The ultimate gym rat, Chris Mullin wore jersey No. 17 in honor of his boyhood hero, Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek. Mullin, a 6-foot-7 swingman with a sweet left-handed jumper, joined his idol in the Hall of Fame in 2011 after heralded collegiate and NBA careers. His quick and sure jump shot helped him average 18.2 points per game over his 16-year career. And after courageously confronting personal problems and overcoming injuries early in his career, he will be remembered as one of the great players of the storied Warriors franchise.
Selected to practically every All-America team in existence as a junior and senior at St. John’s University, Chris Mullin won an Olympic gold medal in 1984 and the John Wooden Award as the nation’s top college player in 1985 before being taken by the Warriors with the seventh pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.
He then quickly established himself as a versatile player in the league, inspiring — perhaps unfortunately based in large part on skin color — inevitable comparisons to Larry Bird, then in the prime of his career. Although Mullin missed all of rookie training camp and six regular-season games before coming to terms with the Warriors, on the day he signed, he played 24 minutes and scored the winning basket with 15 seconds remaining.
He finished his rookie season averaging 14.0 points on .463 shooting and made 89.6 percent of his free throws. That not only ranked him second in the league, but it was the second-best mark by a rookie in league history since Ernie DiGregorio shot .902 from the line in 1973-74.
Mullin played OK, but the Warriors as a team bickered, complained and lost 52 games his rookie season. And even when volatile coach George Karl took over the next season and the Warriors reached the second round of the playoffs, it was not a pleasant workplace.
Years later in the San Francisco Chronicle, Mullin would admit that some of his teammates would actually “freeze” him, refusing to pass him the ball.
“It was,” he would later joke, “just like a family — a dysfunctional family”.
Chubby, unhappy and struggling on the left coast, Mullin was a kid from New York who didn’t know much more about the rest of he world outside the gym at St. John’s and the neighborhood in Brooklyn where he lived through college. The hazy, crazy days of college drinking had caught up to him. Mullin badly needed a jolt to his life. He got it from another new coach, Don Nelson, who convinced him that he needed treatment for his alcohol problem.
Mullin spent 48 days during the season in a treatment facility and returned a changed man. He missed 22 games but completed the season averaging 20.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds and was on the path to stardom.
In the 1988-89 season, the player the Warriors thought they were getting in the 1985 Draft finally emerged as Mullin rededicated himself to the game. Mullin averaged a career-best 26.5 points (fifth in the league), 5.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team and became the third player in Warriors history — joining Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry — to total 2,000 points, 400 rebounds, and 400 assists in a season. He also became the fourth player in the team’s 2,000-point club, joining Chamberlain, Barry and Purvis Short.
Mullin teamed with Mitch Richmond to form the highest-scoring duo in the NBA, with a combined average of 48.6 points per game. They were also the youngest teammates to lead the league in scoring since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Dandridge with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971-72.
Mullin achieved his first career triple-double and scored a career-high 47 points on 16-of-25 shooting from the field and 15-of-15 shooting from the line in an overtime game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Finishing fourth in the Pacific Division, the Warriors pulled off a stunning sweep of the Midwest Division champion Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. In the Western Conference semifinals, the Warriors fell to the Phoenix Suns in five games, but Mullin wasn’t to blame. He averaged 29.4 points in eight postseason games, shooting .540 from the field and .866 from the free-throw line.
Golden State missed the playoffs the next season, but in 1990-91 the team entered Mullin’s golden era with the Warriors. Second-year rookie point guard Tim Hardaway, Richmond and Mullin created “Run-TMC” (Tim, Mitch and Chris). A take off of the popular rap group Run-DMC, the trio ran a fast-paced offense under coach Nelson and was the highest-scoring threesome in the NBA.
The Warriors began the season with a 162-158 win and upset the Midwest Division champion San Antonio Spurs in the opening round of the playoffs. The season ended in a furiously paced and high-scoring series loss to the eventual Western Conference champs, Los Angeles Lakers.
Mullin continued to improve his game and was named to the All-NBA First Team in 1991-92. He finished sixth in the voting for the league’s Most Valuable Player award and had a 25.6 scoring average, which was third in the league. He joined Chamberlain as the only players in franchise history to average 25 points or more in four straight seasons and by year’s end, was ranked among the Warriors’ all-time top 10 in 16 different categories, including points, scoring average, assists, and steals.
Mullin, who had become a bona fide fitness freak after his rehab stint, led the league in minutes played (3,346) for the second straight season. He also made his fourth straight All-Star appearance. The team had replaced Richmond with Lithuanian star Sarunas Marciulionis and improved to 55-27. Despite losing a disappointing first-round series to the Seattle SuperSonics, the Warriors seemed in good shape.
Mullin was also at the peak of his career. At the end of that season, he played with the 1992 Olympic Team known as the “Dream Team,” led by NBA all-time greats Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Bird.
However, in 1992-93 injuries beset Mullin and the team. He played only 46 games after tearing the collateral ligament in his right thumb. The team slipped to 34-48 and continued to slump, save a one-year aberration in 1993-94 when the team finished 50-32 with rookie Chris Weber, who would last only one season in Golden State after a personal dispute with Nelson.
But Mullin never stopped working or allowed it to break his spirit. He garnered the respect of the fans and media alike for his professionalism and dignity. And when he was ultimately traded before the 1997-98 season to the contending Indiana Pacers, who were coached by Bird, many in the Bay Area were delighted for him.
“There should be an unwritten good-soldier clause in every great player’s contract: You lay your guts out on the line for us every night and if the team falls into general disrepair and disrepute, we’ll try to move you to a team that can showcase your talents, for the good of the entire sport,” penned one sportswriter in the Chronicle after the announcement of Mullin’s trade to Indiana.
He played three seasons with the Pacers and led the NBA in 1997-98 in free-throw percentage (.939) and ranked third in 3-point percentage (.440). In 1999-2000, Mullin led the Pacers in 3-point percentage (.465) which was second in the NBA. He concluded his Pacer career by appearing in three games of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, Golden State was home and he returned in 2001 for his last season in the NBA to play for the Warriors. The franchise leader in games played said, “I came here to play and help these young guys.” He stayed after his playing days as well, joining the front office before the 2002-03 season as a special assistant, a role he held until 2009.
Mullin then moved on to try his hand as an NBA analyst for ESPN from 2009-13. During that stint, Mullin was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame not once, but twice — as a part of the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” in 2009 and again as an individual in 2011.
After his time on ESPN, he became an executive for the Sacramento Kings from 2013-15 before being hired by his alma mater, St. John’s, as its new coach on April 1, 2015 before stepping down from that position in April of 2019.