Micheal Ray Richardson returns to NBA for first time in 17 years

Updated: August 5, 2003, 4:48 PM ET

DENVER -- Micheal Ray Richardson has returned to the NBA as a community ambassador for the Denver Nuggets, 17 years after he was banned from the league for drug use.

The four-time All Star, a Denver native, was hired this summer.

"He's working at clinics for kids," spokesman Eric Sebastian said Tuesday. "He's just going to be one of our main guys out in the community."

Richardson joined the NBA out of Montana in 1978 and played eight seasons with the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors and New Jersey Nets. He averaged about 15 points a game.

Richardson was the first NBA player to lead the league in both assists and steals in 1979-80.

But starting in 1983, he underwent periodic treatment for cocaine use. He was named NBA comeback player of the year in 1984, but was in and out of rehab the following two seasons while playing for New Jersey.

Then in 1986, NBA commissioner David Stern banned Richardson for life after he violated the league's drug policy three times. At the time, Stern said it was "the hardest thing I've ever had to do as commissioner.

Richardson began his comeback in 1988, joining the ranks of ex-NBA players in European leagues. His right to play in the NBA was restored that year but he stayed in Italy, where he was a leading scorer and fan favorite.

Richardson failed two cocaine tests in 1991, though he disputed the results.

Richardson told Nuggets.com he has done some overseas work for the NBA in the past few years, but was encouraged by Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe to contact the team if he ever moved back to Denver.

"I think what kind of really helped me was when I left the country and went overseas," he said. "And then I had a lot of idle time where I could really think about it and I finally got myself to where I am now."

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This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index