One of the more underrated players of his era, Richard Hamilton was surrounded by greats his entire basketball career.
His greatest high school rival was Kobe Bryant. In the pros, he spent his early years with the Washington Wizards, where he got to play with a returning Michael Jordan. By the time he exited Washington for Detroit, Bryant would soon come again as a rival—with Hamilton's Pistons putting the final nail in the coffin for the Shaqobe Lakers.
Oh, and then there was the whole wearing-the-mask-despite-having-a-perfectly-healthy-face thing.
Hamilton discussed all of those topics and many more in a B/R AMA on Tuesday.
The following is the full transcript from the AMA session.
@Steve_Perrault: What’s your best Michael Jordan story from when you guys played together with the Wizards?
I have thousands of them. That was a kid getting the opportunity to play with the GOAT, the guy you looked up to as a kid. One that sticks out for me is playing against him in practice. People look at my mid-range game and say I have one of the best of all time, but a lot of that came off of being in the practices with MJ. I remember one time I was playing against him and he took two hard dribbles to the basket and pulled up and he was like 'Rip, add that to your game.' That's the hardest play in the game of basketball to guard. And I was like, why? And he was like, because as a defender they are backpedaling so he can't jump to the highest point to block your shot. He's always off-balance and you're always on-balance. People all across the league kept hitting me up like, 'How did you get your medium-range game so good?' From the tools of Michael Jordan. From the opportunity to be around him for the two years I was in Washington
@BR_Kicks: Did MJ give you any pairs when you played together with the Wizards? How much did you talk about shoes during the season?
Playing with MJ was hard to get stuff...he was stingy, he wouldn't give me anything. But a lot of that had to do with upper deck. Even though I tried to take his sneakers sometimes, I had to beg...one time when I had a really good game, I said 'M, I held you down tonight. You gotta take those shoes off and sign them for me.' I still have them in my sneaker room right now. Jordan 3s, Cements, the white ones.
@nothing_: How’d you guys shut down Kobe and Shaq in the Finals?
Our motto all season was 'Man up.' What 'man up' means is, you gotta guard your man, don't expect a double team. Especially playing against Shaq and Kobe, the reason they were that great is because you're running another guy at Shaq or Kobe...but then Rick Fox or Derek Fisher will kill you. With us, we guarded everybody head on, that was our motto all season long...our team was made up of grown men who said we're coming to work and we're gonna do our job. If Shaq gets his 30 or Kobe gets his 30 but nobody else scores, then we'll be fine.
@BR_Kicks: What's your favorite sneaker of all time? And what's it like being a Jordan Brand athlete?
My favorite sneaker to play in were the Jordan 2s. They were always soft, I could cut without my feet getting blisters. They were the most comfortable shoe in my opinion to play in. For everyday, the Jordan 1s. No matter how old they get, they still look good with some jeans. And you can wear them with shorts, jeans, casually, dressed up.
It's a lifetime dream. I begged Michael, used to beg him everyday like, 'Hey, bro, when are you gonna put me on your squad?' I had to earn that, that wasn't just given to me at all. I had to go out there and prove myself to give me the nod to be a Jordan Brand athlete. Still one of the best things as a kid and even as an adult to be a Jordan Brand athlete.
@wizwithout: What was it like having Kobe as your high school rival?
It was a wake-up call for me. Being from a town of only 10,000 people, I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. My HS coach one day was like, 'Hey, man, you think you're really good, there's a kid down the street who's probably just as talented as you.' I was like, yeah right. This was before social media, so you didn't know what talent was out there. I remember in pregame looking at the opposite end of the court, looking at him, he started doing 360s and windmills, I was like, oh man, maybe he does jump higher than me...but it really doesn't matter until the ball's thrown up...he ended up getting the win and he outscored me. That was the first time in my basketball career someone came into my HS gym and outscored me.
@therealGM: How did Jim Calhoun sell you on UConn?
One of the biggest things was, they already had Ray Allen, and Ray played the same position as me. When he looked at my game and style of play, he said, 'You can come in and fulfill the same role Ray was doing at the time.' Ray was most likely leaving for the NBA the following year. He was all-world at the time. Big East was crazy...and you played at Madison Square Garden. He also said if you come to Connecticut, we're the only show in town...playing in UConn is like playing in the NBA.
@therealGM: Which team would win in its prime: Bad Boys Pistons or 2004-2005 Pistons?
04-05 Pistons. We all felt like we were the best five alive. That was our motto, a very special group with the starting lineup...but a lot of guys don't talk about our bench...we were just perfectly joined together for one purpose, and that was to win a championship.
@WalkingBuckett: Where'd the nickname "RIP" come from?
From my dad. From a small town, Coatesville, PA, 10,000 people. Everyone knows him as Big Rip. I was his first son so I pretty much adopted the nickname off of him. They called me "Little Rip" until I grew up to be 6'7".
@mikeoxard: Do you feel like you pulled the mask off the best?
Absolutely. I pioneered it, even though I'd watch guys before me like [Bill] Laimbeer. I put my own swag to it, put a headband, made it a fashion statement. A lot of people don't like to wear stuff on their face, especially basketball players...in basketball, people want to see who they are. I just felt like it separated me from everybody else.
I liked how LeBron had his black mask that one game, but I tried to do it at the All-Star Game and they denied me, so I felt some type of way to see him do it. But I heard he pulled it out right before the game. I tried something similar, but the league told me they'd fine me if I did it.
@myousif: Who did you want the Pistons to draft in the 2003 draft instead of Darko?
It's crazy because at the time, you're a young player so the team that was already assembled, you felt you had a great chance to win it...but it has to be Melo. Me and D-Wade played the same position. But it was probably Carmelo Anthony, you saw what he did in college, winning the National Championship. Once in a generational talent. Him, D-Wade, Bosh...you could've taken any of those guys. They were more proven at that time. But probably Melo.
@yaakgma: What was the hardest team in the playoffs to beat?
Indiana. They were a dog fight during those years, with Ron Artest and Reggie still. Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson and our former coach Rick Carlisle, who knew our style of play.
@AlexLarsen: What's your favorite memory from the '99 title game vs. Duke?
It's crazy, my favorite memory probably was Calhoun pregame. He was a very serious coach, and before every game he wanted everybody to really focus, be locked in, keep locker room quiet, didn't want a whole lot of fooling around going on. Before the national championship game, he was like, 'Why is everyone so quiet? Loosen up, smile, joke.' It put us at ease to be 100% honest with you.
@yaakgma: One last shot to win, who would you give the ball to?
If it's not me, I'm giving it to Chauncey Billups. Giving it to Big Shot, that's my guy right there.
@rock_man: Who's in your Pistons all-time top five?
How you gonna do that to me? Damn. Nobody ever asked me this question before. You gotta understand, I love my starting five, love the guys so much. But if you really think about it, Isiah Thomas is the greatest Piston of all time, can't leave him off that list at all.
@yaakgma: If you had one player to dunk on who would it be?
@haganhill: Who's your all-time UConn starting 5?
When you win with a group of guys, I'll vouch for them before I vouch for a guy i didn't play with. If i didn't win, I could give you another top five easy.
@Daanyl: Favorite Bulls teammate?
Nazr Mohammed and Nate Robinson. Nate is a goof, a prankster. He always joked around and Thibs hated it...Thibs didn't even want to hear your music in your headphones. One time, I got to practice and I probably got there 15 minutes before it was about to start, and Nate knew it. So when I got there, I hurried and put on my uniform, go to the bathroom, come back to put on my shoes, and all my laces are cut from the bottom all the way to the top...I'm like, 'this little bastard,' I knew it was his ass. And when I came out there, I had no choice, they were my only pair at the time. I had to go out there with my shoe strings cut so I could be out there when they started. Nate used to do stuff like that to everybody.
@johnm22: What current NBA player reminds you of yourself?
I love Klay Thompson, love the way he plays. Can score a lot of points without having to dribble the ball.
@J27LA: Greatest rapper of all time or top 5?
What is your favorite game or play of your career?
College: the buzzer beater against Washington.
Pros: Game 6 against the New Jersey Nets, with like 15 or 20 seconds left in the game, when Kidd was guarding me and I hit a shot that put us up 3 or 4...that was the game that put us over the hump, cause we knew we had one more game to close them out and get to the NBA Finals.
Go-to pre-game song or soundtrack?
Ruff Ryders Anthem. DMX. That was my joint right there.
How far do you think the moon is from Earth?
Man, I have no idea. No clue at all.
Malice at the Palace:
Two teams that knew each other inside out...a lot of built-up animosity, but people don't realize that a lot of us were still good friends. But in that moment, it was like, I don't give a damn who's friends or family members or whatever. I was trying to rip your face off.