Rock Solid

by Dave Mendonca

On February 1, 1996, Mitch Richmond did something few could ever claim: He outscored Michael Jordan, 30-27.

Richmond’s Sacramento Kings would lose 105-85 to the eventual 72-10 Bulls, but true basketball fans recognized his hard court brilliance despite the mounting defeats.

Delivering high octane offensive performances and losing games was a consistent theme for the talented and underrated shooting guard who played for many bad Sacramento teams.

“I’m telling you, it was really some tough times and some tough years there. It wasn’t all gravy,” the 1995 All-Star Game MVP said. “I was trying to get out of there every year—I tell you the truth. I tried to play a mental game with myself. Don’t even look at the score. Try to go out every night and just play hard and don’t worry about the score. Just get the respect of your peers.”

During his playing days, Richmond had many showdowns with Jordan, Reggie Miller and others. Being an intense competitor, the six-time All-Star wasn’t interested in the Magic/Isiah pre-game peck on the cheek or handshakes. He wasn’t your friend. He didn’t want to know you. “The Rock” was mentally tough. No one scared him. Not even MJ.

“He’ll try to score 40 on you and he’ll try to shut you down,” Richmond said of his battles against Mike. “I always took pride in trying to do the same because at the 2-guard spot, it was so difficult, night in and night out, if you didn’t come with the right mindset, you could get tore up every night.”

Richmond respects Jordan, and is honored His Airness regards him as one of his toughest all-time opponents. He accepts this praise knowing how much No. 23 has done for the game.

“Do you think I would wear a Karl Malone basketball shoe when I was playing in the League? I wore Jordans. How humbling is that?” Richmond said. “For a guy I’m battling every night and you look down and I got on his shoes. Come on, man. That’s where you know how powerful Mike was.”

Enjoying his post-NBA life after 14 seasons in the League, Richmond isn’t shy about his true feelings, especially when it comes to former opponents who are now friends.

“Karl Malone. I hated him. I truly, truly hated the guy. I hated everything about him. I hated everything about his team. I hated everything about Utah. I hated the guy. He would try to knock your head off,” Richmond explained. “Another guy I really didn’t like was Clyde Drexler because we had battles and we were trying to take each other’s head off. I didn’t want to be his friend. I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t want to know anything about him. Actually, we went over to China recently about four months ago. We chatted and I told the man, ‘I hated you!’ We laughed and joked.”

The 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist realizes how important maintaining relationships are as he grows older. In fact, he’s been able to develop a good one with The Mailman.

“I had an opportunity to play with Karl in ’96 at the Olympics. We kind of hung out a lot. A lot of people really was like, ‘Hey, he’s a terrible guy. He’s a terrible person.’ But, this is probably one of the most giving people you will ever want to meet,” Richmond said. “He’s just a country boy. Just recently seeing him on NBA TV, we talked in the green room, this guy is about nature. He’s about helping. He’s just a quality guy. I’m just so proud to call him my friend.”

Richmond and Malone are former Lakers, and the 2002 NBA Champion couldn’t help but offer his opinion on the new-look Purple and Gold.

“You look on paper they have everything you possibly want,” Richmond said. “Probably you want them to have a stronger bench. They’re a little older. You got to see how that plays out because age catches up with all of us. Sometimes you can get old over a two-month period of time, so you have to really figure out how it’s going to work out.

“But on paper they look really and truly tremendous. They’re the Lakers. They’re gonna be around,” Richmond said. “They still got Kobe Bryant, one of the best players in the game. Then you add a guy like Dwight Howard who is one of the most dominant guys in the game. You’re gonna win some games.”

Today, basketball remains a part of Richmond’s life. He is an NBA TV analyst and performs charity work.

It’s been quite the NBA ride for Richmond, but one thing is for sure: Despite being on the wrong end of the scoreboard many times, his game has rightfully earned the respect and admiration from not only his peers, but true basketball fans everywhere.

To listen to the complete Mitch Richmond interview visit The Breakdown with Dave & Audley podcast.