It’s only been four years since Jason Richardson hung up his kicks following an illustrious NBA career that spanned 13 seasons and five different franchises, but the man best known for his dunking prowess and contributions to that infamous “We Believe” Golden State Warriors team remains terrified falling out of shape.
“That’s one of my worst fears, retiring and getting big,” Richardson said with a laugh. “So I probably took three weeks off (after retiring) and I was back in the gym working out and moving around.”
Richardson, 38, now spends his days finishing his sports business degree at the University of Colorado Denver and watching his son, Jason Richardson Jr., develop into a hooper in his own right. But basketball is never far from his mind, evidenced by his recent decision to try out for the BIG3. Richardson spoke with Dime from the Jr. NBA Global Championships — where his son plays for the Chauncey Billups-sponsored Billups Elite squad — about what it’s like watching Jason Jr. play, his dreams of working in an NBA front office, and why his Warriors teams were ahead of their time.
What’s your son’s youth basketball experience been like compared to yours?
It’s totally different. When I was growing up playing basketball, it wasn’t a tournament every weekend, or out-of-state tournaments all the time. I think my first out-of-state tournament was in the eighth grade, whereas my son’s first out-of-state tournament was in the first grade. There’s more basketball being played, the kids are coming out more skilled. The process is fun seeing him get better. Him wanting to be a basketball player, that’s the exciting part for me.
Does his game resemble yours at all?
We’re totally different players. At his age level, where I was at, he’s more skilled, he has a higher basketball IQ, he’s just a better player than I was at that level and age. It’s interesting seeing how much he knows the game. He’s always watching highlights and trying to find different ways to become a better basketball player. And he’s a point guard, so he can dribble the ball better than me, he can shoot the ball better than me. I still think he’s got a ways to go to catch up with my athleticism (laughs).
Youth basketball, especially the AAU circuit, remains a polarizing subjects. What are your thoughts on what youth hoops looks like today?
I agree with every former player that’s been through it. It’s a joke. It’s a big joke. I see what the Jr. NBA is trying to do. I told the kids when we came down here, this might be the first time you’re playing kids your own age, which is mind-boggling. You’re having eighth graders that are turning 16 years old. I’ve always believed, if you can play, somebody’s going to find you.
I don’t believe in playing my son down. I don’t believe in playing him at his grade level. He’s going to play up, and that’s what he’s doing right now. I think that’s what youth basketball needs to get back to. The holding back, the kids being older, I think it’s a complete joke and it’s sad. Not only on the basketball side, but the educational side. We lose the fact of, these kids are being held back for sports. Academics, I could totally see it if a kid is struggling, but we’re holding kids back for sports. When it’s all said and done, this is about having kids be able to go to college and have an education.
The main goal that parents are losing sight of is how can we get education paid for for these kids to go to a higher learning institution? That’s what youth sports is really about.
You mentioned that your wife actually does most of the coaching when it comes to your sons. Do you have an itch to get into coaching at all?
I’m just enjoying being with my family. I’m actually in school trying to finish up my degree in sports business. Eventually, I do want to go back into a front office. I like the inner workings of the basketball side of it, the business side of basketball. I thought about the coaching thing, but I’m more interested in how you put a team together, the salary cap, getting teams to work well together. Hopefully when I finish my degree I can jump back into that.
The run your former Golden State Warriors team has been on over the last five seasons has been remarkable. Do you still feel connected to the Bay Area?
I go back at least once a month. I will always feel connected to that team. That’s the team that drafted me. I fell in love with the city, I fell in love with the fans. They supported me through losing times. We had a great season with that “We Believe” team and I think we will always be associated and connected to that city and that franchise.
It’s so amazing what’s happening. Getting Klay, getting Steph, getting guys like Durant in free agency. Having Draymond, a second-round pick. Those fans deserve everything that came from that because they were so supportive during those losing years.
Will it be weird for you when the Warriors move to San Francisco next season?
It’s definitely a weird thing. Every time I go back there and see the new arena, you talk to old fans. Those real die hard fans, they’re sad that they’re leaving there. That team gained its spirit from Oakland and those fans. It’s a little disappointing, but you understand the business side of it. Going to San Francisco, there’s more opportunities for marketing and partnerships. But at the same time, you feel bad for the city of Oakland. You have the Raiders leaving, now the Warriors are leaving, and there’s talks that the A’s are leaving. That city is such a great sports city, you just feel bad for those fans. It’s sad, but you understand the other side of it.
For most of your time in Golden State, you were taking nearly six three-pointers a game. That’s not normal for that era. Do you feel like you were ahead of your time?
I think that whole “We Believe” team was ahead of our time. We were going to play small, we were going to defend well, and we were going to shoot a lot of threes. If you go back and look at the highlight tapes of that team, how much we shared the ball, I think we were ahead of the trend. Phoenix was like that, a couple other teams, too, but I think we really set the tone for the small ball. No real true big. We’re gonna play four guards and have whoever the biggest person is play center, and we’re going to run the ball up and down the court, but we’re gonna play defense. It’s similar to what you see now. Draymond playing center pretty much, four guards around him that can score at will. Our whole team was ahead of the times.
Where do you come out on the three-point revolution that has some teams in the NBA taking 40 threes a night?
I like the evolution of basketball. A lot of things changed once Dirk (Nowitzki) became a superstar. He was a 7-footer taking threes, and that was cool because it made everybody want to become basketball players. Now, you can’t just have one skillset, you have to several to be an NBA player.
But I do think it’s gotten out of hand with all the threes being taken. I know the odds are better as far as a three versus a two, if you make them, with the Moneyball system, or the analytics system, whatever they call it. But I do think it gets out of hand. I still like to see defensive matchups. I still like to see a big go in the post or guards posting up, because that was my era. We had Paul Pierce, Tracy McGrady, myself, Ray Allen, Vince Carter. All those guys were two guards that were shooters but would still post up. I think that’s the part of the game I miss. It was a battle down there. And you wanted to see that battle in the paint. You don’t get that anymore. Even the bigs don’t post up.
But the game is moving faster. Everybody is sharing the ball, guys are way more skilled than we were. But I still like the old style of basketball.
You joined the BIG3 earlier this month when you were drafted by the Tri-State. What was that tryout experience like?
When I tried out for the BIG3, I just wanted to see if I could move. It was my first time playing competitively in four years. I was out there moving pretty well, I was scoring, I was shooting the ball pretty well. I realized I could still play, and I think the biggest thing for me was my sons wanted me to play basketball still. They still like to be around that type of stuff.
You got a whole bunch of older guys that still very competitive. It’s going to be some physical battles. Old school, post up basketball. It’s the fun part of it. Going to see some of your old teammates, some of your old competitors, and we’re still going out there and battling.