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New 'Beginnings' for Micheal Ray Richardson

Former Knick and Net Micheal Ray Richardson.

Former Knick and Net Micheal Ray Richardson. Credit: MSG Photos / Dave Saffran

Micheal Ray Richardson is 59 now, a millennium removed from his last encounter with illegal drugs and coming off a successful, decade-long run as a minor-league coach that ended this past spring.

But like it or not, basketball history will remember him mostly for the ground-breaking, lifetime ban then-NBA commissioner David Stern hit him with in 1986 as a three-time drug offender.

The former Knick and Net accepts that reality, even if it seems like a lifetime ago for a proud father and grandfather.

"I have come to grips with [the fact] you can't worry about what happened 15, 20 years ago; you can only worry about what's ahead," he said Wednesday at Madison Square Garden after a screening of the season premiere of MSG Network's "Beginnings," which focuses on Richardson's youth in Denver and will be shown after Sunday's Nuggets-Knicks game.

"That was just something that I went through and it's over . . . I did something I had no business doing."

Still, he and his family insist that his period of drug abuse represented only a tiny sliver of his life's arc.

"When I was in college [at Montana], I didn't drink; when I was in high school I didn't drink," Richardson said. "It just happened.

"Being a professional basketball player, when you get to a certain level you figure you're in control of everything, that you can do whatever you want to do, that you're invincible. It's kind of hard. But there's always something a little bit tougher than you, and that was tougher than me."

Did the pressure of playing in New York as the fourth overall pick in the 1978 draft have something to do with it?

"I don't think that had anything to do with it," said Richardson, who was accompanied by his daughter Tamara, a doctor who lives in New York. "Unfortunately it was in the cards that the good Lord gave me.

"He makes a way for you and I think that was just the way that he made it for me. But that made me a much better person now than I was then."

In the "Beginnings" episode, MSG cameras follow Richardson to Denver, where he visits his junior high and high school, as well as an older brother, and on two occasions is reduced to tears. The first is when he recalls his mother, Luddie, who died in November of 2012 and ran a strict but loving home.

"I've had a great family," he said. "My mom was our backbone. I remember when I was in college she went and got her second job just so she could send me 25 bucks a week. No matter what you did, there was nobody like her. She was always going to be in your corner."

Richardson was a four-time NBA All-Star - three with the Knicks - and played in Europe until 2002. In eight NBA seasons, four with the Knicks and three-plus with the Nets, Richardson averaged 14.8 points and seven assists per game. He coached the past three seasons for the London (Ontario) Lightning of the National Basketball League of Canada but left that job this past spring.

"I'm not doing any more minor-league coaching," he said. "All of the guys I've coached think they're much better than they really are and that they should be in the NBA, so I figure, if you guys think you should be there maybe you should go."

Richardson compared the level of play in Canada to minor leagues such as the CBA and the NBA's D-League.

He has lived in Oklahoma the past nine years when not coaching. He does substitute teaching there and runs Ball Stars Youth Camp with fellow former Net Otis Birdsong. They run camps for underprivileged youths around the country.

"I would like to coach or even be a professional scout in the NBA, because I think I know talent," he said.

Speaking of which, what does Richardson, known as "Sugar" in his playing days, think of the current Knicks? (He was to attend the game against the Magic at the Garden Wednesday night.)

"Anytime you bring in a new coach it's going to be difficult, but I don't care what kind of coach that you have, if you don't have good players you're not going to win, because I think players make good coaches," Richardson said. "You are only as good as your players. [Derek Fisher] has got some challenges."

Asked about the pressure Carmelo Anthony faces to perform, he said, "In New York you're going to have that kind of pressure. You won't have that kind of pressure in Denver, but when you get a max deal, you are in New York City, that comes along with it.

"He's a great player. Matter of fact I worked for the Denver Nuggets for two years when he was there and he was unbelievable. But in basketball, or any professional sport, one guy won't be able to win."

Richardson said he still gets reactions from fans who remember him whenever he visits New York.

"There's no place like New York," he said. "One thing about the people here in New York, they understand the game of basketball. It's not like playing somewhere else. When you play somewhere else you can kind of hide or get away with not really giving 100 percent, but in New York City you can't really do that."

Richardson said he believes he has "a lot to offer" to athletes in trouble or with the potential to get in trouble.

Asked about the recent incidents of domestic violence that rocked the NFL, he said, "This stuff has been going on for decades. It's not just all of a sudden - boom. But I think that these guys need counseling.

"If you look in everybody's relationships, there's not one person in this world that's been married for 20 or 30 years and never had an argument, but to put their hands on them is something different."

Long before his drug ban, Richardson authored one of the more enduring quotes in New York sports history when he told reporters covering the 1981-82 Knicks "the ship be sinking."

They finished 33-49 in coach Red Holzman's final season.

How often do people bring that one up to him, more than 30 years later?

"All the time," he said, laughing. "And it was a great quote, and plus it was at the right time, because at that time the ship was sinking. We were losing. It was a great quote."

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