Micheal Ray Richardson, comeback player of the year in the National Basketball Assn. in 1985, is going to try another comeback.
Richardson, the talented but troubled New Jersey Nets guard who was kicked out of the NBA two years ago for cocaine abuse, will apply this week for reinstatement in the NBA.
"Basketball is a part of my life," said the 32-year-old Richardson. "I want to play again. I can still play. Age has nothing to do with it. I haven't lost anything."
"This is either do or die, there are no more chances. I think I've paid my dues," he said. "We all make mistakes, but there are only a few who can be down and get back up. I could have taken the easy way out and given up basketball, but I have something to prove not only to other people, but to myself."
Richardson, however, must first prove to NBA Commissioner David J. Stern that he has kicked his drug habit before returning to the NBA.
The NBA has 120 days to make a decision on Richardson, who was banned from the league on Feb. 25, 1986. Richardson, who signed a four-year, $3-million contract with the Nets in 1985, was the first player under contract to be banned from the NBA under the terms of the NBA's drug policy.
Several NBA teams are reportedly interested in Richardson. He earns $500 a week playing for the Albany (N.Y.) Patroons in the Continental Basketball Assn. The Nets, however, retain the rights to Richardson.
"The Boston Celtics have been here three or four times," Richardson said. "I'm sure they could use me because their bench is pretty weak."
Said Charles Grantham, executive director of the NBA Players Assn., who was Richardson's agent: "Can you think of a team that couldn't use him?"
Reinstatement requires approval of the league and the NBA Players Assn. Stern said he will make a decision after the NBA conducts an investigation.
"This will be the first time we've used this process, and we're going to conduct a thorough investigation to determine his state of sobriety and reconstruct what he has done for the last two years," said Gary Bettman, NBA vice president and general counsel. "After the investigation is complete, he'll meet with the director of security and the commissioner. The commissioner has a wide latitude in making the decision."
Said Larry Fleisher, general counsel for the players' association: "There's no precedent for this because he's the first to apply for reinstatement. And this is a very complicated case because there are three or four separate incidents (of drug abuse). But I don't think we'll be as hard on him as the NBA."
Edward Milstein, Richardson's attorney, said that Richardson has suffered enough.
"We think after two years that he's been punished enough," Milstein said. "He has clearly turned his life around. He has owned up to his mistakes. He attends AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or CA (Cocaine Anonymous) meetings regularly and has a strict after-care program. And he's tested two or three times a week by the team, the CBA and the Bergen County (N.J.) Probation Department.
"We anticipate that he'll be playing (in the NBA) at least by next season."
Richardson, a three-time loser under the NBA's drug policy, has undergone drug rehabilitation at least four times. He has also been plagued by financial, legal and domestic problems.
He failed to stay drug free while he was away from the NBA, testing positive for cocaine last summer. The legal problems that plagued him were also resolved as he received two years probation for fraudulently cashing an insurance check.
Richardson said he has his cocaine problem under control and has his life back together again. However, he won't discuss his drug problem. "That's in the past, and I don't want to talk about the past," he said.
Richardson, unable to play anywhere last season, has helped the Albany Patroons become the winningest team in CBA history. The Patroons have a 40-4 record with 10 games left. They set a CBA record with 19 straight wins and have the highest winning percentage (.909) in pro basketball history.
Richardson was set to play in Israel last season, but was banned by the International Basketball Federation because of his past drug use. He spent last season coaching in Israel for the Hapoel Ramat Gan team for $60,000.
Richardson signed with the Patroons on the final day of training camp last fall, and has averaged 13.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.7 steals a game.
The Patroons also have several other former NBA players who are playing well enough to return to the pros.
Tony Campbell, who spent the last three years with the Detroit Pistons, is the Patroons' leading scorer, averaging 23 points off the bench. He leads the CBA in field goal percentage (63.6%).