For L.A.'s Richmond, the ring's the thing

THE BALTIMORE SUN

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - These should be great times for Los Angeles Lakers guard Mitch Richmond, but it's understandable if he looks at the team's success with a bit of wistfulness.

Richmond has always had the misfortune of being the Phil Mickelson of the NBA, perhaps the most talented player never to win a title. And now that he has won his first ring with the Lakers, the feeling for Richmond is bittersweet because he wasn't much of a part of it.

"I'm definitely excited and happy about the experience, but you know, definitely, you're not as happy as you should be," Richmond said. "But we've got a great group of guys, and when I'm not in there or if I am in there, we try to cheer each other on. The only thing is, I wish I could play."

Richmond, who spent the early part of his 14-year career in Golden State and Sacramento, was traded to Washington before the 1998-99 season in a deal that included Chris Webber. Richmond performed well, but he was bought out of his contract before this season for $5 million.

He signed a one-year deal with the Lakers and was expected to provide offense off the bench behind Kobe Bryant. But Richmond, a five-time All-Star, averaged only 4.1 points this season, and played in only two playoff games. Last night, Richmond played the final minute and hit his only shot, setting off a celebration on the Lakers' bench.

"Mitch has put in all the work; he's put in all the effort," said Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson. "He, I'm sure, would have loved to have shown his valor on the court, ability on the court, more than he's been able to this year, or that I've given him time to."

But after all those seasons as a great player mired in the NBA swamps, Richmond will take the good times, even at this cost.

"After all the dog years, I think this is definitely worth it, and fulfilling," he said. "You get a ring, and I think that really captures your whole career, and definitely what I've been through. Just having the opportunity to be here is exciting."

Defending your coach

Jackson has been criticized from a number of fronts - most vocally from former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach - for doing little more than serving as a figurehead surrounded by great players, a charge that galls Lakers forward Rick Fox.

"It's becoming personal for us now as players that play for him," Fox said. "It's offensive."

"When you hear comments that question his ability to coach or if it's just the talent that he's had, it's really offensive and it's something that's starting to upset a lot of people that know him. "

Said Jackson: "I dedicated this championship to Red Holtzman, my mentor," referring to his old coach with the New York Knicks.

New jerseys

Bryant wore Michael Jordan's red-on-white No. 23 Bulls jersey to last night's game, completing his Hall of Fame fashion journey.

Bryant donned a Derek Jeter jersey for Game 3 of the conference semifinals, then turned it into a habit, and the source of much media fascination. He has since worn Pedro Martinez, Joe Montana, Jerry West and Wayne Gretzky jerseys, among others.

Et cetera

The NBA announced that San Antonio Spurs guard Steve Smith was named the league's most sportsmanlike player, according to voting by a national media panel. Smith is the third Spur to win the Joe Dumars Trophy, named for the former Detroit Pistons guard, since its inception in the 1995-96 season. ... USA Basketball announced that Pistons center Ben Wallace and Los Angeles Clippers forward Elton Brand have been added to the U.S. team that will participate in this summer's World Championships.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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