Isaiah “J.R.” Rider’s time with the Atlanta Hawks was truly an era.
Rider played in 60 games and started 47 in the 1999-2000 season for the Hawks. He led the team in scoring, averaging 19.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
At one point, he was a top-five leader in scoring that season.
“I was killing the east coast,” Rider said in an interview with the “All The Smoke” podcast in April. “Killing the east coast. I had been on the west coast my entire career. I’m killing the east coast. I remember if Kob’ got 30, I’d get 30.”
In addition to Rider shooting at-the-time career lows in three-point percentage, 31%, and efficient field goal percentage, 44.5%, and committing a career high in turnovers, 2.8, Rider was late. A lot.
He showed up to training camp late. He showed up to practices late. The Hawks suspended him for a game after he missed practice the day before a Nov. 18 game against Charlotte, with his reasoning being his car was vandalized. Former Hawks general manager Pete Babcock said Rider didn’t need a car to go to Philips Arena because it’s within walking distance of his hotel.
Ultimately after warnings and a three-game suspension he appealed, the Hawks decided to waive him on March 17, 2000. He played a total of 14:28 minutes and scored three points in his final two games with the franchise.
“If you can’t tolerate Isaiah Rider for four more weeks, then just go ahead and let me go,” Rider, who sported a striped, short-sleeve button down with a matching bucket hat and a chain, said to Atlanta reporters after being waived. “I love to play. I’m over there anxious, sitting on the bench ready to play, but I’m not going to be disruptive. I’m not going to be unprofessional. It’s just been a lot going on, and I thought me and [former Hawks head coach] Lenny [Wilkens] had a better rapport where we could be one-on-one with each other, but there’s been a lot of darts and a lot of players basically showing their unhappiness to play with me, and I think it turned GM and Coach against me.”
Rider’s troubles followed him from high school. He didn’t originally finish grade school. After having a mentor motivate him to return to school, he enrolled into junior college, transferred to UNLV and was the fifth pick of the 1993 draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He missed his first NBA practice.
In 1996, a narcotics officer said “there was a cloud of marijuana smoke in” a car after Rider was pulled over in Oakland. Rider’s best friend at the time, Donnie Ray Davis, who had convictions of rape and dealing crack cocaine, was also arrested on the scene on an outstanding traffic warrant, according to the Star Tribune. The arrest happened in the midst of the Minnesota Timberwolves trading Rider to the Portland Trailblazers.
Atlanta then traded Steve Smith to Portland for the “anti-Steve Smith,” as Babcock described Rider in a 2011 interview with Jeff Pearlman. The deal was made after the Hawks got swept in the second round by the eventually Eastern Conference champion New York Knicks in 1999. The team made the decision to start a rebuild, and Smith had one of the longest deals on the roster. Rider’s deal was expiring at the time of the trade.
“I regretted making the trade for Rider before we made the trade,” Babcock said. “It was the worst trade I was involved with in more than 30-some years in the NBA.”
Babcock claimed he warned the rest of the organization about bringing in Rider, but no one opposed the deal. Members of the Hawks were concerned with the sustainability of Smith’s knees moving forward and if Rider became too big of an issue, the team could waive him.
Now raising a son, Rider told “All The Smoke” he’s teaching him the importance of promptness, professionalism and respecting his craft.
“I look back at the mistakes I made, I could’ve changed for sure,” Rider said. “I could’ve made more money, I could’ve done different things, prolonged my career much further than it went. I look back, I look anywhere and say ‘yeah. There are some things I could’ve changed.’”
Having a better relationship with the media is something Rider said he could have done to help his image during his career.
“I felt like, ‘if y’all don’t like me, I don’t like you. If you don’t rock with me, I don’t rock with you, too. We’re not going to fake it,’” Rider said. “I just didn’t embrace that part. That’s the part that sets superstars from stars, or good players from great players.”
Rider had quite the encounter with Atlanta media members after a loss.
“I’d rather win, man,” Rider said in the postgame availability when asked about his performance. “F--- this sixth in the league, seventh in the league scoring s---. I’d rather win, man. This is bulls---. People don’t care, man. I’m tired of this laughing and giggling and s--- when we’re losing and s---. I don’t care, man.
“I care. That’s what I said when I first got to this motherf-----, I want to win, man. This some bulls---. If you get my point, you get it. If you want to talk about me, talk about me. I don’t give a f---. I want to win.”
Rider then stepped back and looked up in the eyes of the media members.
“So that’s why I was reluctant to come to this b----.”
The Hawks have yet to retire his No. 34 jersey.