Pacers left big impression on Chris Mullin
by Conrad Brunner
Indianapolis (July 25, 2011) -- Chris Mullin built his Hall of Fame credentials as a member of the Golden State Warriors but that doesn't mean his relatively brief time with the Pacers was merely an asterisk on his prolific career.
He views those three seasons in Indiana from 1997-2000 as more of an exclamation point.
"Our family loved it, I loved it, my teammates, Larry (Bird), Rick (Carlisle), it was incredible," Mullin said. "No drama, just basketball, professional -- to me the way it's supposed to be played and the way you're supposed to conduct yourself.
"You know what? That team was the right team for Indiana. They love basketball so much, Larry and Donnie (Walsh) put together the right group of guys."
Mullin will become the fourth former Pacers player to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with ceremonies Aug. 11-13 in Springfield, Mass. He is the longest-tenured, playing 179 games with Indiana. That's more than Alex English (135 games from 1978-80), Gus Johnson (50 in 1972-73) and Adrian Dantley (23 in 1977).
When Bird joined the Pacers as head coach in 1997, he and then-President Donnie Walsh agreed the team needed another perimeter threat. Mullin was acquired in an August trade for Erick Dampier and Duane Ferrell.
"It was huge because when I took the job I told Donnie we need another scorer at the wing position and we were very fortunate to get Chris," Bird said. "The Pacers had some success the years prior but I always felt they double-teamed Rik (Smits) and face-guarded Reggie (Miller), so if you had another scorer that we could probably turn the corner and do a little bit more. He was very instrumental the first two years getting us where we wanted to go."
Mullin moved right into the lineup, starting all 132 games those first two seasons (the 1998-99 season was cut to 50 games by a lockout), averaging 25.4 minutes, 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 45 percent from the 3-point line. He led the NBA with a .939 free throw percentage in 1997-98.
The Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Finals each of those seasons, losing in seven games to the Bulls in '98 and six to the Knicks in '99.
"It was an incredible experience for me to play for the Pacers at that time," Mullin said. "I mean Reggie Miller, a Hall of Fame player obviously, a guy who before I became his teammate I really didn't know much of and probably was not too fond of, actually. But when I was his teammate he was probably one of my favorite teammates of all-time, probably the hardest working guy I was around. And he was humble and selfless, the total opposite of what my impression of him was. That was a treat.
"Playing for Larry was incredible, having idolized him and to be able to play with him on the Dream Team (in 1992) and to be able to play for him. Being reunited with Mark Jackson after so many years -- I've known Mark since high school -- was a neat experience and all the other guys, Rik Smits and Antonio (Davis) and Dale (Davis), just a great, great experience.
"And the guy in charge of it all was one of the most respected guys I know and a guy I respect the most, Donnie Walsh. He put that whole thing together. Look at Rick Carlisle now; we had him as an assistant coach -- just incredible basketball people."
Jalen Rose replaced Mullin in the starting lineup for the '99-00 season when the Pacers reached the NBA Finals, losing to the Lakers in six games. In three seasons with the Pacers, Mullin appeared in 38 playoff games, including three conference finals and one NBA Finals.
In 13 seasons with Golden State, he played in 33 playoff games and did not reach the conference finals.
"For sure, I wish I had that experience when I was a younger player. But it didn't take anything away from it," Mullin said. "You wanted to have more, but there wasn't enough time left in my career to have more. I wouldn't have traded that in for anything. My years with Golden State I was always hoping we could become that type of team, it just never happened.
"And then when the opportunity to came to get to Indiana, I jumped on it and I enjoyed my whole time there. Even my last year when I wasn't playing a lot, I still felt part of the team, felt like I had a decent influence on the guys. Really, looking back, it was three incredible years of my life and my basketball career."
Though his statistics were modest, Mullin played an important role in that team's success. Not only did he provide timely scoring and deadly shooting -- he is the franchise's career leader with percentages of .441 on 3-pointers and .912 on free throws -- he set a supreme example for veterans and young players alike.
Here was a proud veteran, a five-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA, two-time Olympic gold medalist, willing to serve as a role-player -- not only without complaint, but happily.
"That was Reggie's team and the way the team was put together, those pieces fit," he said. "We played a different style -- we almost played a platoon system -- and it worked. It wasn't just myself, you had to have the right guys to be able to play that way and to accept playing that way. And we did have the right group and that's where Larry and Donnie knew what they were doing.
"How can you argue two conference finals and the NBA Finals? We were right there. Against the Lakers, we really were pretty close. We were right there, but Shaq played like Wilt the whole series. The energy and the excitement of that outweighed not playing at that point."
Mullin played one more season with the Warriors in 2000-01 before retiring. He moved into the team's front office and served as Executive Vice President for Basketball Operations from 2004-09. He currently is an NBA analyst with ESPN.
Though Miller did not get the necessary votes in his first year of eligibility to join the Class of 2011, Mullin has no doubt he will soon get the call for the Hall.
"I don't think there's really a question he'll be in the Hall of Fame," he said. "That's not a question at all. I'm not really up-to-date on how the process works, to tell you the truth, but he's a Hall of Fame player, there's no question about it. It's as automatic as anything -- as automatic as his jump shot."
Three seasons, three deep playoff runs, no distractions. It was an almost idyllic end to a proud career for Mullin.
"I was just up at Springfield and they asked me about the Pacers," he said. "It just was low maintenance, high character, all business."
And business was booming.