November 2010- It was just another Thursday morning at the Calabasas/Agoura rec center. Mark Jackson, Bryon Russell, and Mitch Richmond (the usuals) were there at 7AM, just like any other Thursday, and just like any other Thursday, they were joined by 10-12 of their friends, all of whom can hoop. I was taking a semester off from school, and had become a frequent spectator on these early morning runs, mostly because it was a thrill for me to watch some good pick-up ball. I even had the chance to join them for a few games when they needed an extra player to fill out the teams, and I’m still pretty thankful for Mark and Mitch asking me to play those certain times.
This Thursday, however, things felt a little different. Some [slightly] old left-handed white guy had joined the group. I hadn’t seen him in any of the previous pick-up games, and I’d been watch for almost three months straight, so he definitely stood out. As I stood on the side dribbling a ball and waiting for them to get their games going, this white guy was raining threes from almost half-court. And let me add, the three-point line was at regulation distance, and this guy was just making a mockery out of it.
The game got going and Russell was matched up with this left-handed assassin. The game was to 11, by 1s and 2s, and both teams traded baskets until 8 points. Nothing spectacular had really happened until this point, with baskets coming from most of the other [non-NBA] guys. This new white dude, the one I’d never seen at any of the games before, only had a basket up to this point and it came on a fast break. Again, nothing special. Yet.
It was tied 8-8, and I heard Bryon Russell say “Let’s go, I got Chris”. It was at this point things clicked in my head (it was early in the morning, give me a break), and I realized that was CHRIS MULLIN. He had a nice dribble drive the following play, finishing with a left-handed lay-up after a nice in-and-out dribble move with his strong hand. Not bad, I thought.
The other side went and scored soon after, and it was tied at 9-9. Mullin came down the floor, drove left, pushed off on Russell, stepped back and drilled a three from 4-5 feet behind the line. Game. Most of the players started celebrating and howling in approval, but I think Russell was complaining about the push-off. By this point, I had moved closer to the players, and heard Mark Jackson say, “Come on Russ, you let everybody push off on you”. Everybody laughed for a few seconds, and then just started the next game.
To them, it was just another game. To me however, just a college kid watching some ex-NBA players hoop, it was more than just a game. I had played with Mark Jackson and Mitch Richmond a few weeks earlier, but for some reason, watching Mullin play was something special. This was a member of the Dream Team in my rec center!
Mullin was a problem for the opposition his whole career. In fact, I might even say he might be the most underrated player in NBA history. 25 pts per game at 53% … he could and still can shoot lights out. There was a time in the early 90s where Mullin was considered the best SG/SF in the league. Okay, let’s not talk SG since Jordan was at that position, but we’ll say SF. Pippen hadn’t quite become the player he would soon be, Bird was injured, and people just didn’t think that highly of Dominique. Mullin took advantage of all that, and was at his peak in the early 90s where he joined the Dream Team and was also a member of the All-NBA first team.
His jumper was smooth as butter. He was very crafty with the ball, and had the ability to hit runners, floaters and finished really well with contact due to his focus. In my opinion, the best part of his game was his consistency. Every single night, you knew what you were going to get from the guy. In the 91 playoffs, I think it was game two, he absolutely murdered Magic in the Warriors/Lakers series. Magic went on to compare Mullin to the great Larry Bird. That right there should tell you enough about the guy.
Nowadays, Mullin is often seen on TV, providing some commentary and analysis to NBA games. There’s no doubt about it, he has the best voice/accent in the business – that phenomenal Brooklyn accent is music to my ears.
As someone who spent my younger years in Southern California with Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers I grew up a Lakers fan but I always had a soft spot for the flat top after their 1991 duel in the playoffs. It was one of the greatest shooting displays I’ve seen to this day. I started following the Warriors even closer after moving to the Bay Area during college and I wish we could have seen more playoff battles between the teams.
With all this said, I’d like to wish the legendary Warrior a belated happy 49th birthday! Keep doing your thing Mully.
Also posted on Trapped in Golden State