Two games serve well to frame Chris Mullin’s career, even though they came within two years of one another. One shows hope of expansion and potential, the other the limits of what could be accomplished.
The first game was on April 27, 1989. It pitted Mullin’s Golden State Warriors against the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round playoffs. Mullin ignited for 41 scintillating points on 16-for-30 shooting. The Jazz were helpless as Mullin’s running mate Mitch Richmond doused Utah with 30 of his own points that same night. Golden State won that series in a sweep. And although the Warriors were defeated in the next round by the Phoenix Suns, it was not a bad showing at all for the young club.
Richmond was named Rookie of the Year and Mullin was burgeoning into a bona fide star which was a far cry from where things stood just a few years earlier:
“I’d heard [Chris Mullin] was so good,” says Don Nelson, then the Warriors’ general manager and now also their coach. “But he wasn’t. He was an alcoholic and overweight, and I wasn’t pleased with him on defense.”
Overcoming alcohol abuse and being overweight, Mullin proved that despite his pedestrian speed, he could be an NBA superstar. Yes, his feet were slow, but his hands were magical and quick. He had the timing to poke away the ball for a steal. His jump shot was smooth like butter. His passes were crafty and found imperceptible pathways. His layups, from every conceivable angle, were reckless adventures in absurdity that somehow ended well for the Warriors small forward.
On May 8, 1991, the Warriors after stumbling in 1990, have returned to the playoffs and are again in the second round. Again, Mullin tosses in 41 points. Somehow, these 41 points are more impressive than the first set against Utah. Mullin connected on 16 of his 21 fields including a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point range. Richmond again gives backup support with 22 points. And now the waterbug Tim Hardaway is in on the action and gives 28 points, 14 assists, and 8 steals to the cause. The Run-TMC Warriors pulled out the 125-124 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Although they’d lose the next three games, and thus the series, the Warriors put up a determined fight in each one and seemed to be a Western power for years to come, but as it turned out, May 8, 1991 was the highwater mark of the Mullin Warriors.
Richmond was traded that offseason, Hardaway and Mullin battled injuries. A brief resumption of glory seemed possible when Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber spearheaded the Warriors to the playoffs in 1994, but that was their operation. Mullin was a contributor but no longer the driving force for success. And that possible glory quickly vaporized.
Sadly, Mullin’s peak years were largely wasted. From 1988 to 1993, the small forward averaged 25 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 52% shooting, 35% 3PT, and 87% FT. But the Warriors rode a mercurial rollercoaster that kept everything and everyone in flux, except Mullin. He was never given, for long, the proper teammates to gel with and work toward contention.
Still, those two playoff games of 41 points show what could have been of the Warriors. Just as important, it shows what Mullin was capable of. Words, however, only tell part of the story. All these years later, the sweet-shooting, hard-charging forward in action is still a sight for sore eyes.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ayEaUDiNEE]
Years Played: 1985 – 2001
All-NBA 1st Team (1992)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1989, 1991)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1990)
5x All-Star (1989-’93)
NBA – 986 Games
18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 50.9% FG, 38.4% 3PT, 86.5% FT
FT% Leader (1998)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1985-86 season through 2000-01 season)
11th Points, 26th PPG
13th FGs Made, 22nd FG%
22nd 3PTs Made, 12th 3PT%
17th FTs Made, 9th FT%
31st Assists, 40th APG
17th Steals, 26th SPG
26th Games Played, 25th Minutes Played