Friday, May 10, 2013

Former Knick Richardson Building An Unlikely Legacy In Canada

When NBA aficionados think of Micheal "Sugar" Ray Richardson, they generally don't associate him with Canadian basketball. Richardson began his 24 year professional career with the Knicks in 1978. He was selected 4th overall out of Montana, and was proclaimed to be the next "Clyde" Frazier. Two picks later, the Celtics drafted Larry Bird. Though Richardson never fully lived up to the hype, he still managed to become the first player in NBA history to lead the league in both assists and steals in just his second year as a pro.

In 1982, the Knicks traded Richardson to the Golden State Warriors, after signing Bernard King. Golden State quickly traded him to the Nets, where he made the all-star team, and led New Jersey to first-round upset of the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers in the 1983 playoffs.

Richardson's career took a wild turn in 1986, when he was banned from the league for violating the NBA substance abuse policy three times. Richardson tried to make an NBA comeback in 1991, but failed two cocaine tests.
Micheal Ray Richardson has won back-to-back NBLC titles with the London Lightning (Photo Courtesy of London Free Press)
It was during his time away from the NBA, that Richardson truly established himself as a legendary, albeit controversial, professional basketball player and coach. After spending one season with an AAU team, and one with a CBA team, Richardson went to Italy to play for Knorr Bologna, now known as Virtus Bologna, where he played for three seasons. He then spent one year in Croatia with KK Split, two years with what is now Libertas Livorno of the Italian league, three years with Olympique Antibes of the French league, and one season with French club Cholet. He spent two more years in Italy, with the now defunct clubs of Motana Forli and Basket Livorno, before ending his career in France with a second stint with Olympique Antibes, and finally the now defunct AC Golfe-Juan-Vallauris.

By the end of his pro career, Richardson had been a four time NBA all-star, and made the all-defensive first team twice, but his legacy as a coach has been far more successful. After working briefly for the Denver Nuggets as a community ambassador in 2003, he won the CBA title twice. He then won the PBL coach of the year with the Oklahoma/Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry. Even in the CBA, Richardson couldn't avoid controversy. He was suspended from the 2007 CBA finals for telling the Albany Times Union newspaper that Jews were "crafty (because) they are hated worldwide." Richardson made the comments after he was offered a less than satisfactory contract by general manager Jim Coyne to coach his team in the CBA and USBL. It was also reported by the Times Union that Richardson had made an anti-gay remark at a heckling fan during the first game of the championship series against the Yakima Sun Kings.

In 2011, Richardson was named head coach of the London Lightning for the inaugural season of National Basketball League of Canada, what is the country's first established professional basketball league. In 2011-2012, Richards coached the Ontario-based club to a 28-8 regular season record, before defeating the Halifax Rainmen in the best of five championship series to become the league's first champions. This past April, Richardson and his Lightning defended their title, defeating the Summerside Storm in four games in the championship series. Richardson has garnered coach of the year honors in the both of the league's first two seasons.

Though the NBLC title is far from an NBA title, Richardson has proved that he has a knack for winning, as proven by his two championships. It may not be long before we see the former NBA all-star roaming a sideline across the American border.