"If one has no vanity in this life of ours, there is no sufficent reason
for living." Leo Tolstoy

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Quentin Richardson: Soldier

Quentin Richardson can tell you all about himself, providing illustrations, if you'd like. New to the Orlando Magic, Richardson unveils the storyboard of his life in a quiet, nearly deserted downtown coffee shop. He pulls off his Michael Jordan T-shirt, revealing a startling, elaborate tapestry of ink.Follow his finger, follow his world. Every tattoo that covers almost every inch of his torso tells a tale. His mood and emotions change with each explanation of an etching. "My Pops…." the affable Richardson begins, laughing as he speaks of his father, Lee Sr.. "He says, 'Why you want to write all over yourself? If you want to write, go write a book.' "He has, in a way, indelibly, proudly. The collection of tattoos seemingly offers Richardson a sense of permanence he can embrace. At 30, little in his personal and professional life has been long lasting, from the tragic, senseless losses of loved ones to his nomadic,10-year NBA career. He never thought he'd have to leave behind so many people and so many places, watching "this adventure" test his character, if not his sanity. Follow his finger. This tattoo needs no explanation. It reads, STILL STANDING.So much loss, So much pain. Follow his finger to the tattoo of a halo that floats over a coffin on his upper left shoulder. DEAR MOM. The Period of Pain Gives Me Strength To Succeed. Richardson's mother, Emma, a former high school player, first taught him the game of basketball. She had recovered after suffering a brain aneurysm and a stroke to rebound his shots on their driveway hoop on the south side of Chicago. The sounds of bouncing basketballs and gunfire were commonplace. "My Mom taught me how to play basketball," Richardson said. "My Dad's not an athlete. He drove an L-train for 38 years until he retired (from the Chicago Transit Authority). He was the fix-it man. Anything in house, the car. "After she had a stroke … the aneurysm. She was a stay-at-home Mom. She'd watch the games with me. I was the smallest (of the brothers). After they were done, she'd go out and shoot with me." She made him fall in love with the 3-pointer. Years later, playing for the Phoenix Suns, Quentin would win the NBA all-star 3-point shoot-out. "She'd say, 'Shoot the '3' all the time," Richardson's father said. Quentin, the youngest of five children, also learned about loss. Emma died of breast cancer at 47 in 1992. In an eight-month period, Quentin, then 12, lost his mother, his grandmother and a brother, Bernard.A tattoo of a cross bears their names: Mom, Grandma and Bernard. "I know I've lost a lot of people and important things along the way, but that all goes into the character of who I am," Quentin said. "God did it all for a reason. That's the way I look at it. "The period of pain wasn't over.
Follow his finger to the tattoo on his right wrist: DETERMINATION. While he might have gotten his jump-shot from his mother, Richardson received intangible qualities from his father. "That's where I got my work ethic," he said. Here's all you need to know about Lee Sr.: Quentin has made millions, but he says, "Pops is still on me" about finishing his degree at DePaul.

After meeting Pops, former DePaul coach Pat Kennedy wasn't surprised why Quentin was "so grounded." Why Quentin's idea of entertaining a Blue Demon recruit was to go bowling instead of night-clubbing. Kennedy remembers Quentin's father refusing to let the McDonald's all-American leave the house until his chores were done. "Quentin was on an AAU Nike team. One day the AAU van was there to pick him up, but his father said he couldn't play because he didn't wash the dishes," said Kennedy, now coach at Towson University. "His father's the greatest." Teammates would wait in vehicles outside while Quentin finished his duties — or, for instance, help him rake leaves so he could play. Pop's orders. "I had to put my foot down," Lee Sr. said.
Only one time can Quentin say that he violated the spirit of those orders. He finished up his fourth season playing for the lousy Knicks — fat and not happy.
"I knew that my four years in New York were terrible," said Richardson, who was often injured and ballooned to 259 pounds, about 30 pounds over his playing weight. "I'm a much better pro now. "He lost the weight and was acquired last summer by the Miami Heat. This summer, the Heat signed a new wing player to take his spot: Guy named LeBron. Richardson said he could have stayed in Miami as a back-up. "I wouldn't be happy if I went back," he said. "I want to win, but I don't want to sit back and be a cheerleader. "He'll likely start for the Magic, who feel he is an upgrade over Matt Barnes, especially as a 3-point threat. "Everybody knows what I am," he said. "For me, trying to average 20 points is out of character. I'm going to try to be whatever Stan Van Gundy needs, if it's a defensive player first, that's that. "He's ready to work. A tattoo on his lower left arm, illustrated with the goateed face of a man, reads: I AM MY BROTHERS KEEPER. CATALYST01. Richardson's four seasons in New York were forgettable. "Once I got to Miami, I really started feeling good. All the pressures bothering me were blown away," he said.Richardson said he was ordered by the Knicks to undergo anger-management treatment after an incident with a teammate in 2005.

But he knew what was boiling inside: He had just lost another brother, Lee Jr., to another cold-blooded shooting in Chicago. "It was a couple weeks after my older brother got killed. That's what it was," Quentin said. It was too much to bear, for Quentin, for the surviving Richardsons. They had lost Bernard, aka "Bam-Bam," a union window installer, after he was gunned down in 1992 on the south side in a random shooting. He was 23. Thirteen years later, Lee Jr. and his father were approached by two men brandishing guns one night. A former Navy man, Lee Jr. was shot after a struggle and later died. He was 31. Quentin said his brother's dream was to become a record producer under his rap nickname "Catalyst01." "They were good kids … all of them," said the elder Richardson, who survived the shooting. "You just have to keep pushing on, as hard as it is. You can't stop living." Said Kennedy, "That family has been through a lot. But his mom was solid as a rock and his sister, Rochelle, took over her role with Quentin. Quentin's very strong." Always on the move, but still grounded. Follow his finger to his right shoulder. There are the words, CHI-TOWN'S FINEST under a tattoo of Michael Jordan's likeness. There's also the tattoos "CHI CITY" and "CHICAGO'S OWN." Richardson is crazy loyal to his hometown. He starred at Whitney Young High School, becoming Illinois player of the year in 1998. He stayed in town to play for DePaul for two seasons before being chosen by the Clippers in 2000. He said he had a chance to sign with the Bulls, along with the Heat, Boston Celtics and Magic. But coming home no longer appealed to him, even after a decade of being on the move. The pressures and demands of family and friends would complicate things. Q-Rich doesn't like complicated anymore. Who can blame him? He has been traded five times, although the number is misleading. In a bizarre seven-week stretch in the summer of '09, Richardson — or rather, his salary-cap-friendly contract — was dealt four times. He bounced from the Knicks to the Memphis Grizzlies to the Clippers to the Minnesota Timberwolves before finally ending up in Miami. Richardson signed with the Magic for four seasons at $10.2 million, but he knows that nothing is permanent. Not in the NBA. Not in life. "It's definitely been an adventure," he said. "But I've been blessed with the people surrounding me. They've kept my head on straight. Without going through a lot of things off the basketball court, I don't know how I'd be able to push through."
Quentin turns his back, bare now. There, in a prolific mosaic of tattoos, he said you can see them, winged and floating. "My guardian angels."
-Brian Schmitz' Orlando Sentinel

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