Skip to Content

Farewell, TGI Fridays Where Rod Strickland And Chico DeBarge Threw Hands On 9/11

8 Nov 2000: Rod Strickland #1 of the Washington Wizards dribbles the ball during the game against the New Jersey Nets at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. The Nets defeated the Wizards 102-86. NOTE TO USER: It is expressly understood that the only rights Allsport are offering to license in this Photograph are one-time, non-exclusive editorial rights. No advertising or commercial uses of any kind may be made of Allsport photos. User acknowledges that it is aware that Allsport is an editorial sports agency and that NO RELEASES OF ANY TYPE ARE OBTAINED from the subjects contained in the photographs.
Doug Pensinger /Allsport

Different people remember September 11, 2001 for different reasons after all these years. When I’ve thought of 9/11 lately, for example, I recall it as “The night veteran NBA guard Rod Strickland and R&B lightweight Chico DeBarge brawled with Applebee’s staffers in a TGI Fridays parking lot.”

No, really. 

See, I only just learned that the Bowie, Md., TGI Fridays locations was closing, along with dozens of others, as part of a national reorganization. CEO Weldon Spangler explained the OG fern bar chain’s cutbacks thusly: "We are at the helm of a pivotal moment that will allow us to explore boundless advancement, expansion, and innovation to keep delivering ‘That Fridays Feeling[™]’ that our fans know and love." 

The Bowie closure news took me back and took me aback, even though I’ve never had the pleasure of eating, say, Fridays™ Signature Whiskey-Glazed Chicken Slammers or Fridays™ Signature Whisky-Glazed Riblets or any other ™’d dish at that or any other TGIF outpost. The place has meant something special to me ever since I learned about Strickland’s alleged shenanigans there in the hours after the towers fell and the Pentagon burned. 

From a story on the donnybrook in the Washington Post from Sept. 20, 2001: “In a report, a [Prince George’s County, Md.] police sergeant wrote that two witnesses reported seeing Strickland, soul singer Chico DeBarge and six other unidentified people punching and kicking someone … in the restaurant parking lot.

Applebee’s server Christine Murphy, the Post reported, told cops that she had asked Strickland to stop beating on her co-worker, “at which point Strickland punched her in the face with a closed fist.” 

Along with just learning of the restaurant's closure, I also only recently found out that Strickland, who played 17 years in the NBA, is the head coach of the Long Island University basketball team. I, like anybody who remembers the 9/11 incident and Strickland’s tenure with the Washington Wizards, was utterly shocked that he’d be put in charge of a D1 program, or even have any role that required real responsibility. Plainly, Strickland was never not getting into trouble during his time with Washington.

Strickland, whose Wiz contract paid him $10 million per year, was arrested in D.C. and charged with a DUI and disorderly conduct in 1997. He eventually resolved that case by pleading guilty to driving while impaired. Strickland was arrested for DUI again and reckless driving in 1999, when D.C. cops alleged he’d disregarded red lights and speed limits during a joyride through city streets, then refused a Breathalyzer and failed field sobriety tests. After a jury acquitted him at trial, he reportedly signed autographs for jurors at the courthouse. Strickland was arrested for disorderly conduct in 2000 after refusing to leave a D.C. club that fire marshals were trying to clear out. 

Mere months before the 9/11 fracas, the Wiz had bought out Strickland’s contract and waived him, moves inspired by a January 2001 arrest for DUI. He pleaded guilty to that charge. 

Strickland subsequently signed with Portland and lasted another four years in the NBA. For all his off-court malfeasances, Strickland’s ball skills were such that he kept getting work no matter how bad an apple he presented himself as. After he signed with Minnesota in 2002, an Associated Press reporter went over his arrest record and asked Strickland how he handles being asked “questions about his past” when he arrives in a new town. 

“It’s kind of like when you make your bed and lie in it,” Strickland said.

Given all his baggage, Strickland acting up again in Bowie hardly qualified as drunk man bites dog. But, on 9/11? At TGI Fridays? With Chico DeBarge?

DeBarge had a Top 40 hit as a solo act (1986’s “Talk to Me”) and was an occasional member of his family’s Grand Rapids, Mich.-based disco combo, known as DeBarge, best known for 1985’s “Rhythm of the Night.” By 2001, unlike Strickland, DeBarge’s career was toast.

On Sept. 11, 2002, a year after the brawl, Strickland and DeBarge were sued by the Applebee’s staffers who’d allegedly suffered beatdowns. Prince George’s County Circuit Court records show Strickland’s portion of the case, cited as Murphy vs. Strickland, was dismissed on May 4, 2004. No specifics of Strickland’s case’s denouement, including whether there was a financial settlement, are in the public database. Strickland, whose team has a 6-19 record this season, did not return Defector’s interview requests made through the LIU sports information office. 

Chico DeBarge, whose real name is Jonathan, was ordered to pay the plaintiffs a total of $405,183.33 in damages, plus court costs. 

Gary Berger, a Maryland attorney who has been trying to get DeBarge to pay the court-ordered sums for years on behalf of one of one of the parties injured in the fern bar brawl, said that as of this weekend the former pop star had not made a single payment. With interest, Berger said, DeBarge now owes “more than a million dollars.” 

“You can’t squeeze water out of a rock,” said Berger. “I see no hit records coming out of Chico DeBarge, so I think this always will be uncollectible.”

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter