Richmond Enters Hall of Fame

Go all-access as the Kings legend becomes the first Sacramento-era player to enter the Hall of Fame and earns high praise from fellow NBA icons.

By: Alex Kramers

With a Kings logo prominent among the emblems gracing the flowing red curtains behind him, Mitch Richmond – light dancing off his diamond earrings and a black suit jacket draped over the broad shoulders that carried his teams to countless hard-fought victories – soaked in his biggest basketball moment at Friday’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony.

“It’s finally hit me,” he said softly, shortly before stepping foot inside the majestic Springfield Symphony Hall auditorium. “I’m just glad (the Hall of Fame) didn’t overlook me, because I felt underrated my whole career. Having the opportunity now to be rewarded for all the hard work, the sweat I put in, those hours in the gym, I can say it really paid off and it was all worth it.”

With his family members, lifelong supporters and NBA peers in attendance, Richmond, flanked on stage by his two presenters – tightknit friends, mentors and former teammates Chris Mullin and Ralph Sampson – became the first player during the Sacramento era and 14th in franchise history to be honored with basketball’s highest distinction.

No. 2 – his voice as steady, strong and consistent as his NBA game – took a deep breath at the podium before delivering a heartfelt, introspective speech, dedicating his accomplishments to his family members, friends and advisors, while paying tribute to the pivotal role the sport has played in his life.

“Basketball became my vehicle for self-confidence,” he said. “Off the court, I was very shy, but on the basketball court, that was a different story. I was confident, determined and I felt I could do no wrong. The ball has meant everything to me from the first time I ever picked it up, and it continues to drive me and guide me to this day.”

With the spotlight shining brightly upon his enduring legacy, the six-time All-Star retraced his steps, expressing gratitude to every organization he was a part of during his esteemed career – conveying his deepest appreciation for his spectacular Sacramento tenure.

“It turned out to be a great seven-year run with the Kings,” he said. “It’s the place where I played some of my best basketball, and the Kings fans, well, they simply are the best. It’s an honor to have my jersey, No. 2, retired by the Kings organization.”

After being presented with his prestigious, navy-blue Hall of Fame jacket at the Class of 2014 Press Conference a day prior, Richmond – seated at a circular table surrounded by numerous media outlets – further reflected on his indelible Kings tenure, voicing immense pride in “taking all of Sacramento in the Hall” with him.

“Being the first Hall of Famer from Sacramento, I think they deserve to go in with me,” he said. “I had a great seven years there – (earned) a lot of individual accolades – and they deserve a lot (of credit) for the push that got me here today.”

A wide smile crossed his face as the 6-foot-5 guard graciously recounted deafening applause and roaring ovations from the moment he stepped foot in then-ARCO Arena.

“When I went to Sacramento, they embraced me right away,” he said. “They supported me from Day 1 – they supported that team even when we were struggling – so I always give a lot of credit to the fans for coming out and having a big sell-out every night.”

Along with the devoted fans who cheered his name, No. 2 reiterated the importance of his biggest advocates and closest companions, who, in turn, couldn’t have been prouder to have played such pivotal roles in helping him reach the pinnacle of NBA success.

 

“It’s awesome (to present Richmond),” said Mullin. “It’s great to be asked to do that by such a great friend. Although we were only teammates for three years, it’s more of a blessing to be his friend for over 25 years.”

“It’s great to see Mitch going into the Hall of Fame and going in as the first (Sacramento) King – he’s very deserving,” said former Kings General Manager and current Kings TV Color Analyst Jerry Reynolds. “He’s in the Hall of Fame because of the numbers he put up in Sacramento and because he was such a dominant player during those seven years. Everything I’d hoped would happen with Mitch, happened, and I couldn’t be happier.”

A sizable contingent of Kings front office personnel, including Chairman and Majority Owner Vivek Ranadivé and General Manager Pete D’Alessandro, joined Mullin – who serves as Advisor to the Chairman – in making the cross-country trip to Western Massachusetts to congratulate the franchise icon.

“It’s an honor and a blessing to be here,” said Ranadivé. “Mitch had his best days as a Sacramento King. He was an All-Star six times, he’s a class act and he continues to be part of our organization. This is a proud day for Sacramento.”

“It’s special to say that you’ve know a guy for this many years and to see him at the epitome of his profession,” said D’Alessandro. “It makes me all the more proud to be a part of this (event) and a part of the Kings.

“(We have) a fanbase that feels ownership—and rightly so – of the team (and) the players, and Mitch may be the greatest player who ever put on a Kings uniform.”

Nicknamed the “The Rock” in honor of his physical post-up game and propensity for overpowering opponents in the paint, the moniker just as aptly epitomizes Richmond’s remarkably steady year-to-year scoring average, as the fifth pick in the 1988 Draft is one of only seven players in League history to notch at least 21 points per game in each of his first 10 seasons.

“He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason – night-in and night-out, he was a guy you could count on (every) year,” says Richmond’s idol, four-time NBA-ABA MVP Julius “Dr. J” Erving. “Maybe he never got a lot of the recognition that a lot of Hall of Famers have (or became) a household name, but amongst the players – which is the important seal of approval – he’s right there with the best of the best.”

Just as he demanded the respect and admiration of defenders assigned the unenviable task of slowing down his prolific scoring, the Florida native commands the attention of every fellow basketball legend.

“Mitch (was) so silky smooth,” says five-time NBA champion Magic Johnson. “He’s a quiet superstar – much like James Worthy was – just a quiet assassin. He, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin made up a trio that was unstoppable (in Golden State). I’m happy for Mitch and his wife Juli – they’re close friends of ours … I’m just so proud of him.”

“I’ve always admired Mitch Richmond – he made a great contribution to the League, he was a steady player and a really good guy in the locker room,” affirms Worthy. “He’s one of the icons of the League … Mitch is one of those guys (whom) I consider a superstar in the NBA. It’s well-deserved and I’m happy for him.”

In addition to No. 2’s storied on-court success, former NBA Commissioner David Stern reveals he’s long appreciated the Kansas State product’s unmistakable love for the sport.

“He was so much fun to watch because he was enjoying the game,” says Stern. “He was like a firecracker – instant offense and he would get his whole team going.

“(He had) that warrior (mentality) ... he helped a lot of teams in a lot of different ways.”

Throughout the course of his memorable career, Richmond took home Rookie of the Year honors, hoisted the 1995 All-Star Game MVP trophy in his third of six midseason showcase appearances, notched five All-NBA Team berths, and won gold and bronze Olympic medals.

“Mitch was one of the best (shooting) guards we ever had in this league,” says four-time Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo. “He contributed so much to the Olympic Team … he had a wonderful career in Sacramento, Golden State (and) all the way to L.A., so as a fan, I’m so happy for him and I’m glad to see his name being called out.”

Far and away the highest-scoring guard during the 1990s, No. 2 amassed 16,178 points over the course of the decade at a 22.5 points-per-game clip, ranking well ahead of contemporaries Reggie Miller (20.6) and Clyde Drexler (20.4).

On Feb. 15, 2001, Richmond – who sits 37th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and ranks 29th in three-pointers made (1,326) – connected on a 16-foot jumpshot in the second quarter, becoming just the 26th player to pour in 20,000 career points.

“Mitch is one of the all-time great scorers – just a tough, tough, tough player in the NBA – and I’m just so happy for him to be honored tonight,” said three-time Coach of the Year and current Miami President Pat Riley. “All those years were incredible, and I just want to wish him the best.”

While his offensive prowess is routinely celebrated, Richmond was far from a one-dimensional player, as his steadfast commitment to making an impact on both ends of the court has been equally admired by his peers.

“At the (shooting) guard spot, if you didn’t come and play hard on both ends, you could get embarrassed,” he explains. “At that time, so many guys were difficult to guard – talking about Michael (Jordan), talking about Reggie (Miller), Clyde Drexler and I can go down the line. I always liked playing defense anyway, so it was great.”

Characterized by Jordan as his toughest opponent, Richmond frustrated rival counterparts by refusing to back down, using his high basketball IQ and muscular frame to keep players off balance and stifle their effectiveness.

“He was such a competitor – every time I played against Mitch, I knew it was going to be a tough night,” says 14-year NBA veteran Jim Jackson. “He was physical, so especially (for a player like) me – who wanted to post up – Mitch knew how to use his lower frame to get me off the post. Intelligence is how I’d describe Mitch as a basketball player, offensively and defensively.”

“My whole thing is when you start talking Hall of Fame players, just go ask the players who played against him – that’s when you’ll find out,” says former All-Star and current NBA TV analyst Steve Smith. “(There were) so many great (shooting) guards in my era – Mitch, Michael, Reggie (Miller), Reggie Lewis, Allan Houston, Clyde Drexler – and as far as talking about one of the toughest guards on both ends, tough-as-nails, two-way players, Mitch was a Hall of Famer the day he retired.”

The Kings legend acknowledges he wasn’t as certain the pivotal call would come, recounting his hand shaking as “Hall of Fame” flashed on his phone’s caller ID in early April. In the middle of a scout meeting in Chicago, Ill. Richmond – who serves as Kings Director of Pro Personnel – took a deep breath and stepped into the hallway to answer, his mind racing with anticipation.

“I was very, very nervous – when I went outside and took the call, I didn’t know what to expect,” he recalls. “The only fact I remember is them saying, ‘You made it,’ so I was pretty ecstatic, overwhelmed and overjoyed. It was a great moment. I think I might’ve hung up the phone on them!”

Finally seeing his name among highly-distinguished company inside basketball’s stately shrine, Richmond – pausing to reflect upon his journey and myriad of records, awards and achievements – put his impressive career feats in perspective.

“Getting in the Hall of Fame, it trumps everything,” he says. “There are a lot of things I enjoyed – I had a great opportunity with the (1996) Olympic Team, getting a (2002 championship) ring and winning (1995 All-Star Game) MVP. The Hall of Fame is like icing on the cake, and I’m just honored to be here.

“It’s just remarkable – I never would’ve thought (I’d join) ‘Dr. J’ and Oscar Robertson … I’m just blessed and happy I had the opportunity to play the game the way I did and now be amongst the greats.”

While Richmond was influenced by the grace, fluidity and charisma of “Dr. J” – frequently imitating his hero’s soaring dunks on eight-foot rims in local elementary-school playgrounds – he didn’t formally trade in his football cleats for basketball sneakers until his sophomore year of high school.

“Growing up, football always came first, so I didn’t switch over until the 10th grade,” he says. “But when (my love for basketball) entered, it never left after that.”

The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. native attributes his tough-nosed mentality on the hardwood to strenuous, physically demanding games on gridirons in his hometown, alongside future NFL superstar wide receiver Michael Irvin.

“I remember people said, ‘(Basketball) is a physical game,’ and I said, ‘You call this physical?’” he chuckles. “I had a little success already just by playing hard, playing aggressive and playing with intensity, so I loved playing that way. I loved the contact and I loved the ability to play without pads – I was a lot faster without pads!”

Upon entering the NBA, with a game personifying brawn and willpower, with a touch of finesse, Richmond presented nightly matchup nightmares for defenders, utilizing his burly, 6-foot-5 frame to set up on the low block and seamlessly get to the rim, as well as his silky-smooth outside touch to connect from behind the arc.

“(Richmond) was like Oscar Robertson – big and strong – and he could get to any place on the court,” says Erving. “He didn’t let players dictate to him where he was going to score from – he dictated to the players where he was going to score from and still scored.”

The productive guard routinely found ways to put the ball in the basket – from pull-up jumpers to off-balance fadeaways to acrobatic reverse lay-ups – despite typically being the focus of opposing teams’ game-plans and facing endless double- and triple-teams.

“Mitch was deceptively quick – (quicker) than he looked – and he was extremely strong,” says Worthy. “He had an overall game, but his offensive game – his face-up, his jab-steps, his upper body strength and the fact that he could shoot – made him almost unstoppable.”

In Golden State, Richmond joined Mullin and Hardaway to form the legendary, fast-paced “Run-TMC” trio, electrifying the Bay Area and exhilarating fans across the country with stunning, high-octane offensive showcases.

“I truly, truly enjoyed it – it was a fun time of basketball,” says Richmond. “A lot of teams couldn’t really understand what we were doing because we were running a lot of motion (offense) and you couldn’t key in on one guy … people don’t realize (how much tougher it is), when teams are preparing for you, sending two or three guys at you.”

Mullin echoes a similar sentiment as he reminisces on the brief but eternally impactful tenure.

“That was the most fun I ever had playing basketball,” he says.

“(Mitch was) the best teammate you can ask for – he came in as a rookie (and it) seemed like he was a five-time All-Star already (with a) totally polished game.”

Acquired by the Kings in exchange for the Draft rights to Billy Owens prior to the 1991-92 season, Richmond spent the prime of his career in Sacramento, delivering magnificent, long-term production that cemented him as one of the best players to ever don a purple-and-black uniform.

“People fall in love with Draft picks, but I wanted a proven star – and that’s what we got with Mitch,” says Reynolds, recalling No. 2 scoring 35 points in just his second game as a King.

“Mitch was the epitome of the shooting guard position at a very productive level, and he was just breathtaking to watch. With the exception of Michael Jordan – maybe you can make a case for Clyde Drexler – I don’t know anyone who was better at the position at the time.”

Richmond’s name remains prominent in Sacramento-era record books, inscribed atop the leaderboard in points (12,070), field goals made (4,230) and attempted (9,338), and free throws made (2,617) and attempted (3,088). The guard ranks second in three-pointers made (993) and attempted (2,460), assists (2,128), steals (670) and games played (517), while trailing only Robertson and Jack Twyman in all-time franchise scoring.

“He earned his nickname for a reason – he was physically imposing and all the players respected him for his toughness,” says Reynolds. “A lot of opponents were intimidated going up against him (because) he could obviously score the ball, but he also could really defend and hold his own on that end.”

Although he was recognized through a multitude of annual accolades and honors – including being routinely picked by opposing coaches as an All-Star reserve – “The Rock” aimed to only improve individually each season, but set a lasting example as the quintessential leader on impressionable Sacramento squads.

“(I focused on) doing the necessary things in the offseason to be prepared, going through the hard work in the summer time – always from Day 1,” he says.

“I was the veteran (on the Kings), and we had a lot of young guys who came to be pretty good players, but at that time, we were trying to find our identity. It was just a learning curve, but I think we went at it the right way.”

Former Kings teammate Walt Williams continues to marvel at Richmond’s work ethic and adore the strong-willed guard for taking him under his wing.

“He was a great leader on and off the court – he was a great inspiration,” says Williams. “He was a good example of how you’re supposed to conduct yourself as a professional. I think he really showed me the ropes, basically showed me how to be a professional in this game, (in terms of) my work ethic and how I handle myself off court.

“He definitely exemplifies what hard work can do for you. I’ve never played with a guy who worked as hard as him my whole career, so he (set) a great example.”

Richmond’s uncompromising determination culminated in a Kings postseason berth in 1996, in which Sacramento – led by No. 2’s Playoff-career-high 37 points on April 28 – evened its first-round series at one game apiece against the top-seeded SuperSonics.

“Mitch dominated that game, which was probably the most important game of his career,” says Reynolds. “He really bothered Gary Payton on both ends and (Seattle) had no answer for him. He just said, ‘Enough of this’ and took over. It was incredible to watch.”

The impressive victory harvested an astounding atmosphere in Sacramento unlike anything Richmond had ever experienced, as purple-and-black-clad fans waited for the team at the airport and boisterous crowds brought out unparalleled “ARCO Thunder” over the ensuing two contests.

“The fan-base was really crazy every year that I was there, but that night there was just an unbelievable roar in the building,” he describes. “It just pumped you up and got you excited. It was just great seeing the city of Sacramento being represented in the Playoffs at that time. It was beautiful to see.”

Another of Richmond’s most-cherished experiences occurred on Dec. 15, 1995, when the guard poured in a Sacramento-era record 25 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with a career-high-tying 47 points to go along with seven assists, six rebounds and four steals in a comeback road victory against the Houston Rockets.

“It was very special because that was the team that won the championship (the previous) year,” says No. 2, who scored 13 consecutive Kings points to give his squad the lead for good in the final frame. “Going up against Clyde – another guy who was tough to guard – I tried to make him work, and I wanted to go all the way on that one.”

Earning the endorsement of many of the League’s greatest players, coaches and executives, Richmond’s incomparable, two-way game cements his legacy as one of the most illustrious standouts of his era.

“When you think about true (shooting) guards, and how a guy should play the game, you think about Mitch Richmond,” says fellow Class of 2014 inductee and seven-time All-Star Alonzo Mourning. “He could score the basketball, he could defend and he obviously had this toughness about him. You put him in the top five that ever played that position the right way.”

As the unforgettable festivities came to a close, Richmond – carrying a euphoric smile along with his Hall of Fame trophy – looked ahead to what his future has in store while continuing to bask in the picture-perfect present.

“I’m going to celebrate all month – I’ve been celebrating since they announced it!” he said.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get the Kings back on the right track. I want to put the Kings back on top.”

#RockTheHOF

For generations of Kings fans across the globe, Richmond represents the franchise’s first elite superstar and role model – a prized local favorite who helped put Sacramento on the basketball map in the mid-1990s and whose name remains synonymous with a hardnosed, tenacious mentality.

No. 2’s loyal followers expressed their support for the star guard by using the hashtag #RockTheHOF on Twitter, thanking the former guard for his timeless on-court production and a lifetime of treasured memories.

Following an overwhelming outpour of support for the former guard, Click Here to check out some of Kings.com’s favorite Tweets.