Pacers praise Hall of Famer Mullin as "consummate pro"
By Conrad Brunner
Indianapolis (Aug. 11, 2011) -- For all the accomplishments in the spotlight during his climb to the pinnacle of basketball, the moment that perhaps best crystallized what Chris Mullin was all about came in relative shadows on the downside of the mountain.
In the next-to-last game of the 1999-2000 season, the Pacers already had clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, so then-coach Larry Bird opted to rest veteran stars Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson for a game in Philadelphia. Though meaningless to the Pacers, it was important for the 76ers, battling Charlotte for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Mullin, who had started just once before that season and did not play in 35 games -- his place in the lineup taken by Jalen Rose -- moved into the lineup at shooting guard, played 38 minutes and scored 21 points, including the clinching jumper, in a 92-90 victory.
For a 37-year-old player in the final stage of his career, it was a poignant reminder of what made Mullin a Hall of Famer.
"The biggest thing about Mully was he was the consummate pro. When you called on him, he delivered," said former Pacers boss Donnie Walsh. "His first couple of years (with the Pacers) he played a lot, played well, did his job, scored double-figure points.
"Then Jalen got to be a very, very good player and Larry didn't use him as much but I remember distinctly that Mully worked out three times a day and practiced hard every day … (that game) just amazed me because he hadn't played the whole year but he was just right there because he was such a consummate pro."
Mullin will be the longest-tenured former Pacers player to enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend in Springfield, Mass. Though best known for his 13 seasons with Golden State, Mullin played 179 games with the Pacers from 1997-2000, more than Alex English (135 games from 1978-80), Gus Johnson (50 in 1972-73) and Adrian Dantley (23 in 1977).
This was Mullin's fifth consecutive year of eligibility. Had he not earned the votes for enshrinement, he would've had to wait five years for another chance.
"My reaction to Mully making the Hall of Fame is what took so long?," said Miller. "This is a guy who has almost 20,000 points in his NBA career, had a stellar career at St John's and is an Olympic Gold Medal winner. I’m so happy for him and his family.
"The three seasons we played together for the Pacers, Mully was one of the best practice and preparation players I may have ever played with. Between all his shooting drills and his knowledge of our offense he helped make us such a dangerous team. And being a veteran and coming to our team really helped chemistry not only on the floor with game knowledge and leadership, but in locker room with our young guys."
Mullin scored 17,911 points, averaged 18.2 points, shot .509 overall and .384 from the 3-point line, made five consecutive All-Star teams and was a four-time All-NBA selection but his impact was felt throughout all levels of the game. He won two Olympic gold medals, in 1984 under Bobby Knight and in 1992 with Bird on the original Dream Team.
At St. John's, he was a three-time Big East Player of the Year and the Wooden Award winner in 1985, when he led his team to the Final Four. Jackson, a fellow New York prep standout, was a young star on the rise when he teamed with Mullin for two seasons.
"I saw he could be a Hall-of-Famer at St. John’s," Jackson said. "He was far and way the best player on the floor, even going back to high school days. Watching him be able to do things at his pace … normally, you see a guy with superior athleticism or speed or quickness and it’s a man playing against boys.
"I never saw a guy play at his pace with what people perceived as weaknesses and yet it was like he was toying with everyone else on the floor. He made me believe I could accomplish my dreams since some of the same weaknesses he had, I had them, and yet he was dominating."
The two joined forces again in 1997 when the Pacers acquired Mullin in a trade that sent Erick Dampier and Duane Ferrell to Golden State. The Pacers reached the conference finals three times and made their only NBA Finals appearance in those three seasons.
“It had come full circle from teammates in college to the Pacers and to have the opportunity to play with him was great," said Jackson. "Everyone should have a teammate like Chris Mullin. With the Pacers, everyone got to watch him as a starter, then someone who didn’t get to play as much and he was consistent in his approach and in his professionalism. That taught a lesson to a lot of guys and if it didn’t, it should have.
"We got to accomplish some things and celebrate winning together with the Pacers. For me, if you can dream up two positions for a point guard to have with him, it’s Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller. I can’t imagine a better left-handed shooter to play. I’d put him in the conversation with anyone who ever shot a basketball, left or right-handed. He’s one of the greatest shooters ever."
Mullin joined an established team with strong veteran leadership from Miller and Jackson, solid inside presence with Rik Smits and Dale Davis and a deep bench featuring Rose, Antonio Davis and Travis Best. A starter his first two seasons in Indiana, Mullin averaged 10.9 points in 25.4 minutes, shooting .450 from the 3-point line.
No longer a star, Mullin not only accepted his status as a role-player, he thrived.
"I’m very excited for Mully, he’s very deserving of this honor," said Bird. "He was a great competitor and it was great to have him part of our team for three years. He was very professional, he always did his work, he always stayed ready and he helped our young players a lot.
"He was one of those guys, along with Reggie, who would stay after practice and put in even more work. That rubs off. He was very instrumental in all the success we had here and will probably go down as the greatest left-handed shooter in the game."
Mullin was a great player, to be sure. But he was more. He was a great teammate, a guy that could be counted on for whatever was necessary, whether that meant an extra few hours in the gym playing two-on-two with the young players, being the hardest worker in practice or stepping into the starting lineup to play 38 minutes at ate 37.
"It's great to see a guy that has all those qualities (honored) because I think that's what a Hall of Famer is," said Walsh. "It isn't just your scoring average. We all respect that, but when you have the full package as a player and a person that to me is what makes a Hall of Famer."