"I want to take it up another notch this year"
The problem was, however, that Richardson, or J-Rich as he’s known to his teammates and Golden State fans, was nowhere near the Oakland Arena. As the Warriors tipped off their season on October 29 against the high octane Dallas Mavericks, Richardson was 10 miles away at the Warriors downtown Oakland facility practicing three-point shots – by himself.
It was day one of his three-game league mandated suspension and Richardson was not in a very good mood. He felt he was letting everyone down.
“It was really hard, especially on opening night against Dallas. I wanted to be there with my teammates and the crowd and the excitement. But I made a mistake that I know I am not going to make again,” Richardson said.
To keep his mind occupied and his body primed for when he could return to action November 5 vs. Atlanta, Richardson hit the practice court while his teammates battled in the Arena.
“It was tough. I had to find some ways to stay positive, so I stayed late here at the practice facility and worked hard for a about 90 minutes at game speed with (team executive) Chris Mullin and (strength coach) Mark Grabow,” said Richardson. “We did a lot of running and a lot of shooting. They pushed me really hard – a lot of up and down drills. Then, when the games started, I stayed here by myself shooting the ball.”
Richardson’s three game suspension was handed down by the NBA head offices on October 22. The penalty was imposed after Richardson, 22, was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault following an incident this past April in Richardson’s hometown of Saginaw, Michigan. So instead of devoting his free time to the basketball court this summer, Richardson found himself embroiled in a different type of court setting.
The legal portion of the ordeal came to a conclusion on August 28 when a Saginaw County jury convicted Richardson of the misdemeanor charge of domestic violence against his former girlfriend, Roshonda Jacqmain, who is the mother of his three-year-old daughter. Jacqmain, 21, testified that Richardson pushed her so hard that she fell and struck her head against a wall at her apartment.
District Court Judge M. Randall Jurrens sentenced Richardson to a year of probation and ordered him to pay $2,060 in fees and fines. He was also ordered to perform 40 hours of community service. In similar cases of defendants without prior convictions, they have usually received comparable sentences.
Before the judge, Richardson said: "I won't appear in court again. I made a mistake. I was never a violent person. I regret anything that I've done."
However, per the NBA’s zero tolerance policy, Richardson was not yet off the hook. Several days before the start of the season, the league suspended Richardson for the first three games. The Warriors went 1-2 in those games – which included a loss to Dallas, a win against Philadelphia and a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Besides losing three games and three pay days, Richardson also tarnished his previously golden image. But he vows to never make a similar mistake.
“I deeply regret being involved in any situation that results in the embarrassment of my family, friends and fans, the Golden State Warriors and the NBA. I fully understand the seriousness of the implications and I accept the penalty imposed by the Commissioner. I’m glad to have these issues addressed and behind me,” said Richardson in a statement issued through the Warriors.
“I’m raring to go out and help them start winning some games. I’m not worried about taking shots, I’ll do whatever the coach asks: rebound or defend or passing the ball. I’m anxious to get a feeling of playing with the new guys,” Richardson said.
When Richardson talks about the “new guys” he’s pretty much talking about the entire Golden State roster. In fact, despite entering only his third NBA season, J-Rich is right near the top of the Warriors seniority list. Only two players – centers Erick Dampier and Adonal Foyle – have been with the team longer than Richardson and power forward Troy Murphy.
After winning 38 games last season, the Warriors cleaned the house in the summer. Gone were team’s top scorer Antawn Jamison, dazzling point guard Gilbert Arenas, versatile guard Bobby Sura and energizer bunny guard Earl Boykins.
But despite the multiple changes, Richardson is confident this new team can surpass last season’s win totals.
“I like the moves and where this is going. The key thing is that we have a lot of guys who have won in other places and want to win here. There are a lot of positive things going on here and I’d like to stay here and be a part of it,” Richardson said.
Richardson, who has excited fans with his array sky-walking talents and shooting excellence, is looking for a breakout season. His numbers across the board increased last year as he jumped from 14.4 ppg in his rookie season to 15.2 ppg in 2002-03 and his successful three-point conversions leaped from 82 to 123.
Now, Richardson wants to take it to another level.
“I want to take it up another notch this year. I had a good summer working hard, doing a lot of work on ball handling and shooting and jumping and I want to see those things pay off this year,” he said.
Last year, the Warriors backcourt combo of Richardson and Gilbert Arenas was one of the most exciting tandems in the league. And not only did the pair work great on the court, but they were also buddies off the hard wood. But because Arenas was a second-round draft choice in 2001, he was able to file for free agency at the conclusion of last season.
Despite talk of a creative deal that would return Arenas to Golden State, the two sides never came to an agreement and Arenas joined the Wizards.
Though Arenas has grumbled that the Warriors brass did not give its all in their pursuit of him, Richardson, who talks often with his old teammate, believes the Warriors hands were tied in the matter.
“We knew going into last season that there was not enough cap money to keep him here. Gilbert will be a great player and he had to go where he would be financially stable for the rest of his life and that was Washington. But I believe the team did all it could to keep him here,” Richardson said.
And how does Gilbert feel about his decision now to bolt to the east coast?
“I talk to Gilbert every week and I think he’s gonna miss us out here in California,” Richardson says. “Especially when it starts to snow in Washington.”
Speaking of snow, winter will be in full bloom when Richardson’s opportunity to defend his NBA Slam Dunk championship at the All-Star game this coming February. And while past winners have chosen not to defend their titles, Richardson says he’s not giving his title belt away without a fight.
He’s confident he’ll become the first player to ever capture the dunk trophy three consecutive seasons. And as far as newcomers like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, J-Rich says: “Bring your best stuff.”
“Oh, I’ll be back. I want to be the first guy to win it three times in a row. That would be a great accomplishment,” Richardson said. “I have some new dunks up my sleeve and I’m looking to take on some of those new dudes. It’s going to be pretty fun.”
AJ Hayes is a San Francisco-based sports writer and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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