The relationship between London Lightning head coach Micheal Ray Richardson and NBA commissioner David Stern is something that will never come to an end.
And in many ways, it mirrors the life of the former NBA all-star.
Richardson, now beginning his third season as head coach of the National Basketball League of Canada’s Lightning, was once one of the best players the NBA had ever seen. He was picked fourth overall in the 1978 NBA draft, two spots ahead of Hall of Famer Larry Bird.
Richardson, starting with the New York Knicks, went on to be a four-time NBA all-star over the course of the next eight seasons.
But then in 1986, Stern was forced to step in and ban Richardson for life, following three positive drug offences.
Richardson went on to play professional basketball in Italy, Croatia, Israel and France and while there caught up again with Stern in Paris where the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs were playing an exhibition game. The year was 1997.
“I went up to (Stern) at halftime just to say no hard feelings,” Richardson told Metro. “He doesn’t know it, but he probably saved my life.”
Stern invited Richardson up to his box for the second half and the relationship from that point on took a much more positive turn.
“Ever since that day, we have become real good friends,” Richardson said.
Jump ahead to a little more than three years ago, the newly formed London Lightning had the position of head coach available and Richardson came knocking.
“I was over in Bangkok, Thailand, coaching the Asian national team, and I came home because my mom was sick. And then I was reading online where there was a new league in Canada and there were some teams looking for coaches, and I was wondering why I hadn’t been contacted,” Richardson said. “And so I called Taylor (Brown, the Lightning general manager), and they flew me up the next day.”
Brown, smiling, said Richardson’s version of that story, while similar, was slightly different.
“The true story is he called me up and gave me (crap) because I hadn’t called him,” Brown recounted. “I said, ‘Micheal, we don’t have your resume, and I have no idea that you wanted to coach in London. He said, ‘I do want to coach.’
Micheal has a good ego. He was talking about his championships that he had won and that was music to our ears.”
Brown said he and Lightning owner Vito Frijia immediately brought Richardson to London.
“We took him to the Delta hotel and we sat there until about one in the morning. We didn’t talk anything about the Lightning. We talked about his past. We talked about his buddies who are playing in the NBA,” Brown said. “We hit it off. We didn’t want to leave the Delta. He said guys, ‘I’ve kind of gotta go to bed.’ The next day, we toured him around London. We took him to meet the mayor. At this point, Vito and I talked and we decided this was our guy.”
But the deal was not done yet, Brown said. They still had some concerns, but they also knew Richardson deserved a “second chance,” and they conveyed that to him while driving around London.
“He pulled out his cellphone and on speaker phone, he dialed the commissioner’s cell phone number. And within two seconds, the commissioner had picked up. And they had a great chat,” Brown said. “(Richardson) said, ‘I’m on a job interview, would you recommend me?’ (the commissioner) said, ‘absolutely.’ I said, ‘thank you Mr. Stern. He’s hired.’”
Frijia said it was one of the best decisions the Lightning has ever made. Two NBL championships in two years attest to that.
“Micheal Ray has a really, really good heart and it’s great when people have a second chance to respond and rebuild their careers in life,” Frijia said. “He loves basketball. He hates to lose. I have never seen a more competitive individual. I am really, really competitive and he’s even more competitive.
“This is his second home. He’s comfortable here, and we’re happy and fortunate to have him here.”
Richardson and Stern speak regularly and they chatted again after Stern announced a year ago that he would be stepping down as commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014 — exactly 30 years to the day after he took on the position.
“When (Stern) was interviewed after he announced he was going to retire, he was asked the hardest thing he had to do and he said it was to suspend me,” Richardson said. “After that, I gave him a call and said you can’t take the blame for that. I take full responsibility. And I don’t want him to feel there is some sort of burden on him for what he did.
“He had to do what he had to do.”
Richardson has been doing what he has to do as well.
With the NBA commissioner – and the Lord — on his side every step of the way.