Whatever Happened to Micheal Ray, the new documentary
from Turner Network Television and NBA Entertainment, provides an interesting history
lesson from one of the National Basketball Association's most sordid chapters.
But the hour-long special, narrated by comedian Chris Rock,
misses out on a golden opportunity to answer the very question it asks in its title.
It spends more than half of its time detailing the fall
from grace of Micheal Ray Richardson, the naïve Denver kid who rose to stardom with the
New York Knicks in the late 1970s, then became the first basketball player to be banned
for life under the league's "three-strikes-and-you're-out"
It also shows all-too-brief glimpses of the life Richardson
has led since then, as an elder statesman in Italian professional basketball and a devoted
husband and father. But Richardson himself does not appear until the final 20 minutes of
the documentary, and he offers no emotional insight as to how he got from point A to point
The show goes in-depth on Richardson's past, dredging
up the players, coaches and writers who followed his career with the Knicks, Golden State
Warriors and New Jersey Nets, and even his mother and sisters.
We learn about his heralded arrival in New York, where the
woeful Knicks were still suffering in the shadow of the legendary team of Walt Frazier,
Bill Bradley and Willis Reed. Reed, then the team's coach, hailed the youngster from
the University of Montana as the "next Walt Frazier," but he had trouble living
up to the hype.
The film then meticulously chronicles his fall from grace
under legendary Knicks coach Red Holzman (during which Richardson spoke the legendary
phrase, "The ship be sinkin'"), his brief and controversial stint with the
Warriors and, most notably, his brief flash of brilliance as a member of the Nets.
The New York and Bay-area basketball writers who covered
Richardson's career appear to offer their perspectives, as do all of his NBA coaches
(except the late Holzman) and a slew of former Knicks and Nets players.
There are also ample highlights of "Sugar" in
action, providing ample evidence to his contention that he could have been as good as --
or better than -- hall-of-famer Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
The documentary even goes back to his high-school and
college days, interviewing former Montana coach Jud Heathcoate on his decision to leave
that school (ironically, to coach Johnson at Michigan State) and how that affected Micheal
But it leaves a five-year gap in the story between
Richardson's attempt to re-enter the big time via the Continental Basketball
Association and his resurfacing in Paris, when he sat in the stands during a Chicago Bulls
goodwill tour. NBA commissioner David Stern reflects on how Richardson came to him just to
thank him for saving his life.
What this documentary needed was more first-hand reflecting
from "Sugar" himself. Richardson talks about how his life has changed, but he
doesn't say how he was able to find the straight and narrow path or why he decided to
make Italy his permanent home.
Whatever Happened to Micheal Ray is an interesting
history lesson, but it sheds little new light on one of the NBA's most enigmatic
The documentary premieres Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 10 p.m. on
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