08/07/2009 2:58 PM ET
Richardson staying afloat in Paterson
Former Knick works with youngsters in New Jersey
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Michael Ray Richardson, once famous for calling the Knicks a sinking ship, is trying to coach. (Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry )

PATERSON, N.J. -- On a humid summer afternoon, Micheal Ray Richardson stands inside the gym at Paterson Catholic High School wearing a blue "Paterson Recreation Department" T-shirt and a New York Knicks whistle around his neck.

He and former NBA player Otis Birdsong are spending the week working with 74 youngsters at a local basketball camp.

"I went through some tough times in my life," Richardson, 54, says through the mild stutter he has endured his whole life. "I think I have a lot to offer these inner-city kids as far as life in general and basketball.

"First of all, you've got to pick and choose your friends and you've got to stay away from drugs because drugs and sports do not mix. Drugs and life in general just doesn't mix. We all have to be responsible for our actions."

Davon Jacobs, a sophomore at Wayne (N.J.) DePaul Catholic High School, said he knew a little about Richardson from watching a profile on NBA TV.

Asked what he had learned from the program, Jacobs said, "Drugs are really bad for you, so never try it. Things can happen."

Known as "Sugar Ray" and billed as "the next Walt Frazier" in his prime, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Richardson was one of the NBA's first true big guards.

He played in college at Montana and then became the No. 4 overall pick of the Knicks in the 1978 NBA Draft. Two picks later, the Boston Celtics selected a guy named Larry Bird.

In his second year in the NBA, the same year that saw the true arrival of Bird and Magic Johnson, Richardson led the league in both assists (10.1) and steals (3.2), becoming the first NBA player to do so and also setting Knicks franchise records.

"Micheal Ray was a guy who played just like I played," Johnson once said."Every time I saw him, he went right at me. ... Micheal would always talk trash, too, the whole game."

Bird reportedly once called him the best basketball player on the planet.

In the 2000 film Whatever Happened to Micheal Ray?, Peter Vecsey of the New York Post said that "Isiah Thomas, to this day, tells me that the one guy he was scared of was Richardson."

During the end of his Knicks career, Richardson uttered a line that has now become infamous.

A reporter asked him, "What do you think is happening to the team?"

"The ship be sinking," Richardson replied.

"How far can it sink?"

"Sky's the limit."

Looking back now, Richardson stands by the line.

"At that time we were sinking," he said.

He also thinks he should've copyrighted the line the way Pat Riley trademarked "three-peat" for commercial use.

"What I should've [done] was, I should've put a patent on it and then I would've been rich," Richardson said with a laugh.

A four-time NBA All-Star, Richardson averaged 20.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists for the Nets during the 1984-85 season. He averaged 14.8 points, 7.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds during an eight-year NBA career.

But Richardson's recreational drug use ultimately led to his undoing.

In 1986, after Richardson tested positive for cocaine for a third time, NBA Commissioner David Stern banned him for life, calling it "the hardest thing I've ever had to do as commissioner."

"It was tough because it took away something that I dreamed of doing," Richardson said. "And I was able to fulfill my goal. And to let something come in between that, I was very devastated."

In 1988, Richardson went to Europe and spent seven years in Italy, one in Croatia, one in Israel and six in France. Fans loved his name and style of play and hundreds of T-shirts and hats bearing the moniker "Sugarmania" were sold in his honor.

"Overall, I played until I was 46 years old," he said. "I've had a great basketball career. I've been drug free for about 21 years, so I'm just having fun now."

After returning to the U.S., Richardson worked as a Community Ambassador for the Denver Nuggets for a few years before becoming the head coach of the Albany Patroons of the CBA.

The last two years he won back-to-back championships with the Lawton Fort Sill (Okla.) Cavalry of the CBA.

But the league went under last year, leaving Richardson looking for work.

"Right now, I'm looking for a job," Richardson said. "My dream is to be on one of the NBA benches as an assistant coach or as a head coach."

Perhaps after all these years, Micheal Ray's ship isn't sinking. It's only starting to rise.

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com.
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