Best of luck, Coach Micheal Ray Richardson

You might remember Micheal Ray Richardson.  Basketball fans know that he was drafted by the Knicks (two draft picks ahead of Larry Bird), and once led the NBA in assists and steals in the same season.  That’s impressive.

Detractors might remember him as having his drug addictions bounce him completely out of the league.

And minor league basketball fans might remember how he helped the Albany Patroons win the 1987-88 CBA championship.

Today comes news that Micheal Ray Richardson has accepted a position to coach a professional basketball team in Thailand.  Richardson will coach the Chang Thailand Slammers, who recently won the 2010-11 Asean Basketball League championship.

For the past six seasons, I’ve known Micheal Ray Richardson as a head coach.  A very intense, determined, focused head coach.  I sometimes wondered if he would actually suit up for a game if he felt it would help.

Micheal Ray Richardson coaching the Patroons on a road game in Pittsburgh. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I watched him coach the returning Albany Patroons to the CBA finals in 2007.  And I watched as he was caught in a massive controversy regarding an interview he did with a Times Union reporter – an interview that got him suspended from the playoffs and fired from the team.

And then I saw him land on his feet, and coach the Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry to three consecutive titles (2008-2009 CBA, 2010 Premier Basketball League) and finish with one of the best regular season winning percentages in PBL history (36-4 over two seasons).

Micheal Ray Richardson (2nd from left) with fans at the 2010 PBL All-Star Game in Halifax, N.S. John Strickland is at far right. Photo by Chuck Miller.

During the game, Coach was wound tighter than a $2 wristwatch.  Off the court, he was funny and friendly and appreciative of where his life and journey had gone.

I don’t know what it was between he and I – whether I was working with the Patroons or, in later years, with the PBL – he may have yelled at everybody from the referees to his own players, but he always treated me with respect.  Sure, he would yell at me too, but in his case he was yelling to blow off steam from really wanting to clobber someone else, and I was just a sounding board.

True story.  It’s Christmas 2006.  For some reason, I wanted to watch a Patroons road game, and at that time the closest Patroons opponent was in Pittsburgh.  No problem.  Hopped into the Pontiac 6000, drove eight hours, and next thing I know I’m at Mellon Arena, the home of the Pittsburgh Xplosion.

As I walked into the building, with my camera in tow, there’s Coach Richardson on the sidelines, putting his players through last-minute drills – until, out of the corner of his eye, he sees me.  “Chuck! Chuck!  What are you doing here?”

“I came to watch the game,” I replied.  “The team’s going to need some pictures of the Patroons in a road victory.”

He smiled.  Then he pointed to some of the Pittsburgh Xplosion fans – there must have been a grand total of six of them in the entire building – and said that they had a question, and that he didn’t know the answer, but that this guy that works for the Pats – who knows everything, his words, not mine – would have the answer.

With that kind of a compliment, how could I not help out?  I walked over to try to answer the question.

“Yeah, we wanted to know.  What’s a ‘Patroon?'”

I smiled.  “A Patroon was a Dutch landowner, patroons owned most of upstate New York.  But the modern definition of a ‘Patroon’ is a basketball team that comes into your building and wins the game by about 30 points.”  Hee.

During that game, which Albany won by a commanding lead – naturally – Pittsburgh’s Andre Joseph had just earned his seventh personal foul.  In the CBA, you can have more than six personal fouls in a game, but each foul after your sixth results in a technical free throw by the opposing team and possession.  Somehow one of the officials mis-calculated Joseph’s foul count, or they didn’t give Albany the opportunity to shoot the technical foul shot; Michael Ray went nuts.  And he wanted to make sure the officials heard his beef.

With that, Richardson yelled louder and louder to give Albany the ball for the T, and he walked all the way down the sideline – past the scorer’s table – to the opposing bench, to plead his case.  And in doing so, he earned a technical foul himself – and Pittsburgh shot a free throw because of it.  Albany still won the game, though…

Coach was a stickler for rules.  Everything had to be followed to the letter when his Cavalry teams arrived at a building.  And during his time in the PBL, if I was in the building at the same time as his team, he would give me a laundry list of what transgressions the other team had committed.

“Chuck! Chuck!  The Maryland GreenHawks don’t have a proper three-point line on the floor.  They’re using a high school gym and that’s a high school 3-point line.  Write that down and call Carrie and get it fixed.”

“Chuck! Chuck!! The Quebec Kebs don’t have enough towels on our bench.  There should be a minimum of five towels.  There aren’t enough towels.  Write that down and call Carrie and get it fixed.”

“Chuck! Chuck!!! The Buffalo Stampede’s arena has a burned out light over there in the corner.  That’s not right.  Write that down and call Carrie and get it fixed.”

Of course, if the Cavalry were winning by about 50 points – which happened a lot when they played the Buffalo Stampede – then Coach Richardson would have new requests for me.

“Chuck! Chuck!! Get the stat sheet and find out how many points Rashad Woods has.  This game’s in the bag, I want to make sure all my players get their points.”

At the All-Star Game in Halifax last year, Micheal Ray Richardson dropped another little surprise on me.  We were at the Saturday morning meet-and-greet breakfast with the fans, and just before everyone was to grab a plate and head for the buffet line, Coach Richardson spoke up.

“Wait, wait, we need to say grace before we eat.  You can’t have a meal without saying grace first.  Chuck! Chuck!! Go up to the podium and say grace.”

Nothing like getting conscripted into the clergy…

Anyway, I went up to the podium, and quickly ad-libbed a blessing that was equal parts a NASCAR pre-race benediction and a “good food, good meat, good Lord, let’s eat” prayer.

Michael Ray Richardson always spoke his mind.  Whether that got him in trouble or not, that’s for other people to decide.  My feeling is that he coached with the same drive and intensity as he played – damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.

I wish him all the success as a head coach in Thailand.  And someday, when he returns to the United States, I’m sure he will have picked up a few new curse words – in Thai – to really mess with the referees’ heads.

Best of luck, Coach.