Chris Mullin has come a long way, from the consolation prize in the 1985 draft to a richly deserved induction into the basketball Hall of Fame today.
The NBA had just started its draft lottery in 1985, and Al Attles was the Warriors representative when the lottery order was decided and televised. Patrick Ewing was the big prize, and the nation could see Attles’ stricken look when the Warriors were slotted at No. 7.
Ewing did indeed become a great pro, but so did Mullin, as much because of hard work as natural talent.
He started shooting hoops (which he’s still doing at 48) when he was in grammar school. “It was just something we’d do,” said Mullin in a telephone conversation. “After school, we’d go into the gym and start shooting.”
By the time he was in college, Mullin was a legendary “gym rat.” Organized practice wasn’t enough for him. He’d stay hours later, shooting with anybody who joined him.
One who often did was Mark Jackson, later his teammate at St. John’s and now the Warriors coach.
Combined with his natural talent, that work ethic made Mullin a great pure shooter — the primary reason for his many accomplishments, which include two Olympic gold medals, in 1984 as an amateur and 1992 as a member of the Dream Team.
As a shooting guard alongside Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, Mullin had a good but unspectacular start to his pro career, averaging 14 and 15 points per game in his first two seasons, 20 points per game in his third season.
Then, Don Nelson came in as coach and changed Mullin’s career and life for the better. He moved Mullin to small forward and drafted guards Mitch Richmond and, in 1989, Tim Hardaway. The TMC gang was an exciting, unorthodox group.
Then, Nelson challenged Mullin to go a week without a beer. When he couldn’t, Mullin went into alcohol rehab and turned his life around. “You have to have the will to do it,” said Mullin, “and with the help of the Almighty, I could do it.”
On the court, Mullin started a run of five straight seasons of at least 25 points per game, only the second Warriors player (Wilt Chamberlain was the first) to have that kind of consistent scoring, as the Warriors made five straight playoff appearances. Though he wasn’t fast, he would wear out his defender by moving without the ball, so he was in position to take a quick shot.
Mullin was traded to the Indiana Pacers in 1997 and made two more playoff appearances before returning to the Warriors for his final season, 2000-01.
In retirement, he went to work as an executive for the Warriors. He served as head of basketball operations from April 2004 to May 2009.
Mullin is a well-grounded individual. He was treated shabbily by then-club president Robert Rowell (now, thankfully, gone) but never criticized anyone in the organization. The new owners, Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber, have reached out to him, and they may bring him back to the organization.
That would be fitting. Chris Mullin may have been the accidental Warrior, but he is an integral part of the team’s history.