Anticipation was both, the best and the worst thing, about Micheal Ray Richardson’s career.
It represented the worst in that his greatness, at least the true apogee of it, was always waiting to appear. When it did arrive, the moments seemed fleeting. Then you were right back where you began anticipating whether Micheal Ray would make it back to the top.
His infamous battles with cocaine were the main culprit in Sugar’s fight to not just tease and anticipate greatness but to fully achieve it. After his third failed drug test in 1986, he was banned for life from the NBA by David Stern. The lifetime ban was ultimately rescinded, but subsequent failed tests for cocaine prevented him from making an NBA comeback.
Anticipation, however, also represented the best in Richardson. Others may have equaled, but none have surpassed Micheal Ray’s ability to sense a pass coming, to predict its path, and anticipate its arrival. He’d jump a passing lane and be off to the races for a layup on the other end. His pillaging defense wreaked havoc on teams across the league.
In the history of the NBA and ABA, Richardson ranks second amongst all players in steals per game in a career. He’s fourth in steal percentage. Three times he led the NBA in steals in a single season. This wasn’t a man making dangerous bets. When he went for the steal it wasn’t a gamble, it was basically a sure thing it’d be a success.
At 6’5″, Richardson was also a monster of a point guard. He didn’t make too many flashy assists, but he made zipping laser-guided passes that found their way to the intended target. When Magic Johnson debuted in the NBA in the 1979-80 season, it was Richardson who led the NBA in assists per game.
Richardson’s towering triumph as a player came with the New Jersey Nets in the 1983-84 playoffs when he and Buck Williams spearheaded an epic upset of the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers. It was all the more sweet for Sugar Ray since he had spent that regular season recovering from one of his worst cocaine binges in the fall of 1983.
The playoff high of 1984 continued into the next regular season (1984-85). He averaged a career-high 20 points along with 5.5 rebounds, eight assists, and three steals a game. He was selected to his fourth and final All-Star Game.
Then in February 1986, Sugar failed his third drug test and was banished from the NBA. He wasn’t finished just yet, though. Richardson played in the CBA for a couple of years. Following that brief period, he played professionally in Europe from 1988 to 2002. By the end of his 24-year playing career, Richardson was clean, largely redeemed, and began a coaching career that continues to this day.
But as he told Sports Illustrated back in February of 1985, “I’m playing better than any guard in the league. No brag, just statin’ the truth.” The Sugar was indeed not bragging, just telling the sweet sweet truth.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCQ0EXj6AmY]
Years Played: 1978 – 1988
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1980-’81)
4x All-Star (1980-’82, 1985)
NBA Career: 1978-79 through 1985-86
Peak Career Production: 1979-80 through 1985-86
Average and Advanced Stats