Miami Heat Star Josh Richardson Guided by ‘Versatile’ Talents, Parents in Service
MIAMI -- Dwyane Wade has been, is and will continue to be the story of the Miami Heat’s season until 2018-19 comes to a close, along with his NBA career. But who will be the face of basketball in South Florida after Father Prime gives in to Father Time?
Right now, the favorite in the clubhouse is Josh Richardson. The fourth-year guard leads the Heat in points (18.5), shots (15.8), steals (1.2) and minutes per game (35.1), entering Saturday. According to NBA.com, Miami is 13.4 points per 100 possessions better when Josh plays than when he sits—the widest such gap on the entire team.
But as much as J-Rich has learned under D-Wade’s wing, don’t expect him to be Flash 2.0. At 25, Josh is very much his own man.
“As he steps out, I'm trying to step into being a leader, stepping into the new look team,” he tells CloseUp360 over pizza at Mister O1 in Miami’s Wynwood Art District. “D-Wade's going to be gone, so we're all going to have to figure out how to step in those shoes.”
Living up to the legend established by a three-time champion and future Hall of Famer would be a tall order for anyone, Josh included. But beyond the game, J-Rich is already well on his way to becoming the next “Mr. Miami.”
He’s indulged in the city’s cosmopolitan cuisine, taking a particular shine to Cuban food—especially the fried plantains. He’s become a presence between Wynwood Walls during the world-renowned Art Basel Miami Beach, and struck up courtside rapports with local celebrities, from music moguls like Fat Joe, DJ Khaled, Rick Ross and Flo Rida (the latter two Miami raised), to actor Matthew McConaughey and French tennis pro Gael Monfils.
“He’s an extremely cultured kid,” says Charlie Torres, his skills trainer. “Knows a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff.”
“I’m versatile,” Josh says, though he jokingly admits his Spanish is “terrible.”
Some of that versatility came from his father, Mike, a retired firefighter who owns a remodeling company in the family’s hometown of Edmond, Oklahoma. When Josh was five years old, he started helping his dad on site, where he figured out how to use different tools, how to fix things around the house and how to be self-reliant.
“You can't always just call someone and ask them to fix it,” Josh says. “I can just handle it on my own.”
Those early mornings, “when I would beg [my dad] to let me stay home,” also taught Josh the value of hard work and consistency. So, too, did the days he spent with Mike on the fire truck, occasionally draped in flame-retardant gear.
“It's really heavy,” Josh quips. “You never realize how heavy it is until those straps fall on you.”
By and large, Mike wasn’t in harm’s way battling blazes on the plains of Oklahoma. But responding to shootings and burning buildings put Josh’s dad in danger.
“When I was younger, he had a building fall on him actually,” Josh recalls. “He hurt his back really bad. He had to get surgery and that was like a big thing. Like, it was crazy. So after that, I was kind of worried about him.”
Still, Josh managed to make mischief during his dad’s day job. One time, when he was 13, Josh was sitting in the truck as Mike responded to an apartment fire. While Mike was running through the building, Josh spotted his friend from school and yelled to him. Rather than wait safely inside the truck, Josh hopped out and started walking with him.
“My dad came back out and he couldn't find me and whatever,” he says. “It was kind of a big thing for like 15 minutes.”
Whenever he or his sister, Alex, seemed to stray or slip, Josh was sure to hear about it from his mother, Alice, a 25-year veteran of the United States Air Force. Though her son was (and still is) a free spirit of sorts, Alice did her part to keep him grounded and focused.
“I could have a great game and she'd be, like, ‘You did this wrong, you did this wrong, you did this wrong, you did this wrong,’” he says. “But I think that was good for me, keeping me grounded. She's always been the person to keep my feet on the ground and that's been big for me.”
Even amid that military-style discipline, Josh found plenty of room for exploration. He took up piano, which he still plays to this day. When he was around fifth grade, he started sketching shoes in a booklet. He wound up filling 35 pages with doodles, including one of a pair that looked like clear Nike Air Maxes, but with metal springs jutting from the outsoles, “like moon boots.”
Josh, though, refused to share his designs with family and friends.
“First of all, I wasn't sure if they were good,” he says, “and then I didn't want anybody to steal my idea.”
Josh Richardson can often be found enjoying a variety of pizzas at Mister O1 in Wynwood. (Amir Ebrahimi)
In middle school, Josh’s interest turned toward science and medicine. Once he got to Santa Fe High School in Edmond, he got to see if the medical field was really for him when he received an invitation to a summer program at UCLA for potential pre-med students. Every day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Josh sat in on lectures, listened attentively during seminars and even got to observe a knee replacement surgery.
“That was crazy, by the way,” he says with a chuckle.
While most of the other kids turned pale and passed out from watching the surgeon drill into the patient’s femur bone, Josh couldn’t take his eyes off of the procedure.
“Once I left there, I knew that I wanted to go into orthopedic surgery,” he says.
Josh initially committed to play basketball in Westwood. Once Ben Howland, the Bruins’ coach at the time, was ousted, Josh opted to take his talents to the University of Tennessee. During his four years in Knoxville, he picked up a taste for pineapple on pizza (“I’m obsessed with it,” he says. “That’s my thing.”), earned his degree in psychology and blossomed into a go-to scorer, with his mom in his ear all the while. From the stands at Thompson-Boling Arena, Alice would shout out “Rich!” and relay signals to her son.
“I can pick her voice out of anybody on Earth,” Josh says.
Alice remains a frequent and fervent spectator at her son’s games from her usual seat to the left of the Heat bench at American Airlines Arena. Except, nowadays, she’s not quite as vocal about Josh’s conditioning and aggressiveness on the court.
“She doesn't do it anymore now that I'm grown and a professional,” he says.
Nor does Josh need that kind of motivation. As the 40th overall pick in 2015, he’s not only the highest-scoring second-round draft selection in the league today, but also the lone such player among the league’s top 50 point producers.
That success has yet to make Josh a conquering hero when he’s gone back to his home state to play the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It's always weird going back to play there actually, for me at least,” he says, “just because I see kids I grew up with, teachers, people from our church, and they're all, like, ‘Aah, Miami Heat suck!’ It's weird. Like, I thought we were friends. I thought we were better than that, but whatever.”
That less-than-friendly embrace hasn’t stopped Josh from visiting family and catching up with friends during those trips. Nor has it deterred him from giving back to kids in the Sooner State, be it through his support for a summer program called Shiloh Camp or his own free basketball clinic for children in need.
In Miami, though, Josh has found a more supportive fanbase—though that wasn’t always the case.
“Maybe my first couple of years, not so much,” he says. “But now, usually when I go places, people recognize me and I get a lot of 'Go Heat' and stuff like that, and I appreciate that.”
Josh's on-court success with the Heat has him feeling the love from fans in Miami. (Amir Ebrahimi)
With a jump shot that’s come a long way since his more crooked college days, Josh has even earned the admiration of Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who once dubbed him “Baby Ray Allen.”
“When he called me that on TV, my mom actually heard it first,” Josh recalls. “She called me in there. She was like, ‘Shaq is talking about you.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And then we saw what he said, and I was like, ‘This is crazy.’”
For all the fun and fanfare Josh has found around South Beach, his success stems from much of the same discipline and simplicity that’s long formed his foundation in life. He’ll take a little time off during the summer, with the occasional weekend trip. And though he usually spends more than a month during his offseasons in the idyllic coastal California town of Santa Barbara, he’s too busy training at the famed Peak Performance Project (P3) facility to lay around on the beach or indulge in local winery tours.
“I don't have a lot of stuff going on,” he says. “I just wake up, go work out, go work out again, take a nap, go work out. Like, there's nothing really else to do there. So it just keeps it simple for me.”
That commitment has J-Rich on the cusp of NBA stardom, with talk of his candidacy for the league’s Most Improved Player Award starting to swirl. But Josh is more focused on “the bigger picture”—staying more aggressive on the court, keeping his energy up, learning how to lead, guiding the Heat back into the playoffs and, ultimately, putting Miami back on the map as a championship contender.
“There's a lot of things that can creep in your head that can get you twisted or get things all messed up,” he says, “but I'm just trying to stay on the right track and keep my head straight.”
Having a hard-nosed head coach in Erik Spoelstra has helped in that regard. So has absorbing the wisdom of a 16-year vet like Dwyane.
“He's been there for me just teaching me how to approach a lot of things,” Josh says of D-Wade. “Like, whether it's basketball, whether it's off the court, whether it's money or anything. And just talking to him, picking his brain, I try to do as much as I can. And he's been awesome so far.”
Soon enough, Josh could find himself in that position, teaching younger players about life in Miami, the Heat’s sturdy organizational culture and how to survive in the NBA. When that time comes, he’ll have all the knowledge and support he needs to succeed and—if he really takes off—some designs for his personal merchandise.
“If I ever get a signature shoe,” Josh says, “I might have to go back to the booklet.”
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.