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PRIME MIME MITCH RICHMOND OF THE KINGS CAN MIMIC ANYONE, BUT ON THE FLOOR HE'S BEST PLAYING HIMSELF

Dec. 04, 1995
Dec. 04, 1995

Table of Contents
Dec. 4, 1995

PRIME MIME MITCH RICHMOND OF THE KINGS CAN MIMIC ANYONE, BUT ON THE FLOOR HE'S BEST PLAYING HIMSELF

He can be any player you want him to be. Give him a name. Alonzo
Mourning? Mitch Richmond will launch into a dead-on imitation of
the Miami Heat center's foul-line routine, right down to the way
he mops his brow with the back of his wristband. Tim Hardaway?
Richmond will re-create Hardaway's signature move, the crossover
dribble, so deftly that Hardaway, the Golden State Warrior point
guard, would be proud. Hakeem Olajuwon? Richmond will mimic the
pirouettes and pump fakes of the Houston Rocket center. His gift
for impersonation is the one area about which Richmond, the
Sacramento Kings' unassuming All-Star shooting guard, can't
resist a tiny boast. "I'm telling you," he says, "there's nobody
in the league I can't do."

This is an article from the Dec. 4, 1995 issue Original Layout

Sometimes after King practices Richmond will take requests,
bringing gales of laughter from his teammates with his comic
impressions. "Mitch can be hilarious," says Sacramento coach
Garry St. Jean. "For the team Christmas party we should just
show a video of him imitating every guy in the league."

Occasionally someone tries to imitate the imitator--teammate
Lionel Simmons will exaggerate Richmond's shortcomings as a ball
handler by dribbling the ball off his foot and out of bounds--but
Richmond is a hard man to mimic because the idiosyncrasies he
picks out in others are absent from his own game. He is as
consistent as a metronome and about as flashy. "From the day he
walked in as a rookie with Golden State, he was a guy you could
count on to give you two things: about 20 points a night and
every ounce of effort he had," says St. Jean, who was a Golden
State assistant when Richmond joined the Warriors in 1988. "And
he would do it without ever once calling attention to himself."

The key to impersonating Richmond on the court is knowing what
not to do. Do not hang from the rims or mug for the cameras. Do
not talk trash or throw a no-look pass when a basic bounce pass
will do. Richmond's style is simple and efficient, which makes
him the type of player opponents appreciate but hate to play
against. "Mitch can post you up, shoot the jump shot, put the
ball on the floor and drive past you--and he plays defense," says
San Antonio Spur guard Doc Rivers. "If you trap him, he finds
the open man. If you don't trap him, he scores. Pick your
poison. He's a great, unselfish player, and that's the worst
kind."

Not very many people know how talented he is. Richmond has the
seventh-highest career scoring average (22.6 through Sunday)
among active NBA players, he is the star of an up-and-coming
team, and after 10-of-13 shooting and a 23-point performance, he
was MVP of last season's All-Star Game. So what's with the
impersonations? Why isn't just being Mitch Richmond impressive
enough?

Richmond thinks for a moment and then smiles. "You're asking the
wrong guy," he says.

You can tell a lot about an NBA star from his sneaker
commercials. Richmond has made two in his career, the first for
Adidas several years ago. "As far as I know, it never got on the
air," he says. The second, shot last season, was one of a series
of Nike commercials set in a barbershop that included, among
others, Hardaway, the Spurs' David Robinson and the Warriors'
Latrell Sprewell. You probably saw the ads. You didn't see
Richmond. He didn't make the cut.

He tells these stories without a hint of bitterness. The
spotlight seems to tease Richmond, hovering around him for a
moment before it decides to settle somewhere else. The formerly
inept Kings, who didn't win more than 29 games in any of his
first three seasons with them, finally turned things around last
season, winning 39 and barely missing the playoffs. But news of
Sacramento's improvement, which has continued into this
season--through Sunday the Kings led the Pacific Division with a
9-4 record--hasn't reached the television networks. Sacramento
has but one scheduled national-TV appearance this season, on
Dec. 22 against the Los Angeles Lakers on TNT, which means that
if you don't live in Sacramento or own a satellite dish, chances
are you will continue to see precious little of Richmond. "I'm
not the high-flying dunker or anything fancy," he says. "Maybe
my game isn't what they want for the commercials and the TV
appearances. It bothered me a little when I was younger, but I
don't worry about it anymore. If the recognition comes, it
comes. If not, I'll just keep doing what I've been doing."

What he has been doing is quietly making a place for himself in
the NBA record books. Richmond is a former Rookie of the Year
and a three-time All-Star who has scored at least 21.9 points
per game in each of his seven seasons. If he averages 21 or more
points this season (he was at 20.3 through Sunday), he will join
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain,
Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only players to reach
that figure in each of their first eight pro seasons. At 6'5"
and 215 pounds, Richmond once scored mostly by using his
strength to overpower smaller guards, but he is now an equally
dangerous perimeter threat. He averaged 100 three-point attempts
over his first three seasons but shot 424 last year, when the
arc was moved closer to the basket, and made 37%.

Despite all that, Richmond wasn't among the top 10 Western
Conference guards in the fan balloting for last season's
All-Star Game. His lack of national exposure was largely to
blame for that omission, but it's harder to figure out why he
has been ignored by the basketball cognoscenti. Richmond was
passed over by the selection committee for the first two Dream
Teams, and he wasn't one of the first 10 players named to Dream
Team III, which will represent the U.S. in the 1996 Olympics.
(As a collegian in the days before NBA players were allowed to
participate in the Games, Richmond was chosen for and earned a
bronze medal with the '88 U.S. Olympic squad.) The two remaining
spots on Dream Team III will be filled this spring, and there
isn't a player in the league more deserving than Richmond.

If he isn't selected, don't expect to hear him complain. He is
as silent as his nickname, Rock, implies, which could result
from having grown up in Fort Lauderdale with a best friend who
did most of the talking: Michael Irvin, now the star wide
receiver of the Dallas Cowboys. "If you wanted to get in a word
when you were with Mike," Richmond says, "you had to start
early." Richmond's circle also included several other future NFL
players, among them Benny and Brian Blades and Brett Perriman.
But the portrait his mother, Ernell O'Neal, paints of Mitch as a
young man prominently features her apron strings. "We were
always close,'' she says. "I wouldn't let him sleep over at his
friends' houses. I wanted to know where he was at night."

Doting on Mitch did not prevent Ernell from delivering, when
necessary, a good swift kick in the posterior. Because of a poor
semester in the ninth grade, Mitch spent the next three years
struggling to catch up, sustaining himself with sweet thoughts
of commencement exercises. "He used to practice how he was going
to walk down that aisle," says Ernell.

While playing hoops during the spring of his senior year at Boyd
Anderson High, Mitch sprained an ankle, which caused him to miss
an algebra test. When his teacher refused to allow him to make
it up, Richmond failed the course, leaving him half a credit shy
of the graduation requirement. The day he found out he would not
graduate with his classmates, Mitch came home and announced that
he was finished with school, even if it meant losing a chance at
a basketball scholarship. In response Ernell borrowed from the
preaching technique of the Reverend Dr. W.F. Washington, whose
sermons she and Mitch had heard every Sunday at church. Ernell
thundered at her son, "You need three weeks of summer school to
go to college, to get a $100,000 scholarship, and you don't want
to do it? I've got news for you, Mitchell, you're going to
summer school. You're going to prove to that teacher that you
can do something with your life."

Take a wild guess about who won that argument. After belatedly
earning his high school diploma, Richmond signed on for two
seasons at Moberly Area Junior College, in the middle of
Missouri. "He really struggled with homesickness," recalls Dana
Altman, Richmond's coach at Moberly and now the coach at
Creighton. It wasn't unusual for Altman's phone to ring in the
middle of the night with Richmond on the other end. Altman would
invite Richmond to come on over. In his pajamas he would
persuade Richmond to stick around one more day.

But Ernell was the one who told Mitch most forcefully to not
even think about coming home. "Just hang in there," she said. He
did, and in two seasons with the Greyhounds, Richmond averaged
13.1 points and led Moberly to a 69-9 record. Along the way
Altman repaired Richmond's shot. He had arrived with atrocious
shooting form; he launched the ball from somewhere behind his
right ear. Then Altman molded Richmond, an erstwhile
center-forward, into a shooting guard. More important, says
Richmond, "I learned to study." Those lessons stood him in good
stead at Kansas State, where he majored in social sciences and
averaged 20.7 points. And in the spring of 1988 Ernell and her
husband, Joseph, drove for two days to see Mitch don black robe
and mortarboard and take part in the commencement they all had
fantasized about.

Surviving his rocky early college experience helped Richmond
weather a similar trial in the NBA, when Golden State traded him
and center Les Jepsen to Sacramento for forward Billy Owens the
day of the 1991-92 season opener. With the Warriors he and his
high-scoring friends, Hardaway and Chris Mullin, were dubbed Run
TMC (for Tim, Mitch and Chris). But in Sacramento, Richmond was
thrown in with a group of guys who, he says diplomatically,
"didn't seem to work as hard as I was used to working.'' It was
hard to blame Richmond for going into a long funk. "He wasn't
the same for quite a while,'' says his wife, Juli, a former
model whom Richmond met during his rookie year and married two
years later. He spent most of the season in denial, commuting
the 80 miles from his home in Oakland for practices and home
games. Slowly he began to reconcile himself to Sacramento, where
he moved only two seasons ago, and lately he has started to
appreciate it as a suitable place to raise his family--he and
Juli have two sons, two-year-old Phillip and five-month old
Jerin. Now Richmond says, "This is a place I want to play in and
a franchise I want to play for."

St. Jean and general manager Geoff Petrie are largely
responsible for that. Petrie reversed the Kings' woeful draft
history by picking forward Brian Grant in the first round two
years ago and by stealing forward Michael Smith and point guard
Tyus Edney in the second round in 1994 and '95, respectively.
St. Jean has turned Sacramento into a hard-nosed defensive team
that jumped from 25th in points allowed in '93-94 to eighth in
the league last season. It's not a coincidence that '94-95,
according to Simmons, "was the first year that Mitch looked like
he was glad to be here."

In the postgame scene after Richmond's All-Star MVP performance
last February, Phoenix Sun forward Charles Barkley sneaked up
behind him, planted a kiss on his neck and, referring to the
Suns' appetite for top-flight talent, told Richmond, "We can
trade for you, too." But times had changed. Richmond had no
desire to go anywhere. It's good to be a King these days, and
impersonations aside, it is even better to be Mitch Richmond.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROCKY WIDNER When not burying jumpers, Richmond, who sports a 22.6- point career average, muscles inside. [Mitch Richmond]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROCKY WIDNER An occasional bowler, Richmondwent on an MVP roll with 23 points in the '95 All-Star Game (below). [Mitch Richmond bowling]COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [See caption above--Mitch Richmond holding MVP trophy] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROCKY WIDNER Though he left his heart by the Bay, Mitch sees a capital future in Sacramento for Juli and Phillip. [Phillip Richmond, Juli Richmond, and Mitch Richmond]