This column was posted by Scott Ostler, a longtime LA and Bay Area columnist and one of the better writers in the USA.
Mullin Worked Hard for the Fun of It
Chris Mullin always knew who he wasn't.
Julius Erving, he wasn't.
Mullin celebrates Big East title with Jackson and Berry at his side
"I wish I could've been like Dr. J," Mullin said. "I knew that was far-fetched. Walt Frazier. They were the cool guys. Something told me I was more like (Dave) DeBusschere and (Bill) Bradley."
Mullin knew he wasn't Michael Jordan. Mullin was a year ahead of Jordan and watched him play in a prep all-star game. The next season, Mullin's St. John's team opened the season against North Carolina and Jordan, a freshman.
"I went, 'He's the same size as me, so we're gonna be matched up.' I'm like, 'Can we play a little zone?'"
Yet Mullin played ball on a level with Dr. J and Jordan, and so Mullin will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday.
It's not that Mullin didn't have flashy skills. Shooting, attacking the lane? Textbook. But so much of his game was digging ditches -- wearing out defenders with nonstop movement without the ball.
You've seen a bratty kid in a supermarket, crying and wheedling until the exasperated parent caves and buys the kid candy? That was Mullin and the man guarding him. After a while, mom/defender says the heck with it.
"I knew I was playing well when my guy would be, 'You never stop movin'! Stop movin'!' I was like, 'OK, it's working.' If the game was all about getting the ball and (everyone else on your team) clearing out, I probably never would've made the team at St. John's."
Mullin was sitting in the shade outside a coffee shop in Danville, Calif. last week. He still plays basketball, works out like a fiend and is probably about 3 ounces above his playing weight.
When he talks ball, what comes through is the passion. You can't run relentlessly for 16 NBA seasons unless there is something inside you deeper than talent.
His first three seasons with the Golden State Warriors, all that running was wasted. It was a team of mostly bored players. Then in came Mitch Richmond and coach Don Nelson. A year later, Tim Hardaway. It was as if someone plugged in the Christmas tree.
"They had a huge passion to play, that was the biggest thing," said Mullin, adding that with the Warriors' previous clubs, "You would've thought we were digging ditches with that team. I was like, 'Geez, really? Is it that bad?' ... A lot of those guys were playing just to make a living."
"For a while, I loved everything about it, every single aspect of what was supposed to be a job. The training, I loved to train, I loved the traveling, I dug being in the locker room, I didn't mind icing and heat. I dug it. It was, like, 'Cool, I'd rather do this than anything.'"
Mullin wasn't bragging. It's not like he had a choice. From childhood, it was drilled into his head to play hard, do stuff the right way, and enjoy the game. It was fun in the fourth grade and it was fun 30 years down the road.
He recalled at age 12 going to a Lou Carnesecca (St. John's coach) camp.
"Pass, ahead," Mullin recited. "Give and go, you come out the other side. When you pass laterally, you screen away. That's what you do. You don't get the ball and dribble, you get it and move it."
Timing was vital in Mullin's career. He developed his game before the three-point arc, which devalued a lot of the purposeful running.
With "Run TMC,'' passion begot passion. Warriors fans, hoop fans in general, got into it and made it a party. Mullin said he realized how much the fans meant to him during the 1988-89 season, when he returned to the Warriors from alcohol rehab in Los Angeles.
"My first game back from rehab, little fragile, still trying to get your bearings back about life in general, stepping out in public, and then getting that ovation. It was like, 'I got a shot (to make it).' "
Mullin said he hadn't thought about how the crowd might react until he jogged to the scorer's table to check into the game.
"I'm going, 'There's a chance this might not go good. I didn't think about this part. Now what? They told me it was all good down there in L.A.'"
So it took a village -- his coaches, his teammates, the fans -- to get Mullin to the Hall. He has a lot of people to thank, and he said he'll do it quickly, maybe not even use his allotted three minutes.
"I might lend a minute to Artis Gilmore," Mullin said, laughing. "I'll donate a minute to the ABA. I loved that league."