Shooting guard. Tough. Elite scorer. Number 23. After a brief description like that, it’s no wonder that Mitch Richmond’s career has been unfairly looked over in the annals of basketball history. Richmond was drafted fifth overall by the Warriors in the 1988 draft. That draft had names such as Dan Majerle, Rod Strickland, the “Dunking Dutchman” Rik Smits and the 1988 National Champion and College Player of the Year Danny Manning.
For the Warriors, they were obviously looking for someone who could take some of the load off their last primer pick, Chris Mullin. However, the team was definitely reeling from other missed picks and poor trade decisions in prior years (see Kevin McHale bio). The 1987-88 team went 20-62 and George Karl, who was released by the team and subsequently replaced by Ed Gregory. The Warriors had two twenty point scorers (Mullin and Eric “Sleepy” Floyd) but were trying to find anything that would work at this point. Before the end of the season, Floyd was trade with Joe Berry Carroll for Ralph Sampson and Steve Harris. This left Mullin as the sole focal point of the Warriors.
Before the next season, the Warriors hired Don Nelson as their head coach. The addition of Nelson would transform the landscape of Bay Area basketball for years to come (another article for another time). But, in true Nelson style, he took Mitch Richmond with the fifth pick in the draft in order to provide, what else, but more scoring punch to a serious lacking offense. Richmond coming out of college may have been the most polished player in the draft, in hindsight. However, Kansas State is not exactly a powerhouse, especially in the same state with the University of Kansas and their star, Manning.
From day one, it appear that Richmond was not only capable of being Mullin’s sidekick, but that he may also need a sidekick of his own. Richmond help lead the Warriors to a 23 win turnaround from the previous season, the seventh seed in the Western Conference, while averaging 22 points (16th overall), almost six rebounds and four assists which earned him the Rookie of the Year Award as well. Richmond’s signature game came against his future team, the Sacramento Kings, and showcased his well-balanced offensive attack. He scored 47 points (17-24 field goals, 13-19 free throws) with seven rebounds and two assists.
His whole rookie year, Richmond only scored single digits twice which is generally unheard of for rookies. The Warriors were fourth in the league in scoring, one spot ahead of the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers, and eventual NBA Championship Runner-up but were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns in the first round, yet it was obvious that this was the foundation of something.
In the coming years, Richmond would not make the All-Star Game for the Warriors, although an argument could be made that he should have. He was a third of the iconic Run-TMC with Mullin and point guard Tim Hardaway which took the Bay Area by storm for two full season before Richmond was jettisoned to the Sacramento Kings (face-palm) for Bill Owens (screams aloud). In Don Nelson’s own words, this was the worst trade he had ever made and perhaps one of the worst in Warriors history (ironically later in his career, he was traded for another Nelson castaway, Chris Webber).
Richmond eventually became a six-time All-Star and scored over 20,000 points in his NBA career. He “won” a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002. However, Richmond is long remembered by Bay Area fans for his smooth offensive game and competitive nature.
Richmond Side Story:
Following Richmond’s rookie season where he won the Rookie of the Year, he visited a Warriors basketball camp at Del Mar High School in San Jose, where your’s truly was in attendance. The campers, his whole visit, were chanting “Dunk it! Dunk it!” Mitch was in a full warmup suit and sneakers not really looking to put on an exhibition. However, one of the coaches said “Come on Mitch. Do something for the kids.” So, Mitch played that coach a game of 1-on-1 to one basket. Well, that one basket end up being a 180 dunk on that coach. All the kids went home happy to say the least. That may be why there’s a throwback Richmond #23 in my closet also.