Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson Open Up About the Coolest Clippers Team There Ever Was
For a certain kind of NBA fan of a certain age, Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson require no introduction.
For everyone else, this dynamic duo requires some explanation—and even then, you kind of had to be there.
In 2000, the Clippers drafted Miles, a rail-thin freak athlete with omni-positional skills who was compared to Kevin Garnett, and Richardson, a bullish scorer who crashed the boards with abandon. Along with Lamar Odom and Corey Maggette, they gave the rueful franchise a young core that immediately became one of the most exciting and buzzed-about teams in the league. The Lakers were a dynasty. But the Clippers were a phenomenon, cult favorites known as much for their youthful swagger as their dynamic play.
For Miles and Richardson, whose friendship went back years, it was a dream scenario. When the Clippers added All-Star Elton Brand the following season and finished just out of the playoffs, the franchise was poised for a breakthrough. But in the summer of 2002, the Clippers dealt Miles to the Cavaliers for Andre Miller. After two more disappointing seasons in Los Angeles, Richardson signed with the Suns as the front office let the team’s once-bright future fall by the wayside.
Miles managed a couple of respectable seasons with the Blazers before a knee injury effectively ended his career. Richardson fared better: The Suns traded him to the Knicks in 2005, where he played well, and he hung around the league until 2013. But neither player was the same after leaving the Clippers. And as Miles and Richardson have both detailed in raw, revealing essays on The Players Tribune, the premature demise of the Clips had tremendous personal repercussions for each of them.
Now, the two have reunited to bring the world Knuckleheads, a Players’ Tribune podcast named after their iconic post-basket celebration and sponsored by Hennessey. The return of D-Miles and Q means a chance to bask in Clippers nostalgia. But it’s also high time the two got their due for their influence on the modern NBA and their connection to present-day players. Knuckleheads gives them the opportunity to do both.
GQ: When did you two first meet, and what were your first impressions of each other?
Darius Miles: We met when I was 15, 16, Q was about 17, 18. I'm from East St. Louis, he's from Chicago. We were four hours away from each other, but I'm in Illinois still. An AAU coach that Q played for came down to east St. Louis, and he was just looking for players to bring in his spotlight to play. He was doing this little thing in Illinois, the top Illinois players, and I hadn't even played high school basketball yet.
Quentin Richardson: My first impression of him, he was this tall, super, super skinny, he was about 6’7” back then. Super, super skinny with a little bitty head. And he used to wear glasses then. When he got in the NBA, he had contacts. Y'all ain't never seen them but back then, he had them glasses. He looked kinda goofy. Big feet, size 17 feet, and a little bitty head, and glasses.
Miles: I feel like you dissing my swag.
Richardson: I'm not dissing your swag. He asked for a first impression!
Miles: We talking about GQ. Don't diss my swag because my swag is GQ-ready. Nah, man. First impression you got of me, I was cold.
Richardson: That was part of it, too. He could play basketball. That was part of the first impression, too.
Miles: My first impression of Q, he was the McDonald's All-American, he was the leader of that team, and he looked like a superstar. When I first seen him, I was like, when you get to that level of high school at the highest level, that's how you supposed to look.
Did you guys have any idea heading into the draft that you might both end up on the Clippers?
Miles: Zero. We didn't see not one possibility that we was gonna play together.
Richardson: That was, like, a pipe dream.
Miles: Neither one of us worked out for the Clippers. So me getting picked by the Clippers, for Q to kind of slip in the draft to the Clippers pick … everything just kind of happened that night within that hour.
I’m assuming you were both excited about being on the same team. But back then, the Clippers had some issues.
Richardson: At that point, it didn't matter. We were well aware. But everything kind of went out the window 'cause, it was like, we need to play together. I was more upset that I dropped to 18th in the draft.
Miles: It wasn't like how everybody thought it was. Us being basketball fans, we knew what kind of franchise and what they did the last couple of years, or whatever, or previous decade. The excitement of me and Q playing together, and then we get Corey Maggette, somebody that we grew up with, that we've been knowing since, like, Q had known him since sixth grade and I'd known him since ninth grade. Keyon Dooling, and Lamar [Odom], all these cats was guys we passed by or we went to camp with through the AAU circuit that we had built a rapport with.
We didn't even really get the chance to really sink in that we knew they were the worst team, but it we didn't dwell on it 'cause we were so excited to have all our homeboys and a lot of people we know together to start this journey off together.
When did you two realize that this team was really going to be a departure from what the Clippers had been doing in the past?
Miles: From the get-go. I did a magazine cover before the season even started. It was for Sports Illustrated and it was with Kevin Garnett. At the time, I was the highest pick ever to get picked out of high school. From then on, we got a lot of attention. We started to get more people come to watch us play, and everybody was excited for that young energy. Kobe and Shaq was winning championships right across the street but they was treating us like we was winning championships. Everywhere we went.
"The impact that AI had directly on our generation, you could see it in the way we all dressed. Guys started getting braids; the chains, the baggy clothes, the du-rags, the hats. AI had the culture in a choke hold."
Richardson: I don't think we really realized until we moved on for other teams. What we were doing wasn't normal. We didn't have those gatherings with Mama Miles cooking and six, seven, eight other guys over there. That didn't happen anymore when we went to other teams. That was just how we rolled.
Miles: Yeah, that was the turning point when I knew that it was really special, too. When I left the Clippers, it was just like, “man, this ain't normal.” I really appreciated what I had before with them.
Was the landscape for young players different because of what Allen Iverson had been doing?
Richardson: The impact that AI had directly on our generation, you could see it in the way we all dressed. Guys started getting braids; the chains, the baggy clothes, the du-rags, the hats. AI had the culture in a choke hold. I couldn't wait to play against and see AI. He was definitely the dude.
Miles: Coming from where we came from, AI gave us the confidence to be ourselves. We we were coming into a corporate situation and before AI, that meant suits and ties and stuff like that. But because of AI, when we came out you could be yourself and just representing where you come from.
Richardson: To be real, AI took the brunt of all that for everyone. He made it possible for us to go to the games and dress like we dress because he did it before and he took all that criticism. So by the time we came around doing it, it wasn't even a big topic. He took it and he did all of that, and he endured all of that for everyone to come behind him.
Even right now, you look at the James Hardens and the Russell Westbrooks, AI opened the door to whatever your fashion game is. So now you have guys doing any and everything to express themselves.
Miles: He don't really get the credit. He took all the criticism, the bumps and bruises, the backlash of all that stuff. For us, even to this day, to be comfortable and dress how we wanna dress and come to the gym how we wanna come to the gym.
The hype around that team was really intense. You two had a Jordan commercial less than two years in.
Miles: When we first got on Jordan Brand, they had older players. Us being so young, we pushed the culture. We was wearing all the stuff that the high school kids and the kids and college was wearing because we was basically college kids or high school kids, you know what I'm saying? They put us in front and rode that wave. We wore the throwback jerseys; our names was all in the rap songs; we was in rap videos. The first [sports] reality show was ESPN following our team around. We weren't the best team, we didn't make the playoffs, but they could've chose any team in the NBA and they chose us to start that off, and there hasn't been a show like that since then.
Richardson: The stars aligned in a way. You had high school kids coming out, and that was becoming so intriguing. We had multiple guys who were young, young and up-and-coming stars. Then we were in L.A. You in that media market. You had the Lakers there that were in the midst of their three-peat but it was by no means their town. We were over there in the corner carving up a little piece of the pie. We were at high school games, going to college games. While they was the champions, we was like the people’s champions. We were all in the neighborhoods. So that was why that we was able to be relatable in that manner.
I don't know how much you were aware of this, but your guys had a cult following nationwide. When a Clippers game was on TNT, it was a big deal.
Miles: We didn't know to the extent of what you saying, but we knew we was getting a lot of love. We start seeing stuff that we'd never seen before. We played in the two rookie All-Star games the first two years, and at All-Star weekend, you saw people wearing Clippers jerseys. Like in the '90s, you didn't see not one person there with a Clipper jersey on, a Clipper hat, jacket or nothing. We start seeing our jerseys all in the rap videos and people just wearing our jerseys, and even doing our head knock, the knucklehead thing. This guy used to come in our locker room and used to bring these books from China. We couldn't read the words, but they had all our pictures all throughout this book. So it used to trip us out, like, man, they love us in China like that.
I have to ask this for the record: what’s the story behind the head-tap?
Richardson: We used to go to a lot of the Westchester High School games and cool with Trevor Ariza, Hassan Adams, Bobby Brown and those guys. We would leave our practice and go to their practice, and play hoops with them. The celebration was actually something that the Westchester kids was doing, and this was totally their thing. They was like, “hey, y'all should you know, do our thing and show us some love.” Darius says I did it first. I don't really remember. I know that eventually, we were doing it and it caught on and it took off, and we just kept doing it..
But then why did you keep this under wraps at the time?
Miles: We was just kids so we was just playing a joke on everybody like, oh nah, “I'm gonna kill you if I have to tell you.” People have told me some of the craziest stuff like they thought it meant.
Which player from today’s NBA would fit in best with your Clippers team?
Miles: Personality-wise, there’s two of them. Russell Westbrook because we all had an attitude like he has. We used to go at everybody because we were always trying to prove ourselves in this grown-man league, so I think Russell Westbrook would've fit in perfect with us because we were crew-tight, game-tight, and it's his team against the world. And I would say Klay Thompson. Klay Thompson seems like he's the coolest dude in the NBA. He just always be chill, laughing, he plays hard, and he seems like he's got a funny personality, and that's kinda how we was off the court.
Richardson: I would definitely agree with Russ. That's my favorite player in the NBA. But outside of going at people, there’s also the celebrations. You see what Russ doing out there; he rocking back, raising the roof, telling people he got hops, he doing dances before like all of that antics and stuff that we would've loved to be a part of. And then the other one, I would say, for the same reasons, is Steph Curry. Because of the same reasons: the way he playground and boogie on people.
I don't think people really look at Steph like that but he might celebrate more than anybody. He dancing, he shimmying, he looking at the crowd; he do a lot of little stuff. Even though he's humble and down-to-earth, when he celebrating, it's like how we was. We never did it as a diss to nobody. We were having fun with the game and that was our way of enjoying it. If we ballin' like that, we was gonna party. I love when I see Joel Embiid talking crap and going out there and hooping and having fun. He ain't out there fighting nobody but he talk trash to get himself up.
Miles: Of course people had they little celebrations before we came to the league. But in today’s NBA, so many people celebrate right after they score. I feel like a lot of that came from our Clippers team doing that. I think you see our influence with every player throwing up the 3-point sign. We really paved the way for that, you know?
What did it feel like when the Clippers broke up the team?
Miles: For me, it got serious. Before, it was all fun and games. We was playing, worry-free and I got my brothers with me. But it was like fool's gold. When I got to Cleveland, I had a feeling of, “what did I do wrong? How did I mess this up?”
Richardson: This is the ugly side of the sport. That was the eye-opening moment where you're like, “damn, we was just kicking it cool, now shit just got real.” You gotta move across the country and now this thing that we had that was so dope got kiboshed just like that. I'm looking at the team like “what is wrong with y'all? Why would y'all do that?”
Everybody has a podcast now, including a lot players. What do you guys bring to the table that no one else is doing?
Miles: What I feel like we bring to the table is a level of comfortability with the guests that we have. We're not here to get nothing viral. We don't want nothing like that. We just want a cool, easy conversation, just joke and laugh, just good vibes and talk about stuff that’s happened in their life. Stuff that people just don't know, the small little details.
Richardson: We're from the basketball culture; we've played all our lives. We're guys that are gonna be brutally honest with the guests that we have on. Most of the guys that we've had on so far, we've got relationships with them, and they can relate to us, so we get things no one else can. We talk a lot about positive things they got going on. If anybody come on that's got something glaring that's crazy, we will speak on it, but we not there to try and pull out and keep digging at that type of stuff.
We really appreciate the partnership with the Players Tribune and for putting us on like this.
Miles: Yeah, just really appreciating our stories and appreciating our friendship, and wanting to put that on camera and put that out to the world. Hopefully we have good things in store to come.
This interview has been edited and condensed.