Pooh Richardson: Wolves Fan Favorite

by Doug Ward
This story appeared in Timberwolves Tonight in March 1990.

Related Links
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 June 27: Richardson is Wolves' first draft choice
 Richardson named to All-Rookie team
Okay, so Chicago Ave. South, where a larger-than-life image of Pooh Richardson spins a basketball on a billboard, isn't the Sunset Strip. And the fast-food restaurant where a life-sized likeness of Richardson sells kids on the Junior Wolves has none of the style of Spago.

Minnesota isn't Los Angeles. Or even Philadelphia. But Pooh Richardson, a Philadelphia native with L.A. style, is fast becoming a part of the Twin Cities' pop culture.

In addition to becoming a marketing symbol and polished speaker, Richardson has already become a fan favorite in the Twin Cities. "That helps you a lot because you know you're going to have that support, no matter what you do," Richardson said of the Metrodome crowd's affection. "Sometimes, when things aren't going so well, the fans can be your crutch. That's important."

Not that Richardson is the kind of guy who needs a crutch. So far this year, he's handled a move to the Midwest, limited playing time early in the season and the adjustment to the NBA without breaking stride.

"The level of play in the NBA is great, intense," Richardson said. "But as time goes by, you become more comfortable with it, more at ease."

That Richardson has made the transition from the college game to the pros should come as no surprise, really. Almost from the day Richardson first picked up a basketball, his life was one big primer course for the NBA.

On the streets of his native Philadelphia, Richardson grew up and played alongside Lionel Simmons, Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers. "Those players had a lot to do with the player I am now," Richardson explained. "Just being around those guys and having the opportunity to play with them... You grow up with an attitude."

It's an attitude that Richardson still carries today, a self-assured, almost cocky, attitude that was enhanced by four years at UCLA. "When you play at UCLA," Richardson said, "you can't go on the court intimidated because the other teams are out there attacking you, just because you're UCLA. It's different than any other school."

Los Angeles is different than any other city, too. Especially if you happen to be a basketball player. When you spend your summer playing pickup games with guys like Magic Johnson and Byron Scott, you get a different perspective. "Playing summer ball helped me a lot," Richardson said. "You get away from being in awe of those guys. What you learn is that you just have to go out there and play."

After four years in Los Angeles, Richardson had become the Pac-10's all-time assist leader, a close personal friend of Magic Johnson and a first-round NBA draft pick.

The Timberwolves made Richardson their first draft selection ever when they claimed him with the 10th overall pick in last June's draft. "I was really excited," Richardson said, "but I wasn't shocked. The Wolves had interviewed me just prior to the draft and I knew they were interested, but you never know what's going to happen in the draft. Everything varies."

Variables are something Richardson can deal with. Regardless of whether he's adjusting to a change in climate, handling endorsement requests or juggling the demands on his time, Richardson knows basketball always must come first. "You just have to know that playing basketball is what you do. It's more important than anything else. Minnesota is like no other place I've lived. I went from one extreme in Philadelphia to another in Los Angeles to another extreme here, but you can't let anything get in the way of what you want to accomplish. I pretty much have my mind made up about that."

Becoming a marquee-type player — in addition to being featured on billboards and in ads, he's the only Timberwolves player with a poster currently on the market — isn't likely to affect Richardson. "It's all been pleasureable," Richardson said. "It's very nice and gratifying. I'm enjoying it."

Richardson seems to enjoy everything about the NBA. His personality is perfectly suited for the media and fan attention that has been thrust upon him. He can be found signing autographs in the Metrodome tunnel prior to every home game and seems to attract a crowd wherever he goes.

"My attitude is that you have to have some outlet," Richardson said of his outgoing nature. "You don't want to be a big ball of nerves. My outlet is being relaxed and talking to people. That's how I relax."

A relaxed Richardson has been productive for the Wolves, averaging 9.5 points and 6.2 assists while starting 27 of the first 61 games of the season. He has made it a point to remain on an even keel throughout his rookie season.

"You can't be on an emotional roller coaster and have longevity in this league," he said. "In basketball, you have your moments and you have times when things aren't going so well. If you're sky-high when you play well and down in the dumps when you play not so well, that puts an emotional strain on you. I don't want to bring that upon myself."

When the season ends in another five weeks, Richardson will see how he feels and then decide how he'll spend the offseason. Chances are, he'll participate in a summer league in L.A. or Philadelphia, but he'll also make periodic visits to the Twin Cities. You'll recognize Pooh — he'll be the one with the crowd around him.