There are certain players that you always wonder what could have been. But because of poor decisions, bad luck or both – they never reached their NBA potential. Jay Williams, Eddie Griffin and Michael Ray Richardson are just a few names that come to mind. Probably the biggest example of someone who had a chance to be special but fell well short of his potential is Isaiah “J.R.” Rider.
I had always been intrigued with Rider’s talent. When I was a kid, my cousins from Alameda (Rider’s hometown near Oakland) would tell me how nice his game was. My cousins attended St. Joseph’s HS around the same time Jason Kidd went there. They would tell me how Kidd and Rider – who balled at rival Encinal High – would have epic battles against each other and how Rider would nearly rip off the rim when he dunked. I also remember watching him as a member of the Blazers (aka the Jail Blazers) kill the Jazz, particularly Jeff Hornacek and Bryon Russell, with a series of crafty post moves during the ’99 Western Conference semi-finals. To this day his grace, strength and athleticism (especially in the open court) reminds me a little of a poor man’s LeBron.
Over the weekend, Yahoo! Sports ran a great feature on J.R.’s personal demise and his slow road back to playing professional ball. Back in late August, we told you about how the 38-year-old Rider was attempting a comeback by signing with the North Texas Fresh with the ABA.
“I still have it in me,” Rider told Yahoo! Sports. “I still have something left in the tank. It’s still in my blood. My juices still flow. I know I can still ball.”
In Rider’s nine-year NBA stint (1993-2001), he suited up for the Timberwolves, Blazers, Hawks, Lakers and Nuggets. A former lottery pick out of UNLV, Rider dazzled crowds with his highlight-reel dunks and spectacular scoring ability. Because of his football body, he could post you up but could also burn you on the perimeter. As a rookie with the Wolves, the 6-5 guard used his between-the-legs, East Bay Funk Dunk to take down the ’94 dunk contest. He averaged 16.4 ppg for his career and was a borderline all-star for a couple of those seasons.
But his talent was greatly overshadowed by controversy. There was the incessant tardiness, the run-ins with police, the conflict with coaches, teammates and GMs. After Rider was cut by the Nuggets, early in the 2001-02 season, he was never signed again by a pro basketball team. In the eight years since his NBA career ended, Isaiah’s life had spiraled out of control as he went through personal problems (including losing his mother and abusing drugs) as well as a handful of legal issues. In 2006, he spent three-and-a-half months in jail for charges stemming from drug possession and evading an officer. Rider also had been arrested for drug possession, kidnapping, gun possession, assault and auto theft.
No doubt, if Rider would have had more discipline and guidance in his life, he could have been an all-star multiple times in this league. He had the potential and talent to lead the NBA in scoring. Rider has been working hard to get his life and career back on track. In the Yahoo! article, he said he trimmed his weight and is clean now. He hopes his ABA experience will lead to higher paying gig overseas or perhaps another shot in the league.
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