When some professional athletes hang it up for good, their public profile in turn fades away. However, former NBA All-Star Richard Hamilton—who announced his retirement on February 26—isn't ready for his rocking chair just yet.
While speaking with Complex during a call-in from Vegas, Hamilton is doing anything but relaxing. Promoting Gillette's newest "Undefeated" deodorant, he boasts about its "48-hour odor and wetness protection" in between the war stories he recalls from his days as an All-Star, NBA champion, and NCAA champion.
There's no doubt that Hamilton had a storied and accomplished career from his 14 seasons in the league. When we talk about some of the best shooting guards from the past 15 years, Hamilton has earned his place in any barbershop conversation. So we got up with Hamilton to talk about the NCAA tournament, his championship run with UConn in 1999, and his time in the NBA.
Interview by Gus Turner (@gusturner1)
Did you fill out a bracket?
Yeah, man, it’s getting beat up right now.
Who do you have winning it?
I got Wisconsin.
You like Frank Kaminsky?
Yeah, I like their team, man. They got a great team.
And who were your other Final Four teams?
It was Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and the bottom was….who’s in the bottom? Duke, Kentucky—who did I have come out that way? Let me think about it. It’s one more, I just forget. My mind's going blank.
Did you have ‘Nova?
Villanova. Yup, Villanova.
Okay, so you went all the No. 1 seeds?
I did. See, I made it easy. [Laughs]
Were you able to predict any of the early upsets, or is the bracket busted?
It's busted, man. Like, I had SMU going far, I had Iowa State going far. SMU was my sleeper with Larry Brown.
Speaking of SMU, I saw recently that Larry Brown had said that he thought Kentucky was good enough to make the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. What do you think?
I think so, man. The Eastern Conference, the bottom half is pretty weak. Yeah, the bottom half is pretty weak. I think they got size, they got quickness, they got speed, they’re athletic, they’re coached well. So, I would think so.
Wow. And I guess one thing that a lot of people say about that argument is, like, you know, there's a bunch of players on Kentucky right now who, as good as they are, won’t even make an NBA team, whereas all the guys that are on an NBA team are already on an NBA team. You think that Kentucky would be deep enough to go a full season?
Man for man, they would lose. But basketball is a team sport. And I think they play well together. Absolutely, man to man—you put their best player all the way to their worst to a team—yeah, they would lose all day. Because the guys [in the NBA] are way too physical, they way too strong. These kids don’t have any idea. But if they took that same team and, say, let them play a year or two in the league, together, then yeah [they'd win]. But if you took that team now, and said, "Alright, I’m gonna put them in the NBA right now," no, because they’d get beat up. They’d get beat up real bad.
Kentucky is great, but you played on a UConn team that proved itself as a champion. Your team also went to the Sweet 16 in your first tournament, and then went to the Elite Eight after that. When you won the championship with the Huskies, you guys were the No. 1 seed. What’s going on with a team like that? How are you preserving your momentum and your focus? Do any superstitions develop?
In a tournament, the first game is the hardest game. Being the No. 1 seed, you hear about all these Cinderella teams and everything like that. So that is the hardest game of the tournament for any No. 1 seed because you don’t want it. You know you’re supposed to win, you don’t want to allow that team to upset you. And I think that, once you get past that game, then you’re coasting.
And I believe that it’s hard because there’s a lot of things that can determine the game: injury, foul trouble, not making shots, a team that’s having a great shooting night. You have to defend. As long as you defend, and have a great game plan and stick to it, that gives you greater chances of winning.
So in the championship year, when you were on your run, after what game did you start to feel that this was your year?
The year before that, when we lost to North Carolina. Because I knew that was over. I knew who was going to the NBA, and I knew who was coming back. So, when I looked to see who was leaving college basketball, and what we had coming back, I said there is no team that could beat us. I was telling all them guys that were great at college basketball, "Go to the NBA. Get out of here. Let us go ahead and run it."
Moving onto your time in the NBA: As a rookie you came in with the Wizards, where you were playing with Mitch Richmond, and eventually with Michael Jordan. What were you learning during that time from guys like that?
How to be a pro. I think Mitch was probably a top five shooting guard of all time. Michael Jordan: No. 1 shooting guard of all time. And you get an opportunity to watch them, see how they attack practice, carry stuff off the floor. You can study them by asking questions each and every day, on how many shots they give up. Or [you can] guard them in practice and understand what they’re trying to tell you to add to your game. It was a great experience.
Jordan is notoriously competitive. Are there any moments that you can recall, whether from practice or during a game, when he lived up to that legend?
Well, you know, Michael was always competitive. But the great thing about it was that we were young. We were a young team. And he loved to teach. He loved to allow us to grow. So he wasn’t as hard on us. He was a little hard on the veterans—guys he probably competed against throughout his years in the NBA—but he was the best for us.
Definitely. And, on the subject of Jordan, I know that you've got a massive collection of sneakers. I was just wondering: What’s your favorite pair of Jordans?
My favorite pair of Jordans? To play in: the IIs. To wear everyday: the XIs.