Recently, 14-year NBA veteran Jason Richardson was a guest on The HoopsHype Podcast. The two-time dunk-contest champion discussed his underrated NBA career, the We-Believe Warriors, the Trust-the-Process Sixers, his new cannabis endeavor and much more. Listen to the interview above or read the transcribed Q&A below.
Growing up, you played a lot of different sports. I read that, as a kid, hockey was actually your favorite sport and you initially wanted to play in the NHL. When did you become a big hockey fan and why did you stop playing?
Jason Richardson: Well, I was growing up in Michigan, so you had to be a hockey fan. The Red Wings were winning all the time. They were winning the Stanley Cup all the time, and everybody in Michigan plays hockey because all the ponds freeze over around there. A group of friends of mine would always go to rummage sales and buy different sports equipment just to try the sport out. We picked up golf clubs, baseball bats and, one time, we decided to pick up hockey gear. We taught ourselves how to skate and year after year, we got a little bit better and a little bit better. We started playing on travel teams and doing things like that. But by the eighth grade, I had to give it up because my feet got too big for the skates and, back then, it was unheard of to get custom hockey skates.
Oh wow, I didn’t realize that. After being forced to quit hockey, you competed in basketball, track and football during high school. What position were you and if you had focused on football full-time, do you think you could’ve played in the NFL?
JR: No, I wouldn’t have made it to the NFL. (laughs) I just like football. Like I said, I love every sport and I was a multiple-sport athlete. Back then, that’s what everybody did – you tried to be all-state in as many sports as possible. I played wide receiver, defensive end and a little bit of quarterback. But I knew that basketball was always my first love and that’s what I really wanted to do – after I had to give my hockey dreams up.
I’m sure you realized pretty early on that you were the best athlete among your friends, but at what point did you realize that you were one of the best basketball players in your age group and that playing professionally may be a realistic option?
JR: Well, I didn’t realize that until later on, until I got to college. That’s when I knew I had a chance to be an NBA player. When I played against the USA Dream Team II, which featured Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Alonzo Mourning, Vin Baker, Jason Kidd and all those guys. We had a game against those guys in Hawaii and I did well. I was like, “Man, I think I could play in the NBA!” But growing up in my neighborhood, we had so many guys who were athletic. Charles Rogers was a great friend of mine, who just passed away in November; he was the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. I had a teammate, DeeAndre Hulett, and he played some professional basketball overseas. He was actually my high school teammate and he was a better athlete than me! We had so many athletes from my little town, in Saginaw, that I wasn’t really the greatest athlete of them all because we were all good athletes! There was definitely something in the water. (laughs)
When Al Harrington was on our podcast, we talked about the We Believe Warriors and he talked about how the fan support was incredible. He joked that you guys were so beloved that you could have murdered somebody and gotten away with it. (laughs) What was that We Believe season like for you?
JR: That season was incredible! It was a great group that accomplished something that nobody gave us a chance to do. Just making it to the playoffs was a big accomplishment on its own, but then to go into the playoffs and beat a team that was the favorite to win the championship, that had Dirk Nowitzki (who was the MVP), it was something special that I’ll always cherish. We came together as a bunch of bandits, a bunch of guys who had bad reputations, a bunch of guys that everybody had kind of tossed aside. We really bonded as teammates, as brothers, and accomplished something special.
It seemed like that team had excellent chemistry. Was that team closer than other teams you were on? And what were some of your favorite memories from that season?
JR: That team was probably one of the closest teams that I was on. I think the next-closest team where the guys really got along was my Phoenix team in 2010. But that We Believe team was so special because, like I said, nobody gave us a chance. At the time, I was coming off an injury and a lot of people were saying that I was overpaid and wasn’t worth it. You had Stephen Jackson coming off of the brawl, the Malice at the Palace. With Baron Davis, they said he was injury-prone. Al Harrington, same thing. Matt Barnes was viewed as this castaway, a “thug” that wasn’t really a basketball player. We all had to band together and fight for each other. We were trying to prove that we could do this, especially with the way we played. We were small, we were in your face, we shot a lot of threes, but we also played defense. It was incredible. I just remember all of the times we were together. The first time we were on the plane and we knew that we were all back healthy; Baron had finally come back and was healthy. We played Detroit and I think we beat Detroit by, like, 30 points. [Editor’s note: It was 18 points]. And we all made a pact right then and there on the airplane that we were going to do this for each other and we were going to make the playoffs.
I love it. Speaking of shooting a lot of threes, you led the NBA in three-pointers in 2007-08 and you’re 26th all-time in made threes. Now, three-point shooting has taken over the NBA. What do you think of the NBA’s evolution, and do you ever wonder how you’d fare in today’s NBA?
JR: I think I would fare pretty good in this NBA! I think these guys right now are so skilled. Back in my day, most guys were more specialized. This guy was here because he played defense or that guy was here because he could rebound or this guy was here because he had a good post game. Now, these young men in the NBA can do everything. You have seven-foot guys who can play point guard, get rebounds, get assists and shoot the three. The game has evolved so much. But I think if you can definitely shoot the ball, you can definitely play in the NBA today. And I think I would fare pretty well in it.
I agree. I feel like you’re one of the more underrated players from your era and you don’t get enough credit for what you did. I mean, averaging 17.1 points over 13 seasons isn’t easy to do and you were simultaneously an elite athlete and elite shooter. Do you feel like you’re underrated?
JR: Yeah, I think I was a little bit underrated. I feel like I should have made the All-Star team a few times. But the game has changed now; it’s different. Because in my era, even if you averaged 20 points, if you didn’t win, it didn’t matter. I understood that part of it. I had a lot of losing years during those times, so people thought it was just “number chasing.” But if you look at it now, there’s a lot of guys who are averaging a ton of points and their team isn’t doing good, but they still get the accolades and they are on the All-Star teams and stuff like that. I think back in my time, it was more team-oriented and all about, “What are you doing to help your team win games?” And so I see the different eras and I understand how the game has changed in that respect.
But I was just in Oakland because my son had a tournament there. And when I was going to different places – going to work out, going to different restaurants – all of those fans out there, they appreciate what I did. That matters more to me than anything, knowing that I left my mark on people and they understand how hard I played and how hard I worked on my game. It means a lot to me and it made me feel really appreciated when I go back to Oakland and the Bay Area.
I’m based in Orlando, so I was around the team a lot during Dwight Howard’s final season on the Magic and you were here too. When Jameer Nelson was on our podcast recently, he talked about how that year was really frustrating because all eyes were on the team for non-basketball reasons and there was a ton of national media around, asking questions about the drama. What was that season like for you?
JR: It was a wash to me because of the talent on that team. You had myself, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Brandon Bass, Glen Davis… I mean, we had so much talent on that team and we could have done something really special. But we were distracted by what was going on with Dwight’s free agency. And that was hard for us because we all felt like if we really got together and played for each other, we could have done something really special there. So, it was a weird situation. One day, he’s talking about getting different players in and trading different players. Then, Stan Van Gundy is talking to the media about how Dwight wants to get Stan fired. It was really like a circus, and it took away from something special that we could’ve done as a team.
As part of the Dwight Howard blockbuster, you were sent to the 76ers and you were in Philly at the start of the Trust the Process era. The tanking paid off, but I’m curious about your experience there. Sam Hinkie was hired in 2013, which was your second year in Philly. Hinkie ended up trading Jrue Holiday, Thad Young, Evan Turner and other veterans. When Sam first arrived and the tanking started, what was said to the team and to you specifically as a veteran who wanted to win?
JR: It was tough for me, I’m not gonna lie. Every day, I got a chance to talk to Sam and I didn’t understand what he was doing. I didn’t understand the losing part of it. I didn’t understand the analytical part of it. And I was trying to get an understanding of it, I was trying to be open. But coming from the old school and being taught by old-school guys like Calbert Cheaney, Clifford Robinson, Avery Johnson, Derek Fisher and then going on to learn from Grant Hill, I couldn’t settle in that losing mentality. So, I fought a lot of the stuff that was going on, but I kind of understood the more I started talking to the management and the people who were doing all the analytical things. But it was tough. I was trying to, as much as possible, encourage those young guys. We had a lot of new guys coming in. I think the first year or the second year that it happened, we had something like 27 different guys come in through that locker room. They were bringing in guys from the G League and some were staying for half of the season, some would stay for a game or two. We were just constantly changing.
I think, for me, I had to get away from what management was doing and I had to try to help these young guys who were trying to have a successful career, especially the ones who were trying to scratch and claw their way into the NBA. I tried to teach them how to be pros. I think that was the fun part of it; I was like the uncle in there. I was 33-34 years old and they’re calling me old because most of those kids were like 18 or 19, so I was old to those guys. (laughs) It was funny. And I can remember when Michael Carter-Williams came up to me in the locker room after Media Day. We’re sitting there and he’s like, “Man, I remember watching you in the second grade when you were in the dunk contest!” I said, “What you just say?” He said, “I watched you in the dunk contest!” I said, “You was in the second grade?” He’s like, “Yeah, I was in the second grade!” I started doing the math. I’m like, “Damn, I am old.” (laughs) It was fun to be around those guys, helping those guys as much as possible.
In 2013-14, the Sixers won 19 games. In 2014-15, the team won 18 games. Just about every night, the team was losing. But there were no real expectations, so what was the mood around the team during that time?
JR: It was tough. I think the young guys, when it first started, they were excited like kids in a candy store. They made it to the NBA and that was their dream, their ultimate goal. But then when you start losing 10 games, 15 games, 19 games in a row, it’s deflating and you feel defeated. Going through that at a young age in my career, being in Golden State where we weren’t winning a lot – I think in one season, we only won 17 games – I just tried to keep the others positive and let them know what you’re working on. I think my biggest advice that I gave it to those young guys was this: The odds of you staying here for your whole career is very slim. Unless you’re Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or Steph Curry, [it’s unlikely]. I told them, “Every time you step on the floor, it’s an audition for another team.” Later on in the season when some of the guys started getting traded, they were like, “Oh my God, I got traded…” Michael Carter-Williams was like, “I won Rookie the Year and I got traded…” I remember when he called me and told me that, he was like, “Man, thank you for everything you taught me and teaching me that this is a business and that I have to be professional on and off the court.”
You were always one of those guys who was known as a great teammate. When I’d talk to guys around the league, people would rave about that. Why was being a great teammate so important to you?
JR: I think it comes back down to legacy and what you leave behind. Of course, you can get all of the accolades and championships and MVPs and all that stuff, but what impact have you made on the next person who’s coming through the system like you did? Like I said, I had great vets around me from Grant to Avery to Calbert to Derek to Cliff and they passed down so much knowledge to me that helped me with my career. With the NBA, the lifespan of a career is so slim, but everyone tries to have a long career. I would talk to those guys and ask them what they did to have long careers because that’s what I wanted for myself. I was able to get to 14 years, living the dream, and I want that for every guy that I had contact with. And I want them to pass it down to the next generation and then they pass it to the next generation after that. That way we aren’t having guys who are only in the NBA for two or three years, we have guys who are in the NBA for 10-to-15 years.
One last thing about those Sixers teams: When the tanking was happening, it became a national storyline and a lot of people had strong feelings about it. You either loved it and thought it was genius or hated it and thought it was bad for basketball. What did you make of the intense reaction that people had to the tanking?
JR: It was kind of hilarious because I wasn’t all for it myself and I was on the team. (laughs). It was interesting when it was going on. They got Joel [Embiid] the next year, and I saw Joel in practice and I saw a few of his games at Kansas and I knew he was a pro. Well, he was working his way back from injury and he was playing three-on-three, and I was kind of working my way back too. He would just [dominate]. When you saw him, you just knew he was special. I mean, the things he was doing… He was knocking down threes if somebody was faster than him. If they were slower than him, he would take him off the dribble. If he was bigger than them, he’d post them up. He just did everything. I was like, “This kid is a superstar if he gets healthy.” They fired Sam Hinkie the next year. We got to the draft and Philadelphia gets the No. 1 pick. I immediately texted Sam and I said, “I’m a believer! We’re getting all of these No. 1 picks. You made a sacrifice.”
There were a lot of fans that understood what he was trying to do and [the ones who didn’t], I guarantee you they’re thanking him now because he put together that roster in terms of the foundation with Joel and Ben Simmons. But it was one of those situations where you either love it or you hate it. And, at the time, I hated it. But, by the end, I was speaking to Sam every day and understanding his thought process. Really, that was my basketball buddy because I was trying to understand. I knew I was on my way out of the league, so I was trying to understand as much front-office information as I could because that’s what I eventually want to do. Every day, I would look forward to talking to Sam and picking his brain. And we became close on that part of it, seeing each other every day in practice and talking about things. By the end, I believed in the situation that he was trying to create and he created it.
Do you still want to work in an NBA front office at some point?
JR: Yeah, that is a dream job of mine. Right now, I’m finishing up my schooling. I’m going back to school and finishing up. I promised my mom before I left Michigan State that I’d go back and get my degree. So, for the last few years, I’ve been studying Sports Management and working toward my degree, and hopefully one day I’ll be working in a front office.
Are the classes online or in-person?
JR: I’m doing some online and some in-person and I’ll tell you right now: As a 39-year-old man, it’s not fun going on campus with a bunch of 19-year-old kids. (laughs)
That’s why I was asking! I’d imagine in a Sports Management program, there are a lot of people who must recognize you. Are you constantly getting recognized during classes or on campus?
JR: Yeah, it’s pretty funny. Some of the kids, the ones who really follow basketball, they know who I am. They get excited when they see me around campus, like, “What are you doing here?!” And I’m like, “Hey, this lets you know how important your education is! I knew I had to go back one day and get it.” Then, they’re like, “Wow…” So it’s pretty fun to see those kids and talk to other ones. It’s just been a great experience.
You’re a two-time dunk-contest champion and you’re widely regarded as one of the best dunkers ever. We recently saw Aaron Gordon lose to Derrick Jones Jr. in a dunk-off, which is the second time he’s lost in a dunk-off. What did you make of that outcome and Aaron’s performance?
JR: Well, I think Aaron Gordon has been robbed twice in a row. I might be biased, but I think the dunks he did were unseen and spectacular. He was great. I think he should be a two-time dunk contest winner. I totally believe that. It’s special what he can do. It’s special what most of these guys can do now. I was just talking to a kid yesterday who recognized me when I was working out at the gym. I was telling him how these guys are evolving. It’s just funny how evolved these guys are, how crazy they’re jumping and the tricks they’re coming up with. It’s just amazing.
I’ve talked to some dunk-contest winners who get annoyed when people constantly talk about their dunks because they feel like it overshadows their other skills and all-around game. I know Zach LaVine doesn’t want to be viewed as just a dunker and that’s one reason why he didn’t participate in this year’s dunk contest. Did you ever feel that way?
JR: Yes, I did feel that way. I felt that way probably going into my third dunk contest. I really didn’t want to do it. I was working on my game, working to become a better shooter and a better all-around player, and I really didn’t want to do the dunk contest. If you ever go back and watch my third dunk contest, and watch my other two dunk contests, my emotions wasn’t really in it [the third time] because I didn’t want to be labeled “a dunker.” I think that’s the hardest thing for a lot of players, when you’re constantly working on your game and trying to become a complete player and then you’re labeled as this one thing. In that [third] dunk contest, I think I could have won. But my energy wasn’t there and I wasn’t really excited about being there. I just didn’t have it in me because I didn’t want to have that label of “he’s just a dunker” because I really worked hard on my game.
Right, so you decided, “I’m just going to go lead the NBA in three-pointers and that will put a stop to that!”
JR: (laughs) Right!
When you retired in 2015, you said that you didn’t want to limp for the rest of your life and you were concerned about your long-term health. Are you glad you walked away when you did and how are you feeling these days?
JR: I’m feeling great! I am glad that I walked away when I did. I think it was a great time for me to leave. My health is great. I’m getting to see my kids a lot and they’re playing sports. I have a daughter who’s playing college basketball and I have sons who are climbing through the basketball ranks and AAU. It was the right time for me and I have no regrets because I think I left everything on the floor.
You recently joined the advisory board of Goldenseed, which is a California-based cannabis company that grows its own marijuana and hemp on over 20 acres of land. How did that all come together?
JR: I came across Goldenseed through a mutual friend and I was brought down to their facilities. I was impressed with their lifestyle and how they were trying to do the cannabis cultivation. I think they offer so many different things. I don’t partake in consuming marijuana, but I see the effect that it has and how it helps people that have arthritis and glaucoma and how the CBD oils help these kids that have seizures. I feel like I needed to be a part of that because it is helping people that have a medical need.
It seems like there are still a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there when it comes to cannabis and CBD products. Have you noticed that?
JR: Yeah, there is. I think everybody thinks it is a gateway drug. But you see how many people are really changing their lifestyles by using cannabis rather than taking pills that could affect your living and affect your health. I think a lot of people are starting to understand that a lot more.
Al Harrington told me that he used cannabis for pain relief after one of his surgeries late in his career rather than taking opiates. Do you think we’ll see the NBA eventually allow players to use cannabis for pain relief?
JR: My goal – and I think guys like Al and anybody else who’s involved in the cannabis industry – is not just the NBA, we want to see all sports [allow this]. Especially for football players that go through so much pain. We’re hoping it’s all sports. You need something to help your body recover, to relax, to take away the pain and I think this is the more healthy alternative to taking pills. Hopefully, the NBA will soon do that. I hear that in football, it’s being talked about right now during the negotiations with their Players’ Union and the owners. Major League Baseball is doing it. We just hope that across the board, this is [allowed] for everybody and athletes all over the world will be able to do this instead of taking the alternative of pills that could have life-long consequences.
It feels like this industry is blowing up and there are a lot of different businesses in that space. Why did Goldenseed stand out to you?
JR: I think it is the lifestyle that they’re creating there. Not only are they in the cannabis [business], they are also in the hemp [business]. They’re trying to make hemp bricks, they’re doing hemp clothing. It is a lifestyle and I think they’re really trying to help everybody out too. I think their products are great along with the way that they’re approaching this and the guys they have on their board. I was really impressed with Scott Goldie, who is the owner, and his vision of becoming a place that everybody can enjoy and where everybody could feel good about themselves. I think it’s great that this company is the first cannabis cultivator that’s certified by the SEC. Anybody can join and for as little as $100, they can become a part-owner and investor in this company, so I think this company has a way to expand to a lot of people and help a lot of people out.
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