The biggest chunk of the United States' population resides east of the Mississippi River. NBA's League Pass didn't really hit the airwaves until after the 1999 lockout, and the Golden State Warriors were rarely on national TV -- even back when NBA games were shown several nights a week on TBS and TNT. And even when they were, to many people my age, that 10:30 Eastern tipoff precluded us from watching those Warriors on a school night.
As a result, to a great many of us, Chris Mullin was the last of the old-school superstars we never saw. The type of player whose box score we marveled a day-and-a-half after his night with his Warriors ended -- it was usually filed too late to make the next day's paper in most markets.
With that in place, we had to take advantage of what we got. The odd playoff appearance from Golden State, though most games were still pitched at 10:30 Eastern. His appearance on the Dream Team. All-Star games, or even the odd Sports Illustrated issue from years before that featured a pre-flattop Mullin working with his St. John's Redmen. It isn't revisionist history, pitched for the sake of this column, when I tell you that to a lot of my friends at the time those Warriors were everyone's second-favorite team. Mainly because the names behind that group -- even moving into the era that saw them trade for Billy Owens and pick up Chris Webber -- seemed so tempting. With Mullin at the forefront, those squads always seemed to be the trendy pick to turn into the West's newest 60-game winners.
The Warriors never did win those 60 games. Every year there was a reason, whether it came in the form of an injury to Mullin or Tim Hardaway, the drop-off influenced by the trade of Mitch Richmond for Owens, or the growing pains behind Webber's rookie year. By 1996-97, all were gone save for Mullin, and the team still never appeared on national TV. The Warriors were kind enough to trade Mullin to the Indiana Pacers in 1997-98, and he nearly put that team over the top as a result, with plenty of nationally televised contests to showcase his game. By then, though, injuries and age had diminished his skills. Where at one time he was an all-around offensive demon, a go-to guy if you ever saw one, in Indiana he was a spot-up artist and extra pass king. It was nice, but it wasn't Mullin in full.
Time, somehow, is allowing us the chance to increase Mullin's exposure. His work with those Run TMC Warriors has been all over NBA TV this summer. On Friday, the highlight package behind his Hall of Fame induction might be the most entertaining of all. And though he's promised to say little during his induction speech, a litany of YouTube clips will say enough. Even though he spent the last six years of his career as a role player of sorts, we can't ignore his 18.2 points-per-game career average, or the six times he averaged over 25 a game. Or his role in the Big East's golden era. Or the time spent with the Dream Team, picking up where Larry Bird left off.
The rest of Run TMC will be there on Friday night, and that's fitting. Though both Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond had stellar NBA careers and are on the Hall of Fame borderline, it's more than likely that Mullin will be the only member of that crew to make the Hall. The lone representative of the team that promised so much to us, even if we barely got to see them play. The last great unknown, before satellite dishes and high-speed Internet made it so every NBA team was as familiar as our hometown club.
Mullin's on my dish right now via NBA TV as I post this, dropping 41 points on Magic Johnson's eventual Western Conference champs. He'll probably be there a few more times over the next few months, as the NBA's lockout slowly resolves itself. Do yourself a favor and take a look at the guy before school starts up again, if only because we weren't allowed to stay up long enough some 20 years ago.
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- Chris Mullin