Q&A: Chris Mullin

Posted by C.L. Anthony on Wednesday, April 08, 2015 with No comments
Courtesy of Steve Serby

Q: How would you describe a Chris Mullin basketball player — the traits that you admire or insist upon?
A: Shooting … good shot selection … competitive … motion … good hands, deflections … awareness — see the play before it happens … unselfish.
Q: That’s easier said than done, seeing the play before it happens. Is that something you’re born with or you can learn?
A: I think part of it you’re born with, but also it’s putting yourself in those positions time and time again … and again and again and again … and you kinda know from 1,000 times you made that cut, he came, and you know where he’s coming from, and then you kinda think a step ahead: Last time I did it he came here, well I’m going there. Even before it happens.
Q: What won’t you tolerate as a coach?
A: Being out of shape … being late … being selfish … turnovers … bad shot selection … no weak side help … no hustle.
Q: Will you have a lot of rules?
A: No, I think very basic: Be on time, play hard, play unselfish … be accountable, know your assignments, then you know what? I’ll live with it.
Q: When New York watches your St. John’s teams play, what do you want them to say about them?
A: They play hard and smart on offense and defense. … They compete, they play tough every night. They’re prepared … and they win and lose with class.
Q: Do you still hate Georgetown?
A: Yes (chuckle). No doubt.
Q: What is it about New York you think led Frank Sinatra to sing a song about New York, New York?
A: It’s so nice you had to name it twice (smile).
Q: You agree?
A: I do. New York, to me, it’s the greatest city in the world, and it’s got the most genuine people.
Q: Where were you on 9/11?
A: I was in Danville, Calif. — flew home the day before, on American Airlines, from JFK to San Francisco.
Q: Did you know anybody that was killed?
A: Yes. A lot.
Q: How did you know them?
A: Firemen, you know? My sister lives in Rockville Centre, so a lot of people from Cantor Fitzgerald were Rockville Centre people … friends from high school …
Q: What do you recall about your first day at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, Calif., in 1987, where you went for treatment for alcohol abuse?
A: Oh man, depressing. … [I] felt like a failure … just down. It’s funny how those words I use now — one of the best days of my life.
Q: Do you remember the night you were almost shot?
A: Yeah, the first meeting I went to [at the hospital], it was in South Central. It was a drive-by shooting, and everyone hit the deck.
Q: How scary was that?
A: Yeah. I said, “It might be safer doing what I was doing (laugh).
Q: Did you have to in those meetings get up and say, “I’m Chris Mullin and …”
A: “I’m Chris Mullin, I’m an alcoholic.” The first time it was awkward, but the longer I stayed there, the more I said, “I am.” Your first day, you’re like, “I’m not part of this.” You listen and say, “Yeah I am. I’m in this club.”
Q: And Don Nelson was the one who pushed you to go.
A: I pushed myself by screwing up enough, really. And ultimately, it’s not me or Nellie, or my parents, it’s really a higher power. It’s when you turn yourself over to a higher power, that’s what it’s all about.
Q: Did you come close to giving up the game early in your Golden State career?
A: I was frustrated enough where … yeah, actually.
Q: What kept you there?
A: My dad. My dad said, “No way.”
Q: You told him, “I’m thinking of coming home and giving this up?”
A: I think it was more I didn’t want to go back. I was in Brooklyn, didn’t want to go back.
Q: What would you have done?
A: (Pause) Play Wiffle ball? ( Laugh).
Q: That would have been the end of your career, right?
A: Yeah, no doubt.
Q: How often did you call your St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca during those early years in California?
A: Not enough.
Q: What did he tell you when you did speak to him?
A: I think everyone was concerned. Everyone was concerned.
Q: Any advice he had for you, do you remember?
A: He probably said, “Get your s–t together.” (Laugh).
Q: What was rock bottom?
A: I missed practice. … What really happened was this: I was 24, making good money, single, living in the Bay Area, and I was unhappy. Something’s wrong.
Q: How unhappy were you?
A: Unhappy enough to not showing up for practice of the game I love, I would do anything to do.
Q: Are you proud of yourself now?
A: I’m grateful more than proud. I’m grateful. It’s amazing, I talk to people … “Just stop that, and good things’ll start to happen.” It’s kinda like you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen. And before you know it, a lot of good things happened.
Q: What was it like standing on the podium with a gold medal at the Olympics in 1984 and 1992?
A: Two of the greatest experiences of my athletic life. And two very different — ’84, 20 years old, 21, and family, friends were in L.A., just one big party. In ’92, quite different — my dad had passed away, my mom was there … still a lot of family. … I had a son, my son was about 2 or 3 months old at that time. … People said the greatest team ever assembled. They called it the Dream Team, it was a dream summer.
Q: How did it compare to playing puff basketball at home?
A: At that time, puff basketball was everything. And I could dunk! (Laugh).
Q: Biggest NBA disappointment or regret?
A:: The natural thing is not a championship, and we came close with the Pacers [1997-2000]. … I don’t really think about it, you know? To me, after 16 years, I’d be a fool to really regret the way things turned out.
Q: What do you recall about the 1989 San Francisco earthquake?
A: Yeah, that was crazy. I was actually in the Coliseum [now known as Oracle Arena], doing a post-practice workout, lifting weights. I think I was with Jim Peterson, my teammate, we were in there lifting. And the whole place just wobbled. We ran out to the floor to see what was going on, which probably was not a smart thing to do. Liz, my wife now, had just moved out to the Bay Area about three days earlier, and had an apartment in the Marina.
Q: And what happened to that?
A: Got crushed.
Q: She was there at the time?
A: No, I was living in Alameda on the Oakland side, she was working at KTVU, which is a TV station on the Oakland side. … Might have sped up our wedding, ’cause she never went back, we started living together (laugh). Don’t tell anyone that (laugh).
Q: As the Warriors GM, you signed Derek Fisher in 2004.
A: He actually was a good signing for us. The Warriors had been a place no one would come to. … It was not a destination for any players, and Derek was coming off a championship [three straight with the Lakers, 2000-02], and we signed him, it gave us some credibility that we can get a high-level championship player.
Q: What made him a high-level, championship player?
A: His professionalism, knowledge, the way he carried himself. … He’s a pro.
Q: Do you have empathy for what he’s going through now with the Knicks?
A: I do, yes. It’s tough, man. I don’t know if people understand — losing is tough. … It keeps you up. It’s not good for your health, you know? And you start thinking, you can’t get things out of your head. … It’s not good for you. I do have empathy for him.
Q: So how are you going to handle the stress of this job?
A: Don’t lose (chuckle).
Q: Craziest recruiting experience?
A: The one that really stuck out was when I went to Virginia [in 1981], Ralph Sampson took me. It was the first time I remember seeing a college player attract so much attention as far as autographs, and people following him. We went to this restaurant and people just kept coming to the table, and he was just a college player, you know? It was kinda weird seeing that.
Q: Do you remember the missed free throw against Temple in the first round of the 1984 NCAA Tournament?
A: I remember it like yesterday.
Q: That was a first-round NCAA game.
A: It was one-and-one, so I made the first one, so I felt, “Ahhh.” And the second one, I kinda shot OK, but I think I walked off the line a little bit, but I still felt … the first one’s the pressure one, really. And then [Terence] Stansbury threw in that shot.
Q: You must have been devastated after that game, a 65-63 loss.
A: Oh yeah, no doubt. It happened another time too in Villanova. [John] Pinone hit like a half-court shot.
Q: Describe your on-court mentality as a player.
A: Focused. … Somewhat fun-loving, I enjoyed it … and competitive.
Q: Why were you so driven?
A: Love of the game.
Q: Was John Havlicek your boyhood idol?
A: Havlicek, and Clyde [Walt Frazier]. And Pistol [Pete Maravich]. Had a lot!
Q: Did you mimic their moves?
A: Yes, no doubt. When I was growing up, all those games weren’t on, so if there was one game on, whoever that guy was in that game, I went in the backyard and tried to do his thing.
Q: What was it about Clyde?
A: He was the coolest guy — he had his own sneaker, he had a Rolls Royce, he had the big hat, he had the penthouse with the round bed with the mirror up top (chuckle).
Q: You never dressed like that though.
A: No, no (smile), but he was The Man. He still is the coolest guy ever. No doubt. No doubt. No doubt.
Q: Where were the best playground games?
A: In The Bronx. I remember playing up at Tiny Archibald’s tournament at Mitchell Houses. … Citywide was in Manhattan, Elmcor was in Queens — each borough had their places — Brooklyn USA in Brooklyn … Rochdale in Queens.
Q: St. John’s teammate Billy Goodwin said you were the only white guy he knew who understood street ball.
A: From Billy Goodwin, that’s a huge compliment, one of my favorite teammates of all time (smile).
Q: Was that true?
A: I got to learn it when I started playing Riverside Church. It was either learn it, or get out.
Q: Do you remember the first time you went to Madison Garden as a kid?
A: The very first time I went to Madison Square Garden, I went to see the circus.
Q: How about to play?
A: The Citywide championship, I believe, was at the Garden. I think I played there.
Q: And what do you remember about the first time you stepped on the court?
A: The floor was magic, I just wanted to touch it. When I was at the games, I used to try to sneak down just to touch the shiny floor. It was just a magical place.
Q: Is it true that you slept in Louie’s office during a blizzard?
A: Yeah.
Q: Who is Larry Falabella?
A: Larry was my guy, man. Larry rebounded for me, took me to his mom’s house in Greenpoint to eat. … He took good care of me.
Q: He used to get the balls for you, right?
A: I got him in shape. He would rebound for me, and he used it as a workout. I shot, he chases the balls. We both got in shape.
Q: Athletes in other sports you’ve admired?
A: John McEnroe … Derek Jeter. … I loved Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. … Ronnie Lott … Joe Montana … Joe Morgan.
Q: So were you a Mets fan or Yankees fan?
A: I grew up a Met fan.
Q: Coaches you admire?
A: Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski], Bill Walsh, and my No. 1, Lou Carnesecca — beyond admiration. Love. Love.
Q: What can you take from Coach K?
A: I think his style and class. I love his aggressiveness and intensity … but I think he has a style and a class of … professional, when he wins and loses.
Q: How about Larry Bird?
A: Larry’s intense … to the point … and keeps it simple.
Q: Bobby Knight.
A: Really intense … but a really good person. A lot of good things behind the scenes.
Q: What will you take from Carnesecca?
A: He’s given me love. Basketball-wise, he taught me since I was 11 years old. But through that, he also taught me about life. He taught me about friendship, about loyalty … so many things … family. The great thing is, you know, we’re still together. I’m trying to think where I was recently … it was me, my [Xaverian] high school coach Jack Alesi, and we were just reminiscing, and he said: “We’re still together. That’s the best thing.”
Q: Who said that?
A: Louie.
Q: What did you think of his sweater way back when?
A: Initially, I didn’t really notice it. He would say the sweater did all the work, that he didn’t know what he was doing. The sweater won all those games.
Q: Do you remember the Knicks winning the title in 1970?
A: I do.
Q: You were what, 6?
A: 7.
Q: Why do you remember it?
A: One of the reasons, one of my classmates in grade school, Tommy Zambito his name was, Danny Whelan was his uncle. So we felt we had this connection — we might not have, but we felt we did. So [then Knicks trainer] Danny Whelan, he dropped off some Knick socks — Pro 77s, it had a blue and an orange stripe. So we felt connected to it. And I just felt like that Knick team hit the open man, unselfish, interchangeable — those terms, they become synonymous — and also the way you were taught. I thought back then passing and shooting was prominent. It’s kinda gone away from that, it’s more dribbling and isolation.
Q: Is that something you might show your team, clips of that old Knicks team?
A: Yeah, I might do that. I think if you looked at San Antonio, Atlanta and the Warriors, you probably see similarities to that.
Q: Who is on the All-Chris Mullin Team?
A: Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Magic [Johnson], Bird and Wilt [Chamberlain].
Q: What’s the biggest thing you’ve taken from your dad?
A: Treat everybody the same.
Q: And how about your mom?
A: My mom was an angel (smile)! I think her calmness.
Q: Did fatherhood change you in any way?
A: It changed be by the minute (laugh). That next phone call it may change (laugh).
Q: Why was Liz the right girl for you?
A: She understands me. You know, we’ve been through so much together. She’s tough, she doesn’t take anything from me. Keeps me in line.
Q: How did you propose to her?
A: This is embarrassing. At a burrito place (smile).
Q: In New York?
A: High Tech Burrito in Black Hawk, Calif.
Q: What promoted that bit of romantic …
A: I thought it was a nice place (chuckle). Believe me, if that place was on Flatbush Avenue, it would be a five-star restaurant (laugh).
Q: What was her reaction?
A: “Are you kidding me? Are you serious?”
Q: The element of surprise.
A: Yeah exactly.
Q: But she said yes.
A: Yeah she did (laugh).
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: JFK, Martin Luther King … might throw Bruce Springsteen in there, just to liven it up a little bit.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Goodfellas.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: [Robert] De Niro.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Any type of grilled fish.
Q: What do you think this day means to your dad?
A: He’s probably looking down … proud … but smiling. And saying, “Do for them what Coach did for you.”


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