Throwback Thursday: Chris Mullin

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, where we spotlight stars of yester-year chosen by a rigorous scientific process we know in-house as “Whoever Nick Feels Like Writing About This Week Unless He Just Realized We Somehow Haven’t Done A Warrior Yet.” This week’s Throwback Thursday: Chris Mullin.

“When God made a basketball player, he just carved Chris Mullin out and said ‘This is a player.’” – Magic Johnson

Chris Mullin didn’t play the most minutes in Golden State (that’s Nate Thurmond), nor did he score the most points (Wilt Chamberlain), sink the most threes (Steph Curry), or win the most (or any) Finals MVPs (Rick Barry, Andre Iguodala, & Kevin Durant). In company like that—to say nothing of other Warriors greats like Paul Arizin, Sleepy Floyd, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green—it’d be easy to imagine somebody like Mullin falling by the wayside.

And yet, Mullin is one of the most revered and remembered stars the team’s ever had. Part of that is the length of his tenure—his 807 games in Golden State is a franchise record—and part of it is recency bias (there’s a lot more people around who’ve seen Mullin play than Barry or Chamberlain), but most of it is that Mullin was the kind of player who made an impression.

He had those machine-gun from deep change-the-channel type performances in him, for starters, with a jump shot that was paradoxically both sudden and smooth. The same kind of performances that modern GSW fans delight in today from Curry, Klay, and Kevin. Mullin also had the hard-nosed work ethic that made Warriors fans fall in love with anything-to-win grinders from Thurmond and Barry to Stephen Jackson and Draymond.

Along with Run TMC teammates Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway, Mullin could put on a show, making basketball just as electrifying and thrilling as previous and future GSW legends like Sleepy Floyd and Baron Davis. Like Barry, Jackson, and Sprewell, Mullin had his demons, too, struggling with alcohol and fitness early in his career and injury near the end of it. Also like Barry, he rose above them to turn in an absolutely Hall of Fame-worthy prime.

So maybe Mullin was the ultimate Warrior*; the amalgam of everything that fanbase loves; a hardworking redemption story who plays up-tempo and shoots like nobody’s business. Certainly nothing to scoff at. But I don’t think that’s all there is to it, either. More than the what and the who, I think a lot of it is the when.

*No, not the guy with the facepaint and tassles. Lower case "ultimate."

Mullin came into the league in the late 80s (not a great decade for the Warriors), at a time when the league was the most exciting it had ever been, with Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics swinging the ball around and dominating the league. But their respective dynasties were starting to show signs of age, and by the time Run TMC formed properly they’d both be done winning championships.

The league was looking for its next super-team. Sure, in the East there were the Pistons, who seemed like they’d last a lot longer than they did, and Jordan’s Bulls…but both of those teams played a more physical, grindy—and ultimately, 90s—style of basketball. They weren’t (Jordan’s heroics aside) as instantly and addictively watchable as Magic’s fast-break Lakers or Bird’s pinball-passing Celtics.

The Warriors could be, though. They had the transcendent young scorer (Mullin), the up-tempo guard to keep the ball moving (Hardaway), and the quietly deadly secondary star who could take over a game (Richmond). Heck, they even had the larger than life coach (Don Nelson) and the gritty underrated swing defender who could shoot (Mario Elie). They were exactly the recipe a casual fan would expect to be the next mega-super-duper-hyper-omni team. They were hope for the good times to keep rolling. They were big, fast fun.

They might have been most of those things, and perhaps could even have been all of them… but they weren’t any good at defense, and ultimately turned out to be more of an amusing subplot than the new direction of basketball... for the moment (a decade later, Nelson’s Mavericks would be instrumental turning the league into an up-tempo wonderland where Run TMC would have thrived). But Mullin, as their best player, and the only member of the squad selected to the legendary 1992 Dream Team, took on a heightened status.

Even after he was gone, he represented the hope for their future. Combine that with the way he embodied the best of their past, and Mullin really was the Warriors; everything they were proud of being, and everything they hoped to become. Given that, it’s not hard to see how he became such a legend.

Well, that and the five straight seasons scoring over 25 ppg for them, anyhow.

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