets, Doug Evans from the Packers, and Rudy Gay from the Grizzlies. Vince Carter and Shaq were slated to make appearances as well but due to recent trades, were unable to make the event.
The no-shows did little to dampen the mood as Shreveport packed the house to spend a night with their hometown hero and friends. Before the drinks started to flow and the dance floor filled, SLAM caught-up with the NBA players in the house.
SLAM: Kyle, why was it important for you to take time out of the offseason and attend this event?
Kyle Lowry: Stro is my man, I mean, we’ve been close since I came in the League and I knew how much his mother meant to him so I had to come through.
SLAM: This postseason seemed to be your coming out party after having limited opportunities in Memphis. What changed so much since coming to Houston? Is it just a matter of playing time or something else?
KL: Well, I hope the playoffs were my coming out party. I mean, I think they were. I just went from kind of a bad situation for me to a better situation. In Memphis there just wasn’t a lot of veteran leadership. Here we have Ron, Brent, Yao, T-Mac. Those guys are great so it’s been good for me.
SLAM: Is there one guy who is really the voice of the team right now? Like who is the guy who rallies the troops in the locker room?
KL: Well, there are a lot of guys so there’s not like one guy. Sometimes it’s Yao… Ron. Sometimes it’s Brent. I mean, Brent Barry has seen everything. He has been on championship teams in San Antonio so we’re always listening to anything he has to say.
SLAM: How do you feel the Rockets did in the draft yesterday?
KL: [Smiles] I think we did pretty good… I think we did pretty good.
Next we caught up with Rudy Gay.
SLAM: Rudy, how important was it for you to attend this event?
Rudy Gay: It means a lot, man. I mean, you know Stro was one of the first people I met when I came into the League, dude was really influential to me from the start so I’ll always do whatever I can to try to support him.
SLAM: So I gotta ask you about the Draft. The Grizzlies took fellow UConn alum Hasheem Thabeet. What kind of impact do you see him having next year and what do you think about the Mutumbo comparisons?
RG: Well I think he’ll bring a defensive presence from the start, I mean, dude is 7-3… an athletic 7-3! You can’t beat that. And we’ll work with him and make him better at the things he’s not so good at and even the things he is good at. A lot of people don’t know this but Hasheem is my little man. I mean, I took him on his first visit to UConn and seeing him then and seeing him now… It’s like night and day.
SLAM: Looking back now, how glad are you that the Grizzlies didn’t draft Ricky Rubio?
RG: [Wipes his head jokingly, laughs] As soon as he said he didn’t want to come here I knew he was trouble. Just trouble.
SLAM: Going into next season you guys have a young but very talented team with you, OJ, Marc Gasol and now Hasheem Thabeet. Is this the year the wins catch up and we see Rudy Gay in the All-Star game?
RG: You know wins are the most important thing to me. We wanna get to the Playoffs first and foremost. I mean being an all-star—I’d love to be an all-star. And I know how it goes sometimes so if we don’t win I won’t be one.
Then we finally spoke with the host of the evening, Stromile Swift.
SLAM: How much does this event mean to you tonight?
Stromile Swift: It’s personal. It really means a lot to me. It’s a great cause because we can give back to the community and raise money and awareness for kidney disease. I just know that this is something that she would want me to do. From what I’ve seen so far we’ve had some really good turnouts so I’m happy about that.
SLAM: What does it mean to you to have ex-teammates Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay here tonight as well as the other celebrities?
SS: Those guys are some really good friends, man. You know we played together for a couple of years in Memphis and became really close. They were there for me when my mom passed so having them here tonight, it’s huge.
SLAM: You finished the season with the Suns, who are now obviously rebuilding. Now that you’re a free agent, do you see yourself returning to Phoenix and becoming a bigger part of that team for next season?
SS: Well I really enjoyed playing there last season. They just got rid of the Big Fella so it looks like they may be trying to get younger so I may be looking for a new team. I’d really like to go back. I feel like that is the ideal place for me but we’ll see.
A bowling tournament came on the following day at the Funny Bone where locals got to test there skill against Stromile and friends. Saturday night Bossier City got its grown person on with a Black and Red Affair Party at Encore Nightclub where all proceeds for the night went to the Swift Foundation. The weekend capped off Sunday with a family friendly atmosphere at the Swift Family Community day held at Southern Hills Metro Park. The event raised thousands of dollars for kidney disease and youth programs in the area and was a huge success.
One young Shreveport local who attends Fair Park High School, Stro’s old school, said, “This just shows us that we can make something of ourselves too. That you can care about other people and still be successful. Stromile doesn’t have to be here—he wants to be here—you know, for us and his mom.”
No matter what Stromile has gone through or will go through in his NBA career nothing can compare to the type of impact that his selflessness has on this community. While looking over the community day activities, Stromile says, “I just hope that this makes her proud.”