Tom Sorensen

Sorensen Classic: The beginning of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s ‘fun ride’ in Charlotte

When the Charlotte Bobcats drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in 2012, he was 18 and had mother Cynthia Richardson by his side at his introductory news conference.
When the Charlotte Bobcats drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in 2012, he was 18 and had mother Cynthia Richardson by his side at his introductory news conference.

Editor’s note: This column originally published on June 30, 2012.

A good mom understands her son is special. Give her the opportunity she’ll tell you why.

The world can be hard, even the world of the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. A good mom offers a soft place to land.

The Charlotte Bobcats invested the No. 2 pick on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Kentucky, and the Bobcats held an introductory news conference for him Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena. Family accompanied him, among them his stepfather Vincent Richardson and mother Cynthia Richardson. They sit in folding chairs in the first row.

How would you describe Kidd-Gilchrist to people who know him only as a basketball player?

“My boy is a very warm-hearted, quiet spirit, “ Cynthia Richardson says. “You know he’s such a good boy, he’s so motivated, he’s so driven. Michael is a beautiful person. ... Michael is the most beautiful person I ever met. You know he doesn’t have malice in his heart.”

Tell that to the players he guards.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s enthusiasm for basketball borders on joy. But when he talks about basketball with the media the joy goes away. A scrum of about 12 sportscasters, sportswriters, cameramen and photographers waited for him after he auditioned for the Bobcats on their practice court last week. Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t look scared. He looked terrified.

He was courteous. But when he attempted an expansive answer he would stutter slightly, and then back off, and replace the original with a one or two-syllable reply.

Is he shy?

“Noooo, noooo, “ says Richardson, 45. “He’s really not shy. The public persona might be that he’s shy but he’s just a private guy.”

She adds: “I’m just going to tell you he doesn’t do media well. Part of it is the speech and part of it is he just does not like it. I think a lot of it is because growing up we never allowed him to do it.”

The family tried to minimize attention and allow Kidd-Gilchrist to live a normal, quiet, middle school and high school life. That he was not interested in interviews made the decision easier.

“He gets very anxiety ridden, “ Richardson says.

She also says he can’t expect to avoid it.

“Now that you’re a professional and it’s your job it’s something that has to be done, “ Richardson says.

Yet to stutter and feel compelled to speak to an audience is cruel, isn’t it?

“He stuttered when he was young, “ says Richardson. “He’s stuttered all his life, actually. I think it was something honestly as he got older he tried to hide. When it came out in the media it was just a shock to his system but it was also a relief at how people embraced it.

“But more importantly he has to understand that every day you wake up is to be a blessing to somebody else. We don’t wake up for ourselves. And there’s some kids out there, some adults out there, that stutter and they have a hard time with it.

“They are not comfortable in their own skin. They suffer from a low self-esteem. Michael walks in confidence, he really, really does. And I just think he was a blessing to a lot of people.”

The blessing: Here’s the youngest player in the NBA; he’s 18 and won’t turn 19 until September. Look how tall he is. Look how elegant. Look at the great life he lives. And he stutters, and he’s not ashamed.

So why should anybody else be?

“He’s had a speech pathologist for quite some time, “ says Richardson. “He’s been in speech since third grade. But like any stutterer it will never go away. So now he’s at the point where (he’ll say), ‘Mom, I love who I am.’ And he should.”

Kidd-Gilchrist opens his news conference Friday by smiling and asking everybody how they’re doing, and adding that he’s doing great.

Later a cell phone/tape recorder on the table in front of him begins to ring, and Kidd-Gilchrist jokingly asks if he should answer it.

He and second-round pick Jeffery Taylor and Charlotte president of basketball operations Rod Higgins sit on a stage and respond to questions. General manager Rich Cho, who sits with them, has yet to participate.

A question is asked that any of them can answer.

“Rich?” Kidd-Gilchrist asks. Kidd-Gilchrist adds: “I see him hiding over there.”

He gets a nice laugh. It’s a nice day.

Kidd-Gilchrist has suffered through days nobody his age, or any other, should have to.

His father, Michael, was shot and murdered in East Camden, N.J., when Michael was 2.

Cynthia’s brother, Darrin Kidd, moved the family in with him. Darrin became a surrogate father, an advocate and a friend.

In November 2010, the day Kidd-Gilchrist signed his letter of intent with Kentucky, Darrin died of a heart attack. He was 42.

“It was the second trauma my son suffered, “ says Richardson. “To be that young, and on that day....”

Michael’s name was Gilchrist then. He added Kidd as a tribute to his uncle. Kidd-Gilchrist still had his mom, his family and his basketball. He loves basketball. He didn’t want to go on vacation when he was young unless he could find a gym. He played at St. Patrick in Elizabeth, N.J., an elite program a 74-mile drive from the family’s home outside Somerdale, N.J.

It worked like this: Back out of the driveway at 6 a.m. to head to school. Pull back into the driveway at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. or later if there was a game.

Driving him was tough. But raising him was easy.

“We never had to be on him about his homework, he’s never been in trouble, he’s always been easy to raise, “ says Richardson. “Because he understands that basketball is a privilege and not a right. Nobody’s going to give you anything in this life, you have to work for everything you get, and he understands that.”

Now he has what he has worked for, a job in the NBA. He has his new town and his family, and some will stay and all will visit.

“He’s really a family guy, “ says Richardson. “You’ll see. I think Charlotte really fits Michael’s personality.

“This is a really nice place. It’s the whole Southern hospitality thing, especially after meeting everybody.”

After the news conference Kidd-Gilchrist walks to another round of interviews. He offers his hand and introduces himself - “I’m Mike” - to everybody he encounters.

Vincent Richardson, comfortable beneath his new Bobcats’ cap, listens as his wife talks. He’s a working man, drives a tractor trailer.

He leans across his chair and says: “This is going to be a fun ride.”

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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