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NBA’s Jason Richardson nearly became a hockey star

Jan 15, 2011, 6:26 PM EST

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Jason Richardson is a high-flying, three-point-shooting star for the Orlando Magic but the NBA wasn’t always his first calling. While growing up in Saginaw, Michigan he played hockey as a kid as well as basketball. When you grow up in a place that’s home to an OHL team and a haven for Detroit Red Wings fans, it’s almost automatic that you’ll start off playing hockey.

For Richardson though, hockey wasn’t just a passing fancy and something else to do as a kid, he had a real interest in the game and it came naturally to him. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel tells us that if things had gone a bit different, perhaps we’d be talking about Jason Richardson the Detroit Red Wing rather than NBA star.

“I really wanted to play in the NHL,” Richardson said. “At the time, I think there were only two or three African-American players. I wanted to be the fourth one.”

While Richardson was growing up, there really was a dearth of African-American players. That’s not the case so much anymore as we’ve seen times change with the rise of Jarome Iginla as captain of the Flames and Dustin Byfuglien in Atlanta as well as the emergence of youngsters like Wayne Simmonds of the L.A. Kings and P.K. Subban with the Canadiens.

What derailed Richardson’s dream?

But finances ended his NHL dream. He was in a family of six children growing up without a father. His mother was the breadwinner, working at Toys ‘R’ Us and Red Lobster while also attending school.

“My feet just kept growing, like size 12 or 13,” said the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Richardson. “It’s hard to find skates that big. You had to get them custom-made.

“We didn’t come from a wealthy family, and there were hard times. My mother always found ways to make ends meet, but some of those skates cost hundreds of dollars.”

It’s an unfortunate truth for anyone growing up that hockey is a costly game to play. Lord help parents whose kids grow up wanting to be goalies because the cost of pads, blockers, and trappers piles on to the cost of skates and sticks. Just think what it would’ve been like to have a 6’6″, 225-pound forward racing around the ice either as a slick-skating forward or a defensive force. Anyone that size in the NHL almost immediately gets noticed.

Stories like this never fail to entertain us because it brings in the whole, “What if?” factor. Think Michigan State, where Richardson went to college, would’ve loved to have him on the ice to win a National Championship? You better believe it and you’d better believe the Red Wings would love to have a forward or defenseman that big roaming the ice for them now. As it is, it’s all a fantasy situation but it’s great to read that even an NBA star grew up wanting to become a NHL star first.

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