Jason Richardson: Walking Away

Every athlete comes here. This place is hallowed ground. It is the land of no return when you acknowledge so much is over. Jason Richardson, three point shooter extraordinaire, did it in an Atlanta park. Others have done it in an agent’s office. Or in a church. Or in their living room. It comes down to this: summing up where you were, where you are, what can never be again. It is the past coming face to the face with what is gone.

For the enlightened, there are two ways of looking at what is no longer possible. You can focus on what is coming next. Or, you can mourn.

Jason Richardson entered the NBA out of Michigan State, a college chamipion, a shooting guard with a fearless stroke, a deadly will and love of scoring, sick athleticism with a vertical leap that won him two Slam Dunk titles but those titles were not the bread and butter of Jason Richardson the NBA player, nor was it the time he bounced the ball off of Charlie Bell’s head and slamed it home, even though the highlights are what everyone talks about.

But you had to see those Warrior games. You had to see his relentless shot making. You had to see the way he scored, (though not his defense and his paltry assists). You had to see his jumper, his catch-and-shoot, his three point shots with a defender in his face.

This was the Bay. Lakers-Warriors blood fests are the guts of fan life. The Warriors finally had a shooting guard to match against Kobe Bryant. As a rookie, J-Rich outscored Kobe in a game at the end of the season, and took more shots. It was a Warriors team with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison but they only won 17 games. J-Rich outscored Kobe again the next year; he had 26, Kobe had 19 in a Warriors win.

There was a moment in the fourth quarter of that game, an electric moment, when J-Rich drilled a three to the euphoria of the Oakland crowd, half locals and half from Southern California being annoyingly arrogant. That three pointer was meant to shut the visitors up. It was J-Rich’s way of putting the game out of reach. But Kobe, undeterred and unfazed by his team trailing by 9 with three minutes left drilled a three of his own as if to say, try to do what I can do.

He did. The shooting guards classic matchup came in 2006 in the Smush Parker years for Kobe and the Baron Davis years for J-Rich. Kobe had 38 points. J-Rich had 37. Kobe took 28 shots, J-Rich took 27. J-Rich had 4 steals, Kobe had none. Kobe had 7 assists, J-Rich had none. With two minutes left, J-Rich drilled a bomb cutting the Lakers lead to 4. Then Kobe drilled a jumper. J-Rich missed a three pointer and Kobe missed a 2-pointer. This was how it usually went with them. But often Kobe had the last word and he did that night in January. He cut for a layup, made two free throws. J-Rich missed a three and the Lakers won by 6.

Eight days later J-Rich would score 23 points against the Clippers. Kobe would score 81 points against the Raptors.

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The Bay area had electric basketball before Steph Curry. For those who remember, they remember that J-Rich, the team’s captain and moral compass, took an ad out in the local papers to apologize for not making the playoffs for the 12th straight year. That’s what he meant to Warrior fans. He was good and moral and he cared and he worked hard and he had talent. He drew you in, kept you there. But like a good deal of talented scorers, he was on a team that could never get enough out of everybody and they lost. And lost.

They finally delivered ecstasy when they upset the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs the year the Mavericks had the best record but choked in the first round. Baron Davis and Jason Richardson did the unthinkable for an eighth seed and embarrassed Dallas when Dirk Nowitzki was the MVP.

Jason Richardson scored 14, 644 points in his NBA career. He was a 47% two-point shooter and a 37%- three point shooter. He appeared in 37 playoff games, averaging 17 points, shooting 47%. He played in 857 NBA games. 438 in Golden State. 162 in Phoenix. 109 in Orlando. 96 in Charlotte. 52 in Philadelphia. He is the 16th best three-point shooter in NBA history, having made 1608 threes.

He is retiring for ordinary reasons. He has pain in his knee, bone spurs. It is habitual in athletic men over thirty, the body taking away the will, remaining broken so nothing about his exit is an exception to the rule of attrition.

Richardson said he didn’t want to watch from the sidelines like a lot of older players who refuse to say it is time to go when it is time to go. No pity for J-Rich, not for himself, not for anyone who watched him play. It is the law of borrowed time. At some point the death of a career is here.

“Today is a bitter sweet moment for me. I’m officially announcing my retirement from pro basketball. I like to thank the organizations and fans in Charlotte, Phoenix, Orlando, Philly and especially The Bay Area for their loyal support the past 14 years. Walking away was the hardest decision I had to make but choosing my health and spending time with my family is more important to me! God bless!”

photo via llananba