Sacramento’s basketball history is erratic and evolving, and let’s be honest, it’s still a little on the thin side. If someone wanted to pan for gold near Highway 49, say, maybe toss on a pair of overalls and boots and get down and dirty, he (or she) might glimpse a sparkle beneath all that muck and stuff.
But as of late Monday afternoon, prospects shone a little brighter with the news that Mitch Richmond can be found in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Though it took two years to muster the necessary votes, former Kings general manager Jerry Reynolds swears he saw a gem at first sight. He spotted Richmond – a 6-foot-5, 215-pound teenager in a man’s muscled body – as a junior college player auditioning for Kansas State. He monitored Richmond’s Rookie of the Year season (1988-89) with the Golden State Warriors, kept tabs on the prolific scoring guard during the wildly entertaining Run TMC era, the one that ended prematurely and to the enormous benefit of the Kings.
“We needed a star, a proven star,” recalled Reynolds, the GM at the time who acquired Richmond for the draft rights to Billy Owens in the heist of the 1991 offseason. “In my mind, I thought Billy would be a good player but that Mitch Richmond could be a really good player.”
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Though Richmond isn’t the first basketball Hall of Famer plucked cleanly out of homegrown soil – that will be Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson within the next year or so – he emerged as a consistent, relentless presence during his seven seasons here. And though Richmond undoubtedly had some choice (blue) words for Don Nelson and the venerable Mr. Reynolds for breaking up his beloved Run TMC, which included Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin, he will be happy to hear it also was Reynolds who nominated him and continued sharing his opinions until everyone listened.
“What a thrill,” Reynolds said. “I couldn’t be happier for Mitch. He is most deserving of this. At the time (of the trade), I couldn’t have been happier for us, either,” he added, laughing.
In the years before Richmond’s acquisition, the Kings were known as that quaint little campus-like franchise located in the California boonies. The first Sacramento Kings team (1985-86) reached the playoffs with a losing record, as did the second team (1995-96) – a roster headlined by Richmond and including former Warriors teammate Sarunas Marciulionis, and Brian Grant and Corliss Williamson.
Though the roster remained fluid, the finances often tight, Richmond was a dominant force. The man known as “Rock” because of his steady, punishing presence was named to six All-NBA teams and two Olympic squads. In his seasons in Sacramento, he averaged 23.3 points, defended the opposing team’s major threat, and in somewhat of an unintended parting gift, accelerated the Kings’ transformation from inevitable losers to championship contenders.
Reynolds jokingly tells Richmond the Kings are 2-0 with him: Reynolds swiped Richmond from the Warriors in 1991, and then in 1998, Geoff Petrie swapped the aging, increasingly disillusioned veteran to the Washington Wizards for Chris Webber in his prime. Webber changed the Kings, Richmond eventually won an NBA championship with the Lakers, and now he’s back as the Kings’ Director of Pro Personnel.
But those Run TMC years? The Warriors were close, so close. And so much fun to watch.
“We felt when we were together, in the days when you had to have three guys, that we had those guys, and it was broken up,” said Mullin, a HOF member and an advisor to Kings owner Vivek Ranadive. “When Mitch got traded, he adjusted to new circumstances, but he never let it affect his performance. Great, great teammate. That’s one reason we’re so tight. Honestly, this is just a great thing for Mitch and for Sacramento.”