I’m trying to look at this objectively. Are Championships important? Yes. But, there are 30 teams and one trophy. Not every player is going to have the stars align to win a title. Some are doomed by being drafted or traded to teams out of title contention. And some players are fortunate to be drafted into incredible situations. Let’s take Mitch Richmond and Scottie Pippen and compare the two.
Richmond spent his prime with the Sacramento Kings, a historically inept franchise (Outside the Chris Webber era from 98-05, the Kings have made the playoffs twice since moving to Sacramento in 1985). In 7 seasons with Sacramento, Richmond was a six time All-Star and five time All-NBA selection while averaging 23.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, and 4.1 apg on 45.3 FG%/40.4 3p%/84.7 FT%.
Those are highly respectable numbers for a high volume scoring guard who is a primary option. Richmond was also a solid defender, but that is overshadowed due to Sacramento routinely playing a high pace and carrying a bottom-10 defense.
Richmond never had a championship caliber supporting cast. His best teammates during his time in Sacramento were Wayman Tisdale, Spud Webb, Brian Grant, Corliss Williamson, Walt Williams, Lionel Simmons, and a post-injury Mahmoud Abdul Rauf (If you don’t remember half of these guys I don’t blame you). He never played with another All-Star or an All-Defensive team member in Sacramento, and none of the above players earned any all-league selections in the duration of their careers, outside of Williamson winning sixth man of the year with Detroit in 2001/02.
In contrast, Pippen during those same prime years from 91-98 (Richmond and Pippen were drafted a year apart but are the same age) obviously played for the Chicago Bulls. He put up 20.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.9apg with over 3 steals and a block combined on 47.9 FG%/33.9 3P%/70.5 FT%. Pippen’s numbers are incredible all around stats and earned him 7 All-Star nods, 10 All-Defensive team selections, and 7 All-NBA teams.
Pippen was part of incredible teams with Chicago winning 5 titles during that seven year run. He played alongside Michael Jordan (Maybe the best player of all-time), Horace Grant (One of the best role-players of all time), Dennis Rodman, BJ Armstrong, Toni Kukoc, and Ron Harper. Excluding MJ, Pippen’s teammates in his prime were selected to 3 All-Star games, 9 All-Defensive teams, and twice to All-NBA teams.
Pippen had far better teammates than Richmond ever did, even when excluding Jordan. Ron Harper was a walking bucket in the early 90’s but few remember that because he played for the Clippers and Cavs. With the Clippers he averaged 20.1ppg/6.1rpg/4.6apg in 1993 before signing with Chicago, and could’ve signed elsewhere to continue to be a primary scorer. He completely adjusted his game to focus on defense and playmaking while seeing a large reduction in playing time (18 minutes per game less than a year prior). While his stats with the Bulls don’t jump off the page, he was instrumental to them three-peating a second time. BJ Armstrong was one of the best 3 point shooters in the NBA during Pippen’s prime, and Kukoc will be remembered as one of the first great European players to come over to the NBA who developed into a phenomenal bench scorer (one time sixth man of the year).
Bringing Jordan into the conversation, you acknowledge that for all of his prime, except for the 1993/94 season (Jordan’s first retirement), Pippen was the second option. Once again, I need to clarify, this doesn’t take a way from his individual greatness. He was a great player, but with Jordan demanding more defensive attention than any other player in the league, it is undeniable that Pippen reaped the rewards.
He got many more open shots and was on the receiving end of Jordan’s playmaking and floor vision. Conversely, Richmond never benefited from the ease of another star. Spud Webb was at best a slightly above average playmaker and the same can be said of Abdul-Rauf, who was more of a shooting guard forced to play point guard due to his smaller stature.
Again, this is not meant to slight the abilities of Pippen or any of these other players. I just think it is important to realize how the surrounding environment of a player, the things they cannot control, is often as impactful as their play. If Pippen were in the place of Richmond, he undoubtedly would still be a great player, but maybe his efficiency drops. Or he makes less all star appearances, all-defensive teams, and all-nba teams due to the fact that there is a voter bias towards winning teams. That may sound like nonsense, but this is a very real thing.
There are great players on bad teams and their lack of winning is often a reason used for them to not make an all-league team. While I understand the importance of winning, I think the problem with this is that we create issues like the case of Mitch Richmond. If he’d been on more successful teams, he likely would’ve received more all-star votes, all-nba votes, and media attention in general. By voting more for players on winning teams that are borderline stars, that are better noticed and held in a more positive light due to team success, we can create false narratives.
Richmond is lucky to have found his way into the Hall of Fame as many players in his situation haven’t been so lucky. By shorting players a few all star games or league selections, we hurt how they are viewed in the future. 20 years from now, few will remember the game played on local TV in November. They will however, notice a player who makes only six all-star games as opposed to nine or ten. You can’t go back and watch every game, all you have are stats, word of mouth, and highlight mixes on youtube. Can you see why the way players receive votes is important? This can build or degrade a player’s legacy. And these players are human just like you or me, just probably taller…a lot taller.
Winning is important, it is one of the greatest indicators of success, but I have an issue with using the success of a team as the sole gauge of the success of an individual. We often over emphasize individuals on a successful team, while discrediting individuals on a less successful team. For instance, Robert Horry, regarded as one of the most clutch shooters of all time, is vastly overrated.
Horry was a good player who was on some freakin incredible teams. He was fantastic at knowing his role and being part of a championship formula. Horry averaged 12ppg at his peak, and was never in consideration for any league honors (Outside of an all-rookie team). So, when someone tries to use his team success to say that he’s more deserving of a hall of fame spot than a player like Mitch Richmond who couldn’t achieve the same team success, I think that’s horse shit. Horry was a good player, GOOD, Richmond was GREAT. The Hall of Fame is for the greatest players to play the game and Richmond is undeniably one of them.
Do I think Richmond and Pippen switching places changes things? Definitely. Pippen is one of the greatest all-around players ever and was a better player, but trying to subjectively see how their careers could’ve been different with other circumstances is important. I’m not writing this to tear players apart; quite the contrary. People (NBA players are people too) deserve to be remembered for what they did, and remembered accurately. We need to stop slandering athletes for what they didn’t do, and remembering the great things they did do, because we impact their reputations tomorrow with what we say today.
Players like Chris Webber (Who should be a hall of famer already!!), Shawn Marion, Ama’re Stoudemire, and Dwight Howard are some great examples of others who have had their hall of fame chances hurt by bias and injury. While players like Vlade Divac, Dennis Johnson, and James Worthy, who are all solid players in their own right, garnered accolades due to incredible team success which helped them reach the Hall of Fame. None of these players were better than Chris Webber or Dwight, James Worthy was good but Dwight and C Webb are inexplicably better.
Mitch Richmond was a great player, and a deserving hall of famer, and while I don’t expect you to agree with me, I do hope that you take something positive away from this article.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with what I think? Who’s another player that is unfairly remembered? Let me know what you think down below and subscribe to my website and podcast if you haven’t yet!