The panic percolating within his voice made his stutter sound like a runaway train. He should've been at his office preparing for Game 2 of the Continental Basketball Association finals, but he was yelling into his cell phone now, trying to spare himself the indignity of fading into the nevermore of the abyss.
Welcome to the last stand of Micheal Ray Richardson.
"There's not a hateful bone in my body!" the coach of the Albany Patroons pleaded from upstate New York on Wednesday afternoon, just after his franchise suspended him for the rest of the CBA championship series. "People who know me know this is false. He took it out of context. … Oh man, why am I talking to you?
"Why am I talking to you guys again?"
Maybe it was a little late to stop talking. That's always been Richardson's problem. He's never known when to stop, when his excesses and impulses would send him on a self-destructive spiral. On Tuesday night, moments before the start of the CBA finals against the Yakima Sun Kings in Albany where he had been the coach of the Patroons, Richardson started on a rambling, anti-Semitic rant with respected Albany Times Union columnist Brian Ettkin.
Richardson didn't stop there, capping "Buy one slur, get one free" night at the Washington Avenue Armory with an anti-gay snap at a Patroons heckler in the stands.
"Ah man," Richardson sighed on the phone, "This (suspension) isn't right. I didn't say any of that stuff."
A month ago, Richardson, a three-time All-Star in the 1980s with the Knicks and Nets, had gone on and on with me in his office, trashing his general manager and owner with whom he had been carrying on in fiercely entertaining feuds. Richardson had assured me that he was on his way out of Albany this summer and on his way back to an NBA scouting job in Europe. His sounded like the kind of complaining about management that could've been overlooked had he won the championship. The Patroons were four games away, and Richardson was talking with Ettkin about a contract extension that will never come now.
He's going to get fired, and he's going to be done in American basketball. NBA commissioner David Stern gave him a lifetime banishment for drug abuse in 1986, but this could turn out to be his ultimate one-way ticket out of sight, out of mind.
His family is waiting in the south of France for him to return, and that's where he'll go, probably exiled forever.
"I've got big-time lawyers," he said. "I've got big-time Jew lawyers." That started it. When Ettkin pressed him on that verbiage about Jews being crafty and shrewd, Richardson was quoted as saying, "Are you kidding me? They are. They've got the best security system in the world. Have you ever been to an airport in Tel Aviv? They're real crafty. Listen, they are hated all over the world, so they've got to be crafty.
"They know that in this country the Jews are running it if you really think about it. I mean, which is not a bad thing, you know what I mean?"
He kept talking.
He always did.
"They got a lot of power in this world, you know what I mean? Which I think is great. I don't think there's nothing wrong with it. If you look in most professional sports, they're run by Jewish people. If you look at a lot of most successful corporations and stuff, more businesses, they're run by Jewish. It's not a knock, but they are some crafty people.''
For good measure, he reportedly turned and screamed down a heckling Patroons fan with "Shut the f--- up, you faggot."
Someone else might eventually get another chance, but Richardson has long since used up a lifetime of forgiveness for his missteps. When Stern delivered the ban for his drug relapses in '86, Richardson had become synonymous with the sport's social ills. Ultimately, the NBA's commissioner helped him back and gave Denver his blessing to hire him in community relations before Patroons general manager Jim Coyne hired him two years ago. Stern always had a soft spot in his heart for Sugar, and you've got to believe that Micheal Ray broke his heart with this one. Through the years, Richardson has broken a lot of them.
Between our visit in late February and the CBA finals, Richardson declared a league conspiracy aimed at him had caused the CBA to change its playoff format late in the season, eliminating the semifinal round of the playoffs.
"He basically insinuated that I had a vested interest in the Albany Patroons not making the playoffs," CBA director of operations Dennis Truax said Wednesday by phone. "That's totally a falsehood."
Truax is in charge of conducting the investigation over Richardson's comments. It shouldn't take long. No one doubts what was reported because it fits right with Richardson's relentlessly clownish act. Since the CBA's offices are in the Washington Avenue Armory, Truax has had a front row seat for Micheal Ray Theatre. Some show. Through the years, Richardson has had a decidedly self-destructive bent to his personality. There was nothing endearing about his act on Tuesday. No longer could this be dismissed as Micheal Ray being Micheal Ray. He's supposed to be a coach, a leader of men. He sounded like a terminal headcase.
"He's a volatile coach and a volatile man," Truax said. "He speaks his mind and he's done it ever since he's come out of the womb. But sometimes, I think that frankness offends people. There's no way of condoning what he allegedly said. Those remarks are hurtful and spiteful, if he did say those things."
Micheal Ray Richardson insisted that there's not a hateful bone in his body, and maybe so, but there are some ignorant ones. He had a good thing going in Albany, with a chance at a championship season, and he blew it. That's the story of his life. Three weeks ago, he told me, "I'm a winner. I'm a survivor. If I can win a title here, that's going to go a long way to prove myself to people."
So Wednesday, the Patroons suspended Richardson for the rest of the championship series and ordered him to stay out of the Armory. Here was Micheal Ray Richardson, a foolish, frenzied man on his cell phone, yelling, "I have a 20-year-old daughter who is half-Jewish, my ex-wife is Jewish.
"They take things and put in their words …"
Back in 2000, they made a documentary called "What Happened to Micheal Ray?" After all these years, and all the chances, it looks like he finally gave them his answer.
- Micheal Ray Richardson