Quentin Richardson was playing video games with fellow Clippers rookie Darius Miles when his phone rang. It was 2000, on a day when they had been told that attendance at the Clippers’ practice was optional.
“Sean Rooks was like, ‘Where the hell you at?’” Richardson recalled. “‘Why am I standing on the practice court and you aren’t here? Optional ain’t optional.’”
Richardson ended the call and the pair of first-round draft picks scrambled to practice. Rooks, a Clippers big man 11 years their senior, was waiting for them. First, they worked out together. Later, Rooks took them to lunch.
“And told us what it means to be a pro,” Richardson said.
On a Clippers roster where 10 of the 15 players had played in the NBA two years or less, sage advice was in short supply. Richardson promised to follow Rooks’ model as he grew older.
“I was supposed to pay it forward,” Richardson said.
Richardson did, 12 years later in Orlando, with a rookie forward named Maurice Harkless, a relationship that now links two eras of Clippers basketball, two decades apart. When Harkless tapped both fists on his headband after an Oct. 24 dunk against Golden State, it echoed the signature celebration created by Richardson and Miles on the young Clippers teams from the early 2000s. Center Montrezl Harrell has also celebrated dunks the same way this season.
But Harkless’ move was not just a sign of respect toward Clippers teams he enjoyed watching growing up in New York City. He was paying public homage to Richardson, the “vet” whose guidance long outlasted their brief, 78-day stretch as Magic teammates in 2012. They remain grateful they overlapped in Orlando at that time. Richardson helped Harkless navigate the beginning of his career. Harkless later helped Richardson confront the end of his.
“He definitely left an impact on me in the short time we were together,” Harkless said. “He’d been through it all, he was giving advice, he was somebody who I watched growing up. He had a real good welcoming energy to him for a young guy like me.”
Weeks after he was selected by Philadelphia in the first round of the 2012 draft, the 6-foot-9 Harkless was traded to Orlando as part of a four-team transaction that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, among a dizzying number of other players and picks. (A future pick Philadelphia included in the package to Orlando eventually went back to Philadelphia, and was used to take Harkless’ current Clippers teammate, Landry Shamet.)
Richardson and Jameer Nelson, both Magic guards, were drawn immediately to Harkless because he was on time and listened. Richardson empathized with the 19-year-old; he was only 20 himself at the time of his Clippers debut in 2000.
“You could tell he didn’t know everything that was going on and he was trying to find out,” Richardson said. “I told them they could go by my house. On the road, I might give them my per diem. Those are the things you do to let them know, you’re not really out here on your own. If something’s going on and you need to find some answers, you can holla at me.”
Harkless was grateful for the gestures. He’d endured a difficult NBA introduction, and not only because of the trade: Offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia kept him off the court for weeks.
“He just made a bunch of jokes,” Harkless said of Richardson. “He was always smiling, always in a good mood. That’s something I try to take away from him to always have good energy flowing through you.”
Harkless was finally cleared to participate in a full-contact practice on Oct. 27 — the same day the Magic waived Richardson. The veteran guard stayed in Orlando, confident for the demand in his services.
“He’s an overall good person, good kid, I’ve never heard somebody say something bad about Moe. Someone who is going to bring up the locker room instead of bringing it down.”
It took six months for his next contract to arrive. He was out of the league within a year.
“I thought that, ‘hey, I’m going to get picked up as soon as I clear waivers,’” Richardson said. “That was my thought. Then it went from that to working out at home, one month, two months. You deal with the ups and downs.
“That was some kind of therapy for me. A lot of players will tell you, when you first get out of the league, the connections aren’t there anymore. I was fortunate. Jameer Nelson was a real friend. For me the connection wasn’t severed. I was still talking with different guys like Moe. Those things helped me in that transition. I’ve had those times when I got bitter. … But being able to still be involved, that’s what helped me.”
Richardson remains involved. For the past year, he and Miles have turned to podcasting for the Players’ Tribune, where they relive NBA stories and interview current and former players on their podcast “Knuckleheads.” Though it was launched less than a year ago, the show has already gained traction and was nominated for the best sports and recreation podcast at a recent awards show. Richardson has also stayed connected by appearing frequently as a guest on the Yahoo Sports NBA show “The Bounce.”
Harkless is averaging 5.4 points and 4.0 rebounds, and the Clippers are 7-0 when he scores 10 or more points. He is widely considered a candidate to be moved before the league’s Feb. 6 trade deadline as the Clippers attempt to use his $11-million salary to upgrade their scoring and size on the perimeter.
“Super proud,” Richardson said of Harkless. “Because when he came in, he was asking questions and not knowing this and not knowing that. When I look at him I think he’s gotten better. That’s all you ask about a player. Did you improve? He’s an overall good person, good kid, I’ve never heard somebody say something bad about Moe. Someone who is going to bring up the locker room instead of bringing it down.”
It was during a taping of “The Bounce” in October that Richardson first saw Harkless’ two-tap-to-the-head celebration after his dunk on Golden State. He was asked, what was the connection?
“I’m like, people don’t know -- that’s my rook!” Richardson said. “We go back.”
Up next for Clippers: Sunday at Orlando Magic
When: 3 p.m. PT
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570
Update: The Magic (21-25) have lost two consecutive games and sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Clippers (32-14) have not lost to Orlando since 2013, having won their last 12 games in the series.