In a league full of characters, retired MLS and USMNT great Frankie Hejduk is constantly proving that he’s had the most interesting life of any of them.
Most MLS fans know Hejduk from his domestic and international playing days, as well as his antics as Columbus Crew SC’s brand ambassador and living caricature. But after hearing ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning talk about NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s trademark “sky hook” shot, Hejduk revealed yet another amazing bit of personal trivia.
"I was watching Mike and Mike and I was like, ‘Hey, dude, I know who it is! My dad taught him the hook!'”
According to Frankie, his dad, George, was teaching basketball at the same school that Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) was learning to play.
“He can tell you the exact spot at the exact junior high school that he taught him at,” Frankie said of his father. “[My dad] was [Abdul-Jabbar’s] assistant junior high basketball coach in New York. They grew up in the same projects. My grandma used to walk them to school every day.”
George taught Abdul-Jabbar using the George Mikan drill, designed to teach tall players to keep the ball high above competitors.
“Once he brought the ball up to his shoulder level, no one could steal the ball from him,” Frankie said. “When he was first playing, he would hold the ball low and everyone would tap it out of his hands.”
On the show, Abdul-Jabbar said he didn’t remember who taught him, but seemed to back up the George Hejduk story.
“Some guy that worked with my grade school coach said, ‘Kareem is probably going to be a center, we’ll show him the George Mikan drill,’” he said. “That’s all I had. I worked on that from fifth through eighth grade”
Even for a professional athlete, the odd nature of the story isn’t lost on Frankie.
“It’s a pretty funny story,” he said with a laugh. “It’s pretty wild and crazy.”
But at this point, it’s a story he’s heard many times.
“I’ve been hearing it forever,” he said. “It’s always been an inside joke among friends and everything. It’s just been an inside story, and a pretty cool one.”
Despite his dad’s basketball background, the 5-foot-8-inch Frankie adapted better to soccer while growing up in his mother’s native California.
“I wasn’t the best at it,” he said, of basketball, with a laugh. “I was better at soccer than basketball. I was good at defending; I was a decent defender. But I got a lot of shots blocked. I’m not the tallest guy.”