Yesterday, an anonymous commenter said:
So far you're spot on with this series. But I'm curious...what are the criteria? I mean, every team, especially a really good team, has 12th, 13th, 14th men who aren't good and don't see any time in the playoffs. But most of them are just guys who practice and cheer. Rice and Rider were both 1) way more talented than those guys, and 2) willing to squander it/sulk/commit crimes etc.
So do the people in this series have to be talented guys who ended up with a ring despite throwing most of that talent away, or just any sad sack who happened to be on the team?
To me, the bums and scrubs at the end of a title team's bench don't qualify as a "Worst NBA Champion." A WNC is (usually) one of the following:
1. A talented but selfish player who becomes a cancer and/or actively works against team goals, or puts his own welfare ahead of winning a title.
2. A talented (or formerly talented) player who does not (or cannot) live up to expectations and cannot (or does not) actively contribute to winning a title.
3. Someone who is actively piggybacking his way to a title.
Hopefully, this clears things up for you. Now, onto today's post.
I'm a Mitch Richmond fan.
No, really. I am. In 1988-89, Richmond won Rookie of the Year as a member of Don Nelson's Golden State Warriors. With the Warriors, he was the "M" of "Run TMC", a high-scoring trio made up of Richmond, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin.
They were a devastating offensive combination. Hardaway was the playmaker and the leader of Nellie's fastbreaking attack. Richmond was the slasher and basket attacker. Mullin was the lights out shooter. Unfortunately, none of them played any defense.
I guess that's why the Warriors traded Richmond to the Sacramento Kings in return for Billy Owens. Of course, that trade didn't make a ton of sense back then, and it makes even less now. But hey, I'm not an NBA general manager.
Back then -- much like today -- being sent to Sacramento was like having your career sentenced to a slow but violent death. For seven long years, Richmond was stuck on some truly lousy Kings teams. But Mitch deserves some mad freaking props: the dude flat out killed himself for that team. He never quit or became a locker room cancer.
Instead of becoming a huge, fluttering asshole and demanding trades or attacking his front office like some two guards I could mention, Richmond just went about his business of being awesome. He was an All-Star for six straight seasons, even winning the All-Star MVP award in 1994-95. He made the All-NBA Second or Third Team five times. He became a deadeye three-point shooter, ranking 7th in the league in 1993-94 (.407), 9th in 1995-96 (.437) and 5th in 1996-97 (.428).
And, of course, Richmond was a certified scoring machine. He was a top 10 scorer for seven seasons. Mitch finished with a career scoring average of 21.0 PPG, which ranks 38th in league history. His 20,497 career points rank him 34th all-time.
Richmond played hurt. He played hard. And, considering his less-than-optimal circumstances, he played with relatively few complaints. But his suffering didn't end with the Kings. No, Mitch got shipped to Washington (along with Otis Thorp) for Chris Webber. And while Richmond languished in Washington for three agonizing seasons, he had to watch C-Webb transform his old team into a championship contender.
God, that had to suck.
But on July 20, 2001, it looked as though Richmond's luck had finally changed. That's the day on which he signed a $1 million free agent contract to play for the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers (a deal made possible only because the Wizards agreed to buy out his contract for $10 million). Here's what Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak had to say
about signing Richmond:
"Mitch has been one of the best guards in the NBA over the past 13 years. He's not only a great scorer and solid defender, but also a top-notch professional in the locker room and off the court as well. He should fit in perfectly with our team and we're thrilled that he's a Laker."
Yeah. The Lakers were so thrilled about Mitch that he appeared in only 64 games, logging 11.1 MPG and averaging 4.1 PPG. He reached double figures only five times, scoring a season high 13 points in a win over the Denver Nuggets.
Like Glen Rice and Isaiah Rider before him, Richmond just didn't fit in the triangle offense. Frankly, he had spent way too many years as a lone gunman on bad teams. Unlike Rice and Rider, Mitch wasn't a divisive force or an off-the-court distraction. But he was bummed out. How could he not have been? Over the last two months of the season, he played only 50 minutes. His ass was shining a fine polish onto the Lakers' bench.
As L.A. made their annual playoff run, all Richmond could do was watch. Hell, even when Kobe Bryant was all sickly from a bad room service cheeseburger during Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, Mitch still didn't get into the game. That's when he almost cracked.Said Richmond
"I know I still can do it. If I get the opportunity, I'll try to help the team. But I can't sit up here and lie to you and say it's not difficult to sit over there and not be a part of it, knowing that I can contribute.
"I've been analyzing a lot over there, sitting on the bench. I look at (Devean) George, a guy that really didn't get an opportunity to play this year. George is kind of playing the minutes I was playing last year, and year in and year out. No one, I don't think anyone thought he could really help the team. And when he got 20 to 23 minutes a game, you see that he can perform and he's doing more than an adequate job.
"I haven't [asked Phil Jackson for more minutes]. Do I feel comfortable about it? No, I think in this situation, in the playoffs, I don't want to put any added burden on him, or myself. I haven't went to him. I haven't said anything about 'I want to get out there.' I hope he knows that."
"I couldn't be happier with the group of guys that I have. We have Mitch Richmond on our team, that is an elder statesman, a comedic kind of value that he brings to the team. He's got a great sense of humor and he knows a role, even though he'd love to be out there playing like he was 10 years ago, five years ago."
Yeah, Jackson knew...but that didn't change his mind about leaving Richmond on the bench. For the most part. Richmond logged fewer playoff minutes (4) than fucking Slava Medvedenko (21) and Mark Madsen (10). Mitch did make a token, three-minute appearance in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals...a 92-91 loss
to the Kings in Sacramento. Nothing like a little humiliation in your old kingdom. Richmond must have felt like a dog having his nose rubbed in his own urine.
Richmond didn't make another appearance in those playoffs until the final minute of the Lakers' four-game sweep
of the New Jersey Nets. Richmond made the most of that minute, scoring two points (see his fadeaway baseline jumper at the 3:40 mark of this video
) and dribbling out the clock en route to his first and only NBA championship (watch him do it at the 4:00 mark of the same video
Did Richmond deserve a title after all those thankless years of busting his butt for dreadful teams in Sacramento and Washington. Sure...I guess. But honestly, to someone like me, who spent the 1990s rooting for the guy, his final accomplishment as an NBA player felt like just another humiliation in a career full of them. Richmond didn't want to piggyback his way to a title. He wanted to help earn it. Sadly, that just wasn't in the cards.
But he has a ring.
Labels: Mitch Richmond, Worst NBA Champions