The redemptive and destructive journeys of ‘Sugar’ Ray Richardson and Mookie Blaylock

Life is all about choices.

For all professional athletes, having good decision-making skills is a crucial factor in their careers. We, as fans, often question their choices during pressure-filled moments of an important game. Over the years, Nets fans have learned about the journeys of two talented yet troubled guards, Micheal “Sugar” Ray Richardson and Daron “Mookie” Blaylock. Both men performed some of their most unforgettable moments while donning the New Jersey Nets uniform.

Some of their life decisions off the court, though, led to their lowest moments.

Micheal “Sugar Ray” Richardson was a lightning quick 6-5 combo guard from the University of Montana. Throughout his 107 games as a member of the Grizzlies, Richardson averaged 17.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per contest. Richardson earned first-team All-Big Sky selections in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons.

The University of Montana alum was given the nickname “Sugar” for his sweet shooting stroke and playmaking moves.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – CIRCA 1984: Michael Ray Richardson #20 of the New Jersey Nets shoots over Andrew Toney #22 of the Philadelphia 76ers during an NBA basketball game circa 1984 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Richardson played for the Nets from 1982-86. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Richardson was selected fourth in the 1978 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. He was billed as the next Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Despite the enormous pressure of playing in the Big Apple, Richardson was excellent in New York, where he became the third player in NBA history to lead the league in assists and steals in the same season. He also put up 18 triple-doubles as a Knick, which is second in franchise history.

Even as he enjoyed success on the court, he harbored a then-unknown cocaine habit, which would become a significant problem in his life after he was traded to the Golden State Warriors in 1982 for Bernard King. After playing in just 33 games, Richardson was sent to New Jersey. As a member of the Nets, Richardson had the most successful and troubling era of his NBA career.

By Dec. 1983, Richardson had been to three drug treatment clinics for his cocaine addiction. The Nets decided to release Richardson from the team. He was reinstated by the franchise five months later. The former number four pick lead New Jersey to a shocking first-round NBA playoff upset of the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers in 1984. The combo guard earned his fourth NBA All-Star appearance, his only nod with New Jersey coming in 1985. Richardson won the 1985 NBA Comeback Player of the Year award.

Unfortunately, Richardson’s rising basketball career would end abruptly on Feb. 25,1986, as NBA commissioner David Stern banned Richardson for his third violation of the league’s anti-drug policy. In 554 career NBA games, Richardson averaged 14.8 points, seven assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. The NBA’s public exile of Richardson illustrates how his bad decisions nearly destroyed his life and basketball career.

Daron “Mookie” Blaylock was a strong, tough six-foot point guard from Garland, Texas. Blaylock rose to prominence while leading the University of Oklahoma to the 1988 NCAA championship game. The New Jersey Nets drafted Blaylock with the twelfth selection of the 1989 NBA Draft. Blaylock spent three seasons with the Nets playing along with Derrick Coleman, Drazen Petrovic, and Kenny Anderson.

1990: Mookie Blaylock #10 of the New Jersey Nets stands on the court during an NBA game in 1990. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright 1990 NBAE. (Photo by Ken Levine /Getty Images)

Blaylock would average a Nets career-high 14.1 points in the 1990-91 NBA season. He was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in 1992. Blaylock would have most of his career success with the Hawks, including becoming a two-time NBA steals leader and making his only NBA All-Star appearance in 1994.

Unfortunately, as Blaylock’s career continued, his alcohol addiction became an apparent problem in his life. Blaylock received his first DUI charge in 1995. Blaylock would go on to play professionally until 2002, averaging 13.4 points, 6.7 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per contest. Ultimately, Blaylock’s poor choices would also lead to an untimely end of his NBA basketball career.

Each man diverged following their careers, with a series of decisions cementing differing life journeys after basketball. Mookie Blaylock’s choices guided him to a path of destruction. As of 2007, Blaylock had posted six additional DUI charges since his departure from the NBA. In a 2010 arrest, his blood alcohol content was four times higher than the legal limit at .360. After another incident in 2012, Blaylock had a .272 alcohol blood level when arrested by authorities.

Tragically, on May 31, 2013, Blaylock’s drunk driving lead to a horrible car crash that killed 43-year-old Monica Murphy, a wife and mother of five children. As a result of this tragedy, Blaylock pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide. He was sentenced to three to fifteen years in prison for his crimes.

For Richardson, he chose to find redemption. The former Net decided not to return to the NBA, opting to play in the CBA and Europe for the next 16 years. Richardson would lead teams to the FIBA European Cup, while posting titles in Italian, French, and Croatian leagues.

BOLOGNA, ITALY – APRIL 14: American player and NBA legend Micheal Ray Richardson, also Virtus Bologna ex-player, attends the LegaBasket match between Virtus Segafredo Bologna and Happy Casa Brindisi at PalaDozza on April 14, 2019, in Bologna, Italy. (Photo by Mario Carlini – Iguana Press/Getty Images)

Richardson would also coach in the CBA, NBL Canada, and PBL for ten seasons. The former NBA All-Star would become a mentor by hosting basketball clinics for young athletes. Richardson is a grandfather of six grandchildren currently living in Lawton, Oklahoma.

The tragic journey of Mookie Blaylock and the inspiring renewal of Micheal Ray Richardson show that we can hold athletes to an unfair standard simply because of their incredible physical abilities. Still, we should understand that athletes are human, and we as humans make mistakes, yet it’s our choices that lead us towards either destruction or redemption.