The friendship of Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson endured through their days as high school stars in Brooklyn, to their time as teammates at St. John's and then through lengthy, successful NBA careers that included a three-season stint together in Indiana.
That's why it meant so much to both men that Mullin worked with the ESPN broadcasting crew for Jackson's coaching debut with the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night. Mullin, who addressed players from his former Warriors franchise at Saturday's practice, joined two more Jackson pals and former television colleagues — Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen — to announce the game against Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers in the season opener and Christmas finale.
“To me it's fun for that reason to watch Mark coach his first game,” Mullin said. “I would have been watching anyway. So to come and do it here and get a closer look, it's even better.”
Van Gundy and Breen pulled off a remarkable double dip after beginning their day in Dallas calling the Heat's 105-94 win over the Mavericks before hopping a charter flight to the Bay Area for the nightcap.
Jackson insisted he wouldn't get so caught up in the game and forget to appreciate those three. He, Breen and Van Gundy worked their final game after four years together as ABC's top team during the NBA finals. Van Gundy also was an assistant coach with the Knicks when Jackson played in New York.
“It means a lot. When I'm sitting there and I see Chris Mullin sitting at practice, talking to them, and I'll look over and I'll see Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen, I'm an emotional guy, I'm a guy that doesn't mind shedding a tear,” Jackson said before the game. “It's funny because when I was younger I used to look at Dick Vermeil and be like, 'what a clown.' But as you get older, I have an appreciation for it. You no longer take for granted the important things — great friendships, teamwork, togetherness, your health, your family, things that really matter.
“I will look at those guys — and I'm not a coach that's going to be caught up in the game — there will be some time when I'll look and be extremely thankful for the time I spent with all of them.”
Mullin, recently enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, hadn't been at Oracle Arena since being dismissed as Golden State's executive vice president of basketball operations after the 2008-09 season. He can see himself becoming a general manager again but is enjoying his TV gig for the time being.
While talking to the Warriors on Saturday, Mullin said he wished them luck and expressed his deep admiration and respect for Jackson — and told them how they can trust that Jackson is “going to do everything he can do to put you in a position to succeed and shoulder the burden for them as much as he can.”
Mullin believes in Jackson's defense-first focus — Jackson guaranteed a playoff berth for this season — and that the Warriors can still be a high-scoring team with that approach.
“Mark, with no coaching experience, there's been a lot made about that. But being a player for so long, a lot of that will help him. The experience he needs to acquire, he'll get that along the way,” Mullin said. “We knew each other in high school, we went to college together, and through the NBA we always stayed in contact. Then we reunited in Indiana, shoot, 12 years later. We've always been close.”
After a few minutes chatting up Jackson near the bench during pregame warmups and reflecting on their longtime friendship and dissecting his team, Mullin was abruptly pulled away by a producer.
“I'm on the clock,” he said with a smile as he departed to start work.