Friday, August 12, 2011

Brooklyn's Finest Now Hoops Royalty

From St. John's to the NBA, Chris Mullin finally takes his place among all-time greats tonight in Basketball Hall of Fame. (Both photos courtesy of Slam Magazine)
A highly touted recruit out of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, St. John's University's all-time leading scorer, two Olympic gold medals, a sixteen-year professional career in which he averaged over eighteen points per game for the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers while possessing a sweet left-handed shot that was among the most lethal mid-range forms in the game, and even a stint in the Warriors' front office; not to mention overcoming personal demons by emerging victorious from a battle with alcoholism that he had waged since his days on the corner of Union and Utopia. You could look at those accomplishments and concur that the man possessing them could be, arguably, one of the greatest to ever take the court. Yet, with all the accolades and all the success, something had eluded Christopher Paul Mullin since his retirement ten years ago.

Until tonight.

In just a few hours, Mullin will take his rightful place among the all-time greats when he is finally enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Die-hard fans of the NBA will also recognize such names as Dennis Rodman and Arvydas Sabonis in this year's class, but there is no question that Mullin is (and deservedly so) the headliner after a stellar run spanning bits and pieces of three decades in which he established himself as the Dan Marino of the NBA in that he was perennially among the best in his field despite the unfortunate lack of a championship at the professional level. Mullin is appreciated all over the country and world, but is still revered unlike few others in his backyard of the Big Apple. In an interview with the New York Post, Mullin's college coach still marvels at the fact that there are people still interested in what his best player is up to, even twenty-six years after Mullin led the then-St. John's Redmen to their second and most recent Final Four.

"I walk down Union Turnpike now and some elderly woman will say, 'How's Mullin doing?'" gushed Lou Carnesecca, who will have the honor of presenting Mullin at tonight's induction ceremony. "He's a true purist, he exemplified the New York basketball player. If there was a game, he was there." Most notably, Mullin was more than just an above average basketball player. For some, he was a hero for being able to succeed in a world dominated by the likes of Jordan, Johnson and Bird.

Before the days of Fatheads and Slam Magazine posters, the world had something called "Wall Stars," made by trading card company Upper Deck; and I can remember the edition featuring the "Dream Team" that won Olympic gold in Barcelona being prominently displayed on my bedroom wall back when I was six years old in 1992, with no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. All the players were there: Jordan, Stockton, Bird, Malone, Isiah, you name them; but front and center right over my bed (and my mother can attest to this) was someone I had idolized from an early age for being among the best and not throwing that in the face of the world: None other than Christopher Paul Mullin. I even had the souvenir Mullin cup from the McDonald's promotion involving the Dream Team that summer, and kept it for quite some time after that.

This past February, with the Red Storm and head coach Steve Lavin soaring to heights previously unseen to the new generation of Johnnies fans, a familiar face came to the Queens campus to film a segment to be featured on SportsCenter; and decided to come down and meet the media that had been in attendance for a routine pregame press conference before the Johnnies' eventual defeat of Villanova two days later, unbeknownst to the crowd at the time.

That was the day I got to meet Chris Mullin, and I will tell you now that everything you hear about him in the coming days, be it in newspapers or in tonight's Hall of Fame induction ceremony is absolute truth. I often joke that seeing the players I grew up watching go into their respective Halls of Fame is a sign that I'm getting old; but seeing Mullin in February (and seeing Dan Marino at Madison Square Garden last year) made me feel like a kid again, one simply in awe of the greatness that stood just several inches in front of me.

Tonight, such greatness is finally recognized; and for Chris Mullin, it's just yet another testament to a career that was beyond complete even without this prestigious honor.

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