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The 1981-82 season opened with Richardson, whose nondeferred income was still $100,000 a year, complaining about money. He performed so ineptly in one early-season practice that Maurice Lucas, the forward who had been acquired from the Nets for Ray Williams, shouted for all to hear, "Dammit, man, if you're our leader, act like it!" The following night in Houston, Richardson was benched for all but four minutes of the second half. "It better not happen again," Richardson seethed.
A week later, in a typical turnabout, Richardson had 20 points, 12 assists, 15 rebounds and four steals in a Knick victory over the Nets, who were now coached by Larry Brown, a fan of Micheal Ray's since Brown's days as coach of the Denver Nuggets. But the Knicks were performing miserably, and after one defeat Richardson, in the most memorable utterance of his career, told reporters, "The ship be sinking!"
Holzman, David A. (Sonny) Werblin, then the chief executive officer of Madison Square Garden Corporation, which owns the Knicks, and then general manager Eddie Donovan say they never had any indication that Richardson was using drugs during his years in New York. But Werblin says he had other concerns about Richardson, who regarded him as a father figure. "I suggested that he shouldn't waste the opportunity he had living in New York, that it was possible to take classes at almost any hour of the night," Werblin says. "His answer was, 'Man, I don't have to do that. I got my business degree.' " (Richardson now admits that he doesn't have a degree from any school.)
Werblin grimaces. "I don't think Micheal Ray is literate at all," he says. "I doubt whether he reads or writes.... A kid like Micheal Ray has done nothing but play basketball. It's a commentary on our educational system. You travel with the basketball team. Do you ever see a book? Not even a newspaper. You don't see them with anything except the Walkmans. It's not to be believed."
On Feb. 8, 1982, eight days after he appeared in his third straight All-Star game, Richardson met with Pat Healy, a lawyer from Tacoma, Wash. Bye-bye, Cronson, hello, Healy. Richardson hired him to be his exclusive "business representative, manager and adviser." Richardson ended the season with a team-leading 17.9-points-per-game average—not enough to keep the Knicks from finishing last in the Atlantic Division but enough to merit a new contract, or so Richardson thought. But he didn't want Healy to negotiate it.
Enter Larry Fleisher, Agent No. 6.
"He asked me if I'd represent him, and I agreed," says Fleisher, the general counsel of the NBA players union. Several weeks later Richardson rehired Cronson as his business manager. Cronson's second stint with Richardson was also short-lived. "I lost control when he went out and got a credit line [from a bank]," Cronson says.
On May 20 the Knicks hired Dave DeBusschere as executive vice-president and director of basketball operations and named Hubie Brown to replace Holzman as head coach.
"From the day Hubie signed, he told me that Richardson didn't fit in his plans," Werblin says. "No way is Sugar his kind of player."