November 23, 2015

NBRPA writer Jon Teitel has spent time talking with many of the greatest players in NBA history and will share his interviews at LegendsofBasketball.com. Jon visited with Mitch Richmond about going out on top and working for his former teammate.

Mitch Richmond finished his amateur career in 1988 with losses in the NCAA tourney and the Olympics, but after getting drafted that summer his shelf started to fill up with some heavy-duty hardware. He began his pro career by being named NBA ROY and later made 6 straight All-Star Games from 1993-1998. He was named MVP of the 1995 All-Star Game, followed that up with an Olympic gold medal in 1996, then won a ring in the final game of his career with the Lakers in the 2002 NBA Finals. After retiring he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014, and this fall he joined the staff of his former Hall of Fame teammate Chris Mullin as an assistant coach at St. John’s.

You began your college career at Moberly JC: how did you like playing for Coach Dana Altman, and how did he convince you to switch your shooting stroke from the side of your head to the center of your body? I had a great relationship with Coach Altman and we hit it off from Day 1. I played forward/center in high school and had to transition to becoming a 2-guard. I had to figure out how to get my shot off with a better rhythm and we worked on it all summer until I felt comfortable with it.

In the 1988 NCAA tourney as a player at Kansas State you scored 11 PTS in a loss to Kansas: what was it like to play your in-state rival 4 times in 4 different cities during a 2-month span? It brings back some bad memories: we felt that we were the better team that year and had beaten them pretty badly in the Big 8 tourney. We thought that we were finished with them but after a couple of upsets we ended up facing them in the NCAA tourney. That was probably our worst game of the year and was very tough to lose.

In the 1988 Olympics as a member of Team USA you scored 5 PTS in a 6-PT loss to the USSR: where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career, and do you think that we will ever go back to using college players on the US Olympic basketball team? I do not think that we will ever see a team featuring only college players, but perhaps there will be a mix of college and pro players at some point. That was the most devastating loss of my career.

After getting selected 5th overall by Golden State in the 1988 NBA draft, you averaged 22 PPG and were named NBA ROY: how were you able to make such a smooth transition from college to the pros? I put in the work and was lucky to get drafted by Golden State. You always want to get drafted by the right team that fits your style, and it was a great fit for me. Coach Don Nelson let me make some rookie mistakes but always had confidence in me.

In the 1995 All-Star Game you scored 23 PTS (10-13 FG) for the West and were named MVP: how were you able to play your best against the best? You just want to enjoy the weekend without getting injured. I got a little heated after making 4-5 in a row and my teammates just kept feeding me. It was good to do it in a setting like that and be recognized as the best.

You played for Team USA again in the 1996 Olympics: did you feel that you had to win it all after getting a bronze in 1988, and what did it mean to you to win a gold medal? It meant a lot to me because I never knew if I would get another opportunity to play in another Olympics. I was overwhelmed at the chance to join the team, which allowed both David Robinson and me to redeem ourselves. It was so refreshing to win a gold medal: I have never looked at the bronze a single time since I received it back in 1988.

Take me through the magical 2002 NBA playoffs with the Lakers:
The Western Conference Finals vs. Sacramento is considered 1 of the best playoff series in NBA history (with 6 of the 7 games decided by 6 PTS or less): did you get the sense that something was fishy during the 4th quarter of Game 6 (when the Lakers attempted 27 FTs), and what was your reaction after several years later after referee Tim Donaghy alleged that the game had been fixed by the refs? I had been in Sacramento for so many years without making the playoffs, so after joining the 2-time defending champion Lakers I was cheering them on as much as I could from the bench. To be in a series against the Kings with a chance to make the Finals was very nerve-racking: my jersey was soaked as if I had played the whole game because I really wanted to win a ring. I was lost during that whole series just trying to figure out what was going on. When Robert Horry made his big shot at the buzzer in Game 4 to give us another life, I was the 1st 1 who ran out to hug him!

You swept New Jersey in 4 games in the Finals: what did it mean to you to win a title, and how special was it to go out on top? I wanted to play again. New Jersey could not match up with Shaq and nobody could guard Kobe. What got me through it was remembering the guys who cheered me on from the bench when I was playing in front of them, so it was a blessing to get a ring. I thank Robert every time I see him for making that shot! I had some other offers and thought about taking 1 of them. I took the summer off to rest my knee and just decided to go out as a champ and start the next chapter of my life.

Your 1326 3PM remains in the top-30 all-time: what is your secret for making shots from behind the arc? It just takes a lot of work. I think those records will continue to grow because some guys shoot 15 threes a game now: I cannot believe it! I remember when I would shoot 4-5 threes in a game and some people thought that was too much, but Stephen Curry now shoots 10-15 every night. Back then our coach would tell us to drive to the hoop but now every team plays an open style. That is why Nelson was so great: he was doing it 30 years ago. It was great to see Golden State win the title last year.

In 2014 you were inducted into the Hall of Fame: where does that rank among the highlights of your career? That is up there. I did not know if that moment would ever come but I had some people in my corner. I was so appreciative to make it and happy that I switched sports from football to basketball. I feel like I am still a young man and was ecstatic about making it.

Earlier this year you were hired as an assistant to your old teammate Chris Mullin at St. John’s: why did you take the job, and what do you hope to do in the future? It is another chapter in my life. Chris is 1 of my best friends in the entire world and we have always been around coaches. He is a 1st-time head coach and I feel like I can help him succeed. We want to help the kids: it is a lot more about teaching and is enjoyable to show the players what we learned during our careers. We know the recipe and want to give them the skills to be successful in life. We will have some rough times in the beginning (as we already have) but it is worth it to try to turn this thing around. I am just taking the future day by day because I am where I want to be: I want to stick around and give back to the sport.