4. Micheal “Sugar” Ray Richardson
If not for his off-court issues, Michael Ray Richardson could be ranked even higher on this list. In 1986, NBA commissioner David Stern banned Richardson from the NBA for life after he violated the league’s drug policy. While he was allowed back in the NBA two years later, he failed to ever join up with a new team.
However, before that, Richardson was quite the player. In a nine-year career that included four All-Star selections, two All-Defensive First Team selections, four stealing titles, and one assists title, Richardson had some of his best seasons with the Nets. In the 1984-85 season with the Nets, Richardson posted his career-best in points per game and second best in assists, steals (he led the league), and field goal percentage. That season, despite the injuries that the Nets suffered, Richardson boosted them to a winning record and a playoff berth.
The season prior to that, Richardson was a key player in the Nets’ historic playoff performance. That year, the Nets went 45-37 and faced the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. To the surprise of many, the Nets jumped out to a 2-0 lead after stealing two games in Philadelphia. However, the 76ers forced a decisive Game 5 after stealing two road games themselves. At this time, the first round was a best-of-five series. In the deciding game, Richardson came up huge, scoring a game-high 24 points (tied with Otis Birdsong) on 55% shooting, while adding six rebounds, six assists, and six steals. While the upset in itself was huge, the victory also marked the Nets’ first playoff series victory in the NBA merger.
In the four seasons Richardson played for the Nets, the team made the playoffs every time.
Overall, despite the off-court troubles and struggle to stay on the court, it was clear that Richardson had a game. While his career could have been even better, it goes without saying that Richardson made a name for himself in Nets fans’ hearts and history books for his efforts in the 1980s.
Next: No. 3