Long career path takes Mitch Richmond to Hall of Fame
08/06/2014 7:05 PM
10/08/2014 12:11 PM
Mitch Richmond and his Run TMC teammates, Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway, made plenty of highlights during their two seasons together with the Warriors.
But it was Richmond’s seven seasons with the Kings – after the Warriors broke up Run TMC by trading the shooting guard out of Kansas State for the draft rights to Billy Owens – that made him a Hall of Famer.
That deal, on Nov. 1, 1991, sent Richmond from a two-time playoff team to the lowly Kings, who were coming off a 25-57 season, but it also gave Sacramento its first bona fide star player.
“I would drive back to Oakland (where he still lived), knowing we weren’t that good. ... So when I was on the court, that was kind of my peace, playing,” Richmond said. “But when I was off the court, all those thoughts (of winning) came back, especially driving back to Golden State every time. At that time ... Golden State was the headline.”
Richmond, who averaged 23.3 points for the Kings, will inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday in Springfield, Mass., the first Kings player of the Sacramento era so honored.
“That means everything,” Richmond said, “because I truly thought there was going to be an asterisk by my name, and not get in the Hall of Fame, by playing on some teams not so good in the win column. ... It feels good to know that I got in and they looked at the quality and body of work I put in. And it wasn’t me being selfish, it was me going out and playing hard.
“It’s not me going in the Hall of Fame by myself, it’s the city of Sacramento going in with me. And that’s special.”
Richmond is the Kings’ leader of the Sacramento era in minutes, points, field goals made and attempted and free throws made and attempted, and he is in the top 10 in 11 categories in franchise history. His 12,070 points for the Kings trail only Oscar Robertson and Jack Twyman, both Hall of Famers.
Being the Kings’ primary scorer, Richmond was subjected to double teams and defensive schemes aimed to slow him down. But “The Rock,” who didn’t crumble under the pressure, became one of the best shooting guards in NBA history.
“If you look back right now, you talk about Clyde Drexler, Michael (Jordan), Reggie (Miller), Joe Dumars and Mitch,” said Mullin, who now works in the Kings’ front office. “... On a given night, (Richmond) was the best player of that group.”
Career off to running start
Richmond, selected by the Warriors out of Kansas State with the fifth pick in the 1988 NBA draft, arrived in Oakland with an NBA-ready body and game after playing on the bronze-winning U.S. Olympic team.
“The thing that stuck out to me was his smile,” said Garry St. Jean, who was with the Warriors and later coached Richmond with the Kings. “He just fit in perfect. Then he had this body, and as a rookie you saw his skill set. And, holy mackerel, on both ends of the floor ... he had the whole package.”
It didn’t take long for Richmond’s teammates to notice, too.
“From his first practice, Mitch seemed like he was already an All-Star player,” Mullin said. “From the first day I saw him practice with us, he had a full NBA game. Confident, but quietly confident. He had a post game, he was a two-way player. He played offense and defense and he had an incredible rookie year.”
Richmond averaged 22 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists and was selected Rookie of the Year.
Hardaway joined Mullin and Richmond in 1989 and Run TMC took the league by storm with a high-energy, run-and-gun tempo. The trio flourished until the Warriors traded Richmond for Owens, who would not sign a contract after being drafted by the Kings No. 3 overall in 1991. Though the Warriors had success with their wide-open attack, their desire to add size led to the deal for Owens, whose versatility was thought to be an ideal fit.
But, of course, it became one of the most lopsided deals in league history – a journeyman-to-be for a future Hall of Famer.
“We felt we had just really established ourselves, not only individually but collectively as a threesome, and we felt like if we added the right pieces around us we could do something,” Mullin said. “Then I think we were all angry, somewhat shocked and kind of confused, and today I think we look back on it and we’re still angry and shocked but not as confused as we once were.”
Not only was Richmond leaving some of his best friends, he was headed to one of the worst teams in the NBA.
“It was truly tough coming from an exciting team, a team where we felt like we were a couple pieces away from competing for a championship, and then getting traded to a team that was trying to find an identity,” Richmond said. “That was a tough, tough situation coming to Sacramento. It was very hard, a very difficult move.”
Becoming king of Kings
When they acquired Richmond, the Kings had played six years in Sacramento without a winning season. And they weren’t much better in Richmond’s first season with the team.
Coach Dick Motta was fired 25 games into his second season with an 7-18 record, replaced by Rex Hughes, and the team won just 29 games. Richmond averaged 22.5 points and 5.1 assists while commuting from Oakland.
“I felt like I had so much anger built in me,” Richmond said. “As a young player being traded, you try to have something to light a fire under you, so I wanted to stay consistent. You heard the rumblings, ‘Could he do it on another team,’ and things like that. My whole thing was to go out and play hard. I don’t know if I ever got comfortable.”
He was the Kings’ top option and there were no All-Star-caliber second options, as there had been with Golden State.
“Every night I made sure I tried to get my rest,” Richmond said. “They can tell you, every night I was in the ice tub or the hot tub. I was making sure I was getting my treatment because it was a battle when you know you’re going to get double-teamed.”
Richmond continued to excel with the Kings. He made the first of his six consecutive All-Star teams in 1993, and he averaged better than 21 points in all seven seasons in Sacramento. He was second-team All-NBA three times and third team twice, even though the Kings didn’t have a winning record during his time.
“I think people always criticize when you aren’t winning,” Richmond said. “I tell people all the time it’s harder to put up numbers when you’re playing on a (struggling) team, going up against all these elite players and trying to put up numbers and put up numbers in the right way. That’s very, very, very difficult to do.
“It was easier playing with Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin. I knew every night they were either going to double me or Chris or Tim and I was going to have a free shot. But every night (with the Kings), you were going to have to take tough shots, and sometimes you had to take tough shots to even give your team a chance to win or be in the game.”
Richmond led the Kings to the playoffs once, as an eighth seed in 1996, but they lost the best-of-five series against Seattle 3-1.
“It was such a blessing,” Richmond said. “I was so proud of our team because I thought we were right there. When we drafted Brian Grant, got Michael Smith, “The Animal,” had Olden Polynice, I felt like we truly had arrived. I had Sarunas Marciulionis (a fellow 2014 Hall of Fame inductee) backing me up, and I just thought we had a quality team. That was one of the best feelings in the world.”
St. Jean recalls the tremendous fan support during that series and the angst he felt when Richmond turned an ankle.
“We got it to respectability and he deserves the bulk of the credit,” St. Jean said. “And his teammates loved him. He had so much respect, earned from other coaches, other players, other star players. ... He had the utmost respect from everybody.”
Trade launches team’s best years
To build on their success, the Kings needed Richmond – but in a much different way. They traded him to Washington on May 14, 1998, for forward Chris Webber.
“They finally got an owner that was willing to spend money, willing to take necessary risks at that time,” Richmond said. “They got better right away by the trade, getting Webber, getting (Vlade) Divac. I wanted to play with Peja (Stojakovic). We had drafted Peja (in 1996) and I thought I was going to have an opportunity to play with him. And then they drafted (Jason Williams), so they had five players who were legit. And then they signed Doug Christie. ... And you knew they were going to be good.”
Richmond, on the other hand, went to another struggling franchise, and his scoring average decreased in each of his three seasons in Washington. He finished his career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001-02, appearing in 64 regular-season games and playing just four minutes in the playoffs.
But he went out a champion. The Lakers won their third consecutive title during a playoff run that included an epic seven-game series against the Kings in the Western Conference finals.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Richmond said. “I spent seven years there, and now I have an opportunity to win a championship. And I have to go through Sacramento and they’re getting ready to cut us off? They had us. They had us. But we shouldn’t have been in that situation. I remember Shaq (O’Neal) saying ‘Just give me the damn ball and stop messing around.’ ”
It wasn’t easy for such an accomplished player to end his career cheering Kobe Bryant, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher and Co., but Richmond believed in doing things the right way. Even though Lakers coach Phil Jackson didn’t play him, Richmond wasn’t going to become a problem.
“I felt like I could have played, but at that time I had to take a step back. What got me through that was the guys who played behind me when I was in Sacramento at my best,” Richmond said. “... All those guys cheered me on. I had to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, I have to cheer these guys on.’ ... I had to be humble ... because if I said something I would have looked stupid because we were winning.”
Richmond began his career with the Warriors and finished it with the Lakers, but he will forever be synonymous with the Kings. Even if the Kings’ greatest success came after his departure, no one will forget how Richmond carried the team during the 1990s.
“For all the sacrifices he made while he was here, the time he put in, he paved the way,” said Corliss Williamson, a Kings assistant coach who played his first three NBA seasons with Richmond in Sacramento. “He paved the way for the Kings to take the next step.
“Unfortunately in this business sometimes we get traded and things turn out a different way, and to get those different players in here they had to trade Mitch. For me, sentimentally, I wish he could have been here and been a part of the transition, the change in culture. But we all know where it started, who it started with and who laid the foundation.”
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