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Scott Howard-Cooper

Chris Mullin
Dream Teamer Chris Mullin played 16 years in the NBA, for Golden State and Indiana.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Work ethic, unparalleled perseverance push Mullin into Hall

Posted Aug 3 2011 10:28AM

Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame has finally come, after a fifth consecutive year as a finalist, the last chance before his candidacy would have been shelved for five years. It was a chance he couldn't afford to miss, or risk moving into some nether region of players forgotten by time.

But that's fine. Nothing ever outlasted quintessential gym rat Chris Mullin, a marathon man of a small forward who used shooting and intelligence to overcome a lack of athleticism, just as his position was becoming about 40-yard dash times and vertical leaps. Speed was never his thing.

Mullin is bound for the Hall, to be inducted next Friday in Springfield, Mass., as a testament to perseverance. He overcame a lack of slashing mobility on the wing to log 16 seasons with the Warriors and Pacers and play until he was 37. He overcame changing roles by continuously reinventing himself, from lottery-pick rookie to cornerstone of Don Nelson's Run TMC autobahn offense to elder statesman in Indiana and Golden State. And, yes, he overcame personal demons, too.

Mullin always was different than his peers, even among fellow Dream Teamers in the summer of 1992. His monastic focus was greater than his talent. Jordan had an equal amount. The same with Magic and Bird.

But Mullin, while obviously a very skilled shooter, refused to accept one-dimensional.

He routinely made second trips to the gym, sometimes late at night, to get in extra work. He became fluid enough as a ballhandler that he could get to the rim without a blazing first step or any hope of bullying down the lane. He was a scoring star who insisted on a level of conditioning that also allowed him to quickly get back and be in position for steals. Stair climbers and stationary bikes would beg for mercy as Mullin passionately grinded away, refusing to be just a catch-and-shoot guy. Other greats worked to reach their potential. Mully worked to exceed his.

When the Warriors compiled a tribute video in April to cheer the announcement of Mullin's at-last Hall election, it included an old clip of Magic Johnson: "When God made a basketball player, He just carved Chris Mullin out and said, 'This is a player.' "

Lou Carnesseca, the Hall of Famer who coached Mullin at St. John's and will present him for induction, said, "I don't think I've ever known anyone who loved the game so much, who worked harder at it and got more out of it than Chris Mullin." And Mark Jackson, Mullin's teammate in college and with the Pacers: "He was actually a gym technician."

Mullin underwent a treatment program for alcoholism in Los Angeles in 1988, probably the biggest example of his unparalleled perseverance. What could have been unrealized potential after winning the Wooden Award as a senior at St. John's -- college and international accomplishments are weighed in voting for the Hall -- instead ended with 13 seasons in two stints with the Warriors and another three seasons with the Pacers, 18.2 points a game, 50.9 percent shooting, five consecutive All-Star appearances from the late-1980s into the '90s and two Olympic gold medals. He went from hair that actually touched his ears, early in his career, to the crew cut that became his signature look. All the while, he never stopped working.

In the late stages of his playing career, and then as head of basketball operations for the Warriors, Mullin never was comfortable discussing the comeback from his battle with alcohol. But fighting through that personal crisis helped propel him down the path to a Springfield career. It underlined his legacy.

Chris Mullin would not be outworked. He would not be denied.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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