Date: 09/24/2015

Jason Richardson never stopped being a Warrior

During the Warriors’ championship parade, Jason Richardson received several texts messages. Most of them pictures. He had a few friends from Oakland at the parade. They were sending him pictures of all the fans still wearing his old Warriors jersey.

Blew his mind. Every time Richardson has one of those Golden State experiences, every time he marinates on how beloved he is by Warriors fans, his emotions are bombarded by appreciation. And a little confusing.

“I don’t understand it,” Richardson said in a phone interview Thursday. “It amazes me. It really does. Why me? I didn’t win many games. I wasn’t an All-Star. I never guided them to the promised land. But Warriors fans have always shown me incredible love. Even when I was on other teams … So much love. So much.”

Richardson, who announced Wednesday night he was hanging it up after 14 NBA seasons, maintains he wanted to retire a Warrior. For many fans, he did.

Though he was traded to Charlotte in 2007 — and spent the next eight seasons playing with the Bobcats, Suns, Magic and Sixers — Richardson never stopped being a Warrior. He’s rare that way.

He doesn’t have the statistical prowess of the greats in the Warriors history. But somehow, in the hearts of fans, he forced his way into their company.

Richardson was the pride of the Warriors when there wasn’t much to be proud of. He was good enough to demand respect from opponents. He was competitive enough to go back at the other stars, at least let Warriors fans lose with dignity.

Most of all, Richardson wanted to be here. He loved the beautiful struggle of earning respect, which is how he made it from his humble beginnings in Saginaw. He wanted to suffer with Warriors fans, which is why he never demanded a trade, never scaled back his devotion.

I still remember talking to him after he was traded on draft night. He was beside himself. Many star players left the Warriors happily. Richardson felt betrayed after the Warriors shipped him away, barely a month after the We Believe run, which Richardson considered his career highlight.

(Quick trivia: who was Richardson traded for? If you don’t know, take off that championship hat.)

The Warriors lost 58.1 percent of their games in Richardson’s six-year tenure. Yet Richardson wanted to stay. And to this day, his departure is considered one of the many misses in Warriors history.

“They respected my play,” Richardson said. “Not my talent, but that I brought it every night. For a losing team, that’s all they wanted and that’s how I played. I think that’s why they really have love for me.”

Though Richardson is a rare enough case to justify having his No. 23 jersey retired, the rafters should be reserved for champions and all-time greats.

But the Warriors should bring him back to the organization somehow. Player development. Team ambassador. Front office staffer. Something.

There are talks to get Richardson to a game in November. But anything more than that will have to wait.

“I’m going home,” said Richardson, who lives in Denver, hometown of his wife, Jackie Paul. “I want to be with my family. The last three years especially have been tough. Not only for me but my wife. It has been a lot on her. My sons are getting older now. My daughter is playing basketball, already getting scholarship offers. I just want to be with them. I haven’t really got that chance to actually be with them. I want to be a stay-at-home dad now.”

In only three career categories will you find Richardson in the top 10 in Warriors history: 3-pointers attempted (second), 3-pointers made (third) and turnovers committed (10th).

But what the stats don’t show is what he meant to the franchise.

His arrival came on the heels of the worst season in franchise’s Bay Area history, the 17-65 debacle in the 2000-01 season. And from a macro perspective, he was at the tail end of a long line of Warriors’ futility.

The fan base had become accustomed to bad decisions and disappointing players. The Warriors were such an embarrassment that the six-year stretch of Don Nelson’s first tenure were for us under-40s were the golden years. They never made it past the second round.

And then came this kid out of Michigan State, drafted No. 5 overall in 2001. At the time, Richardson was armed only with relentless drive, unreal leaping ability and a brief foundation from two years under coaching legend Tom Izzo.

But Richardson worked his way into Warriors’ lore.

He put the Warriors on the national map with back-to-back Slam Dunk titles, giving the Warriors something to brag about.

He worked on his game, growing from merely an athlete into a capable scorer to do battle against the Kobe Bryants and Dwyane Wades of the league. He worked on his character, growing from a young knucklehead into a role model. He credited Calbert Chaney, Avery Johnson and Derek Fisher for grooming him.

“That’s when I started to change. They are true professionals,” Richardson said, adding Grant Hill in Phoenix to the list. “My whole career has been full of things I couldn’t do. I couldn’t dribble. I couldn’t shoot. But what I think about more than anything was growing up as a person. Coming into the NBA, you’re 19, 20, 21 years old and you’re given millions of dollars. I had to learn.”

That personal development only made Richardson more likeable. His continued pursuit of improvement mirrored Warriors’ fans continued desire for improvement.

Hope was all that Warriors fans had through those woeful years. The clamor wasn’t so much for a championship, but to not be a laughing stock. Warriors fans just wanted to be relevant.

And for years, Richardson delivered.

error: Content is protected !!