By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Mitch Richmond is a finalist for the Hall of Fame and solid candidate for Springfield, Mass., when inductees from the North American committee, the group that handles most candidates with NBA ties, are announced April 7 at the Final Four. But his name and career does not resonate today the same as contemporaries on the ballot, Alonzo Mourning as likely the leading candidate, former Warriors teammate Tim Hardaway with the perception advantage of starring with high-octane Golden State plus the glam of Miami, and Kevin Johnson with the boost of recent years in the news as mayor while partnering with David Stern to save professional basketball in Sacramento.
The Richmond legacy, meanwhile? As the M (Mitch) partnering with Hardaway and Chris Mullin, good friends to this day, in the Run TMC scoring festival in Golden State. That’s the image.
The Richmond truth? He was a Warrior only three seasons, the same time he spent in Washington and far behind the seven campaigns of running marathons on broken glass in bare feet with the Kings. Sacramento was his real career home base.
Sacramento was also where his Hall candidacy received his greatest boost, strange as it sounds with those three seasons of less than 30 wins and the four others of no more than 39. Never touching .500 or better than fifth place in the seven-team Pacific Division, it turns out decades later, has become one of the selling points for enshrinement.
Seven losing teams, seven chances for opponents to pull out the familiar refrain that the run of averaging 22 or 23 points a game was simply putting up big numbers on a bad team, and they cared not at all. Six times in those seven seasons, coaches put him on the All-Star team would it would have been easily understandable to run from anything connected to the Kings of the 1990s, not embrace it. Coaches putting him on that pedestal is a very loud statement.
Seven losing teams, seven chances for the media to pelt Richmond with the verbal stones of a supposed star getting Sacramento to the playoffs just once, the 39-43 Kings of 1995-96 that lost 3-1 to the SuperSonics in the first round, and still massive appreciation. He made second-team All-NBA in 1993-94 (on a 28-54 club), 1994-95 (39-43) and 1996-97 (34-48) and third-team in 1995-96 and 1997-98 (27-55).
Richmond averaged 21 points a game in 14 seasons with the Warriors, Kings, Bullets and Lakers, even with the 4.1 of the closing act of 2001-02 in Los Angeles, and had 10 years in a row of at least 21.9. He was a star as a junior and senior at Kansas State — college careers are weighed as well — and won gold (1996) and bronze (1988) with the U.S. Olympic team. There was also the 2002 NBA championship with the Lakers while Richmond logged 11.1 minutes in the regular season and four total minutes in two appearances in the playoffs.
“When I played with Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, Run TMC, Sarunas Marciulionis, it was easy to play,” Richmond said. “I still got my points, but I played with players that made the game easier. It’s harder to play on a team that’s not winning and to try to keep that going when you know every guy is trying to trap you and bring in a whole defensive set for you. It’s more work. It’s not an easy thing. If I just roll over and don’t play well, then what? I’m a bust.
But I went out every night trying to do the best I can and trying to do my job. When you look at me, I wasn’t a selfish guy. I felt like I played hard, I played both ends of the floor. But sometimes you get with an organization that everything doesn’t click. That shouldn’t stop you from looking at a guy’s numbers different than if the guy was somewhere else.”
Richmond cites the reaching 20,000 points as the primary boost for the candidacy, but the bigger push in that regard is being 37th on the career scoring list when everyone ahead of him except Vince Carter is either already enshrined or an easy in when the time comes. There’s not even a debate on the others.
“I think I’m the only guy with 20,000 points that is not in the Hall of Fame,” Richmond said. “All the other guys are still playing, everybody else is in. And I think more than anything, even though I played on some rough teams, my peers understood that I tried to play both ends of the court. I hope that’s enough.”
Antawn Jamison, who may or may not be retired, and Tom Chambers are also past 20,000, but point taken. Richmond has a case.