Published July 13, 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continues to work hard off the basketball court so he'll be able to confidently talk about his success on it.
It hasn't been easy for the teenager. The No. 2 pick in the NBA draft by the Charlotte Bobcats has battled a speech disorder since he was a toddler.
But the guarded young man said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is no longer embarrassed by his stuttering.
Kidd-Gilchrist's off-court self-confidence has grown over the last 12 months since being thrust into the national spotlight. That's what happens when you chose to play college basketball at the University of Kentucky, win a national championship and become the second pick in the NBA draft.
"It's a part of me. It's who I am." Kidd-Gilchrist said of his stuttering.
While he's far from a finished product when it comes to speaking to the media, Kidd-Gilchrist said without ever-present support of his mother Cindy Richardson — whom he considers his best friend, the confidence he gained working with Kentucky's media relations department last season and the help of a speech pathologist he might not be where he is today.
His mother concedes "Michael doesn't do media well," but she's confident he'll improve as he matures — just as he's done on the court.
"You have to remember Michael doesn't turn 19 until September," Richardson said. "He's always been a very private person. Our entire family is private. We don't make it a habit to share information with outsiders. And when Michael is just Mike, when he's away from cameras and the media, he doesn't have the (stuttering) issue."
For now, Kidd-Gilchrist finds himself in a tough situation. And he's OK with that.
By virtue of being drafted so high, he'll be viewed as the face of the Bobcats franchise and will be the player everyone looks to for answers.
"I've learned you just have to take your time, say what you want to say," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
He has certainly dealt with bigger obstacles in his life.
A month before his third birthday his father, Michael Gilchrist, was shot to death leaving a void in the young boy's life.
He grew closer to his uncle, Darrin Kidd, as an adolescent. But he too was taken early, dying of a heart attack the same day Kidd-Gilchrist signed a letter of intent to play at Kentucky. Michael took his uncle's surname as part of his own to honor him.
Despite the trauma of Gilchrist's sudden death, Richardson, who has since remarried, doesn't believe that's what caused her son's stuttering problem.
"I think it's genetic," she said. "He stuttered when he was young. He's stuttered all his life, actually."
There was a time when Kid-Gilchrist was embarrassed by it.
While at St. Patrick's High School in Elizabeth, N.J., Kidd-Gilchrist was a nationally-ranked player working alongside current NBA star Kyrie Irving. But while his confidence on the court was reaching new heights his stuttering remained an issue behind the scenes.
"It was something that as he got older he tried to hide," Richardson said.
That's not unusual, according to Louise Raleigh, a speech pathologist at UNC Greensboro.
"Stuttering is normally the tip of the iceberg when it comes to other issues," Raleigh said. "There is also a lot of anxiety that comes when trying to hide stuttering. It's tough for those of us who don't stutter to truly understand the anxiety involved, particularly when it comes to public speaking."
That's one of the reasons Richardson shielded her son tightly from the media, not allowing him to do face-to-face interviews in high school. Richardson said the interviews he did do were from questions submitted by reporters ahead of time.
"I didn't want him to be blindsided, so everything came through me," she said.
But when Kidd-Gilchrist signed a letter of intent to attend Kentucky things were about to change. It was time for him to start talking.
John Hayden, the associate director of media relations at Kentucky, said it was initially determined that Kidd-Gilchrist wasn't quite ready to do interviews and held him our briefly for additional training on how to deal with the media.
In one-on-one mock interviews he was taught basic communication skills: Sit up straight. Use his hands. Look the interviewer in the eye. Sit on the edge of your chair, engaged in the conversation.
"I wouldn't say he was scared, but he was uncomfortable with it at first," Hayden said. "Michael didn't lack self-confidence he just lacked a confidence when it came to interviews."
Prior to the team's preseason media day, Kidd-Gilchrist approached Hayden and said he ready to participate in the event.
Any trepidation over that decision quickly ended when at the start of the session Kidd-Gilchrist hopped into an old director's chair that had been set out for players fell through it when the material underneath completely ripped.
The 6-foot-7 freshman found himself on the floor.
There were laughs that followed, mostly coming from Kidd-Gilchrist — it seemed to break the ice.
"He did really well that day," Hayden said. "Mike is such a great, great kid. He's one of the most down-to-earth, nicest kids you'll ever want to meet. And he has interesting things to say. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to get there so you have to be patient."
Hayden said by the end of the Kentucky's national championship season Kidd-Gilchrist had done as many interviews as any player on the team.
He was warmly received by fans, even after his speech disorder was made public.
"When it came out in the media it was a relief at how people embraced it," Richardson said.
Despite the strides Kidd-Gilchrist has made, he still doesn't always appear comfortable with the cameras on him and the tape recorders thrust in his face.
At his introductory press conference with the Bobcats last month there were some rough moments when dead air filled the room as he struggled for the right words to respond to questions. Some questions he simply left unanswered after long, awkward pauses. Others he answered just fine.
"Part of it is the speech and part of it is he just does not like" doing interviews, Richardson said. "I think a lot of it is because growing up we never allowed him to do it."
Richardson accepts her son's stuttering will never completely go away.
"But he's come to grips with it," she said. "So now he's at the point where he'll say, 'Mom, I love who I am.' And he should ... Michael is the most wonderful, caring person you'll ever meet. He hasn't let this disability shape the person he is. I'm proud of him for that. He's a very confident young man."
The Bobcats picked up on Kidd-Gilchrist's quiet confidence during pre-draft meetings.
"He's a high character person," Bobcats general manager Rich Cho said. "Out of the 17 years I've been in the NBA and all of the draft interviews I've been involved with, his was definitely in the top five."
The Bobcats are confident in his ability on the court, too.
Owner Michael Jordan this week compared Kidd-Gilchrist to a younger version of former teammate Scottie Pippen.
"He's going to be fine in the NBA," Jordan said.
Kidd-Gilchrist isn't afraid of the challenges ahead of him — on or off the court.
He knows he'll be counted on as a cornerstone of a rebuilding franchise and is quite aware of the obligations that come with that.
"I hope that I can become a role model for kids" with speech disorders, Kidd-Gilchrist said. "That's my goal. ... You just have to take your time. You'll find the words."