Chris Mullin is an alcoholic 24 hours a day, so the last thing he does before he sleeps is to get out the little black book. The gold lettering on the cover—TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY—is faded, and the pages are yellowed and thumbed, but Mullin digs into the book as if he had gotten it today, gift wrapped, in the mail. Outside his house the fog off San Francisco Bay is so thick and gray that he could get lost in his own front yard, but inside, Mullin knows exactly where he is. It's past midnight, which makes it Wednesday, Feb. 12. Four years with this tiny book. He should have it memorized by now.
"Feb. 12—A.A. Thought for the Day: As we look back on all those troubles we used to have when we were drinking, the hospitals, the jails, we wonder how we could have wanted that kind of a life. As we look back on it now, we see our drinking life as it really was and we're glad we're out of it. So after a few months in A.A., we find that we can honestly say that we want something else more than drinking...and we wouldn't go back to the old drunken way of living for anything in the world. Do I want to keep sober a lot more than I want to get drunk?"
March 30, 1992
Chris Mullin is an alcoholic, and so he wakes up every day and says: "Not gonna drink today." His wife, Liz, has heard it so many times that to her it is as routine as the thermostat clicking on. But Mullin likes to hear it. Today. Not thinking about next week or next month or next off-season. When people ask him what he's going to do when he retires, it makes him wince. When he gets to stewing about the future—never having a drink again for as long as he lives—he starts obsessing. When he starts obsessing he panics, and when he panics he has to call the number next to the telephone, and that's as close as he ever wants to get to his hangover days. But that doesn't happen much. "I woke up cool this morning," Mullin says. "I'll be cool tonight. And hopefully I'll be cool when I wake up tomorrow."
He tumbles out of bed and gives Kuma, the World's Luckiest Dog, an extensive and therapeutic neck rub. "Rubs that dog more than he rubs me," says Liz. "I have to beg." Next he opens a can of Kal Kan and covers it with some Campbell's mushroom soup and nukes it for 60 seconds. Kuma insists on hot meals. Mullin is devoted to Kuma—maybe because Kuma never once asked for tickets, for an autograph or for Mullin to speak at his Rotary Club. Mullin jumps in the shower, and naturally Kuma jumps in with him. Through the glass Liz looks menacingly at the World's Luckiest Dog.
Mullin may be the whitest person on earth, but he looks positively new-sneaker white next to Kuma's tan fur and black snout. Manute Bol calls Mullin Chalk, some people call him Casper, but you can call him the Man the Sun Forgot. Still, what Mullin's blinding body lacks in color it makes up for in tone—6% fat, 6'7", 215 pounds, 28 years old, flushes in spots, can look ugly but hums. On the muggiest day of summer, the pale figure will get up at 6:30 a.m., run five miles, jump on the stair climber for an hour at the killer setting, jump on the stationary bike for another hour, jump in the pool, jump on some lunch, lift weights for an hour and a half, shower, go to the gym for 400 jump shots in 30 minutes, then knock down about 200 free throws and call it a day.
Not bad for a body that used to remind one of an old mattress—white and lumpy. Mullin played a little lumpy then too. The College Player of the Year and the NBA's seventh draft pick in 1985, Mullin was never much more than a catch-and-shooter his first three seasons with the Golden State Warriors, an overmatched No. 2 guard whom quicker guards would use like a turnstile. He was a pure jumper-buster with few moves to speak of, none to the hole that would get him by anybody this side of Chuck Nevitt.
"I'd heard he 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." There were rumors that Mullin would be traded to the New York Knicks.
Ask Nelson if he would trade Mullin now.
Chris Mullin is an alcoholic white man who can't jump. Or blaze. Or leave you and your hightops stuck in cement. He is the most unlikely superstar in the league. If you didn't know him and he was standing against the fence at the playground, you might take him last. All right, who gets Bristlehead? But Mullin's game has never been about speed or jumping or moves that are going to make a chiropractor rich.
Mullin's game is about hands. It's about the best fingertips in the NBA. It's about scoring (fourth in the league, at 25.7 points per game) on impossible spin shots born of a gym-rat childhood spent flipping the ball into the basket from underneath, then left, then right, then backward. It's about a jumper as smooth as left-out butter. Of the 13 players who rank above Mullin in field goal percentage—Buck Williams, Horace Grant, Otis Thorpe, Brad Daugherty, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Detlef Schrempf, Larry Nance, Robert Parish, Dennis Rodman, Billy Owens, Frank Brickowski and Danny Manning—only one gets fewer dunks than Mullin: Daugherty. "You pass Mully the ball," says the Warriors' All-Star point guard, Tim Hardaway, "and it's an assist."
Mullin's game is about never missing a layup, no matter how contorted it has to be. It's ironic: Mullin's jumpers are so pure that when he sets up in the open, guys on his bench sing out, "Layyyyy-up!" Yet layups in the NBA are actually harder than open jumpers. Mullin is the best layup artist since Dennis Johnson.
Mullin's game is about steals (fourth in the league, at 2.31 per game) from behind and underneath and out of nowhere. It's about slapping the ball away at just the right time. It's about pesky blocked shots (at 6'7", he leads the Warriors), most of them no-see-'ims. It's about perpetual motion, the kind his numbersake, John Havlicek, used to practice. Mullin is a dryland Wayne Gretzky, drifting, drifting, drifting, suddenly cutting open and hitting the shot in the tiny window of time he gets, whether the shot is a runner, a fader, a drive, a move to the hole, a leaner, a spot-up, whatever. "He's one of the best I've ever seen at taking the hit and still finishing the shot," says teammate Rod Higgins. Indeed, Mullin has physical conditioning coach Mark Grabow spend extra hours pushing and shoving him during their shooting workouts. If somebody isn't hitting Mullin on a shot, he's lonely.
Last night against the Washington Bullets, Mullin got 33 the hard way: five open jumpers of 15 feet or longer, one leaner and the accompanying free throw, a three-pointer from a yard behind the line, a layup off Mullin's own steal, two baskets from just busting his gluteus maximus to get down on the fast break, two more foul shots, a driving switched-hands bucket and the free throw, a junk layin from keeping a rebound alive and the awarded FT, and an impossible backward over-the-head CNN-play-of-the-day 10-footer after getting LAPD'd in the lane—"Hey, I practice those," he insists—and the free throw. For the night that's 13 baskets in 16 shots, four steals, six of six free throws, four three-point plays, nearly 40 minutes, no dunks and another 12-point win for the Warriors, who are running a close second, behind the Portland Trail Blazers, in the Pacific Division.
"When God made basketball," Magic Johnson says, "He just carved Chris Mullin out and said, This is a player.' " Knick coach Pat Riley calls Mullin "the consummate pro," and Mullin's consistency can be amazing. This season he went 21 straight games scoring 20 points or more. Last season he went 20 straight and 29 out of 30. Only Michael Jordan has a longer streak of 10-point-or-more games—487 to Mullin's 240.
All of which is pretty good for a guy even his own coach figured would end up as a statistic.
Chris Mullin is a very sweaty alcoholic small forward who would like nothing more than shower number two of the day. But it's High and Middle School Journalism Day at the Warriors' practice, and every kid with a Betacam and a Big Chief notebook wants to talk Chalk. A four-foot anchorman nervously approaches with his one-man, 65-pound camera crew.
KID: Hi. I'm talking with Chris Mullin of the Golden State Warriors. Chris, is it O.K. if we ask you some questions?
KID: O.K. Where did you go to college?
MULLIN: St. John's University in New York.
KID: O.K. Did you play basketball there?
KID: O.K. Now. Would you mind signing your name, address and occupation here? [Mullin writes them down.] O.K. Now. What do you like best of all about basketball?
MULLIN: The thing I like best is the sharing you do with your teammates, the caring that goes on. It's kind of like what you have in a family situation.
Except that is not what Mullin had when he came to the Warriors in 1985. What Mullin had was a 12-player, 12-cab team. Joe Barry Carroll, Sleepy Floyd, Jerome Whitehead. Sixty losses the year before, and any seat you wanted in the Coliseum. "We had a lot of guys who just punched the clock," Mullin says.
That is not what Mullin was used to. Mullin was used to love, family, hoops and wins rolled up in one world. He grew up two blocks from St. Thomas Aquinas elementary school in Brooklyn, and he had a key to the gym. When Mrs. Mullin called her four boys in for dinner, she yelled toward St. Tom's and nowhere else. At St. John's, Chris's girlfriend, Liz Connolly, worked on the stats crew. Chris's family was closer than matchsticks. That's why the NFL draft was such an ice bath.
"Where's Golden State?" Liz said for everybody in the room.
"Oakland," said Mullin glumly.
"Where's Oakland?" Liz asked.
Not only was it 3,000 miles from Flatbush, but it was also a million miles from Uncle Loooooie Carnesecca and ugly sweaters and happiness. Mullin would try to shoot after Warrior practices, and the veterans would look at him as if he had just hurled in their gym bags. "Hey, man, are you crazy?" one told him. "You're making us look bad."
He got lonely. He would call Liz longdistance, and they would talk and watch ESPN for hours, trying to fabricate a little togetherness. All that was left of that good feeling from home came in 12-ounce cans. So what? Drinking was fun at Mullin's house. Liquor was a side dish for everything. An Irish Catholic family in Brooklyn? Gedouddaheah. Mullin and his brothers would drink beer while playing softball on Sundays until 5 p.m., then go straight to church. Mullin's life was, Hoist a few J's, then hoist a few B's. But in Oakland the family was gone and the joy was gone and Liz was gone.
"You'd go over to his house," says a friend, "and you could see the beer cans piling up." Mullin still tried to work out hard, but his body wasn't coping. During one workout with Grabow, he threw up. Mullin would tell people he would be over at seven and then show up at nine. He blew things off more often than he made them. "I don't think he was a very happy person then," says his friend Brad Gilbert, the tennis pro.
By his second summer back home from the West Coast, Mullin had stopped drinking to escape. He drank out of need. "I remember I'd get all excited about him coming home for the summer," says Liz. "But then it wouldn't turn out like I wanted." She would stay up all night worrying because he hadn't called. She would go to work the next day without sleep. When she would see him that night, they would fight. "I lost that trust," she says.
By his third pro season he was the loneliest he had ever been. "It got to the point where I'd come home at night and I wasn't worried about what I had to do the next day," Mullin says. "I didn't have a schedule for the next day, and I didn't care." He woke up plenty of mornings with headaches and with a mess to clean up in the bathroom. "To tell you the truth," he says, "there were days when I didn't care if I played again."
Chris Mullin is an alcoholic with a bouncer's face. His eyes are a beautiful blue-gray, but they are so dominated by his great bushy eyebrows that they look like mere slits, quarter slots. Mullin actually has more hair in his eyebrows than on the top of his head, where the oppressed follicles are mown into the world's shortest flattop. If you tipped him upside down, he would remind you of a giant barbecue grill cleaner.
Still, each time Mullin goes into the Razor's Edge, a two-chair barbershop in Alameda, he wants his hair shorter. He also wants the hot-lather shave with a real straight razor, and a neck rub. For this Mullin throws his man $20, far more than the actual fee. "Hey, are you kiddin'?" says Mullin. "You're dealing with razors here. I want to know he's getting justice."
Mullin has had the Sergeant Carter look ever since he got out of a 30-day alcohol rehabilitation program at Centinela Hospital in Los Angeles at the beginning of 1988. For one, he thinks the cut looks good on him. For two, it's a symbol of the new simplicity in his life—blunt and bare, nothing to hide. For three, his hair towels dry in, oh, about 11 seconds, it never gets in his eyes, and ROTC chicks dig it.
Rod Mullin probably would have liked the Razor's Edge too. It's a hang-around-and-laugh place. During the holidays Dick Kellogg, the owner, sets up a bar, and you know what that means. "Guys stay all day," Kellogg says, laughing.
Rod Mullin was a drunk, just like his son, but he wasn't mean about it. "He could be a little unpredictable when he'd drink," Chris says, "a little unpredictable in his temper and his mood." Yeah, Chris was scared of him. But not really scared. Rod was a warm man, even when he'd spent a good chunk of his 16-hour shift as a JFK Airport customs inspector drinking and waiting for the flights to come in. You would walk into Rod's house and hear "Come in, take your shoes off." And before you knew it, Rod would have a bowl of ice cream in your hands. Then he might measure you. Rod had this wall where he measured the kids' heights as often as once a month. He even kept up on the dog. Mullin men are very good to their dogs. Rod passed on the whole package to Chris—family, friends, warmth, bear hugs, dogs, booze.
But Rod beat it. Through the force of his own will, and without much help, he stopped drinking in 1980. He even started his own recovery group at the airport. The unpredictability slopped. His extra-large patience shone through. And he knew too much about drinking to try to tell his own kid to stop. Rod once said, "How do you tell the Wooden Award winner, the Player of the Year, an All-America, that he can't drink?" Chris would have to learn it himself.
Chris Mullin is a street-ball-playing millionaire alcoholic from Brooklyn who can hang just the same with stockbrokers and con men, blacks and whites, kids and suits. So when the Warriors' limo pulls out of downtown San Francisco after a United Way appearance with some serious brokers from Salomon Brothers, and a dangerous-looking, unmarked white van pulls up and starts honking its horn, Mullin hangs cool.
"Slow down," Mullin says to the driver. He lowers the window. The man in the van's passenger scat looks like Mickey Rourke on a bad day—whiskered, bloody eyed, yelling something.
"Hey, I've got some absolutely kick-ass speakers in here!" he shouts. "Three hundred dollars! You want to.... Hey! You're Chris Mullin, right?"
Mullin shrugs a yes.
"Here!" The guy holds a piece of paper and a pen out the window. He wants an autograph at 35 miles an hour. Stranger still, Mullin is going to give it to him.
"Get a little closer to this guy, will ya?" Mullin yells to the driver, who, ignoring every sensible bone in his body, nudges the limo closer. Mullin reaches out, grabs the pen and paper, signs and gives them back.
That, though, is not enough.
"C'mon, man!" Mickey screams. "Don't you want these speakers?"
Mullin shakes his head no.
"C'mon, man! You got tons of cash! These are kick-ass!"
Mullin shakes his head again.
"C'mon, get on the car phone! Two hundred! Call 555-3781, we'll talk!"
"Pull over! I'll put 'em in your trunk! I sold Hakeem Olajuwon three pair of these last month!"
"No, thanks," says Mullin, smiling as the window goes up. That's all Mullin needs, to conduct business with a moving Crazy Eddie. Mullin knows every lie, street con and hustle in the book. He learned most of them from drunks just like him, and he learned them thanks to Nelson, who finally went up to Mullin in early December 1987 and said, "You've got a drinking problem."
"I don't," said Mullin.
"You don't?" Nelson said. "Prove it to me. Promise me you won't drink for two months. Give me your handshake."
They shook. "I wasn't even considering it," Mullin admits. Two nights later Nelson got a call from a fan. You should have seen Mullin tossing them clown at the bar last night.
On Dec. 10, 1987, Nelson suspended Mullin for missing two practices. Two days later he put Mullin on the injured list. Later that same day Nelson had Mullin nose to nose.
"I want you to take care of this problem right now," Nelson said. "I want you to call your parents and your agent." Mullin was the fifth player Nellie had suspended for drug-or alcohol-related infractions. None of the players ever made it back to the league. Nelson wasn't leaving any lights on for Mullin.
Mullin checked into the clinic, but he wouldn't buy into it. He was denying all the way. The night before, he called Liz, crying. "You may not want to go out with me after this," he said, "but I'm checking into an alcohol rehab clinic tomorrow."
"Are you kidding?" she said, crying too. "This is the best Christmas present you could have given us."
But that's not how it felt. Mullin went to Centinela with a jam box, CDs and pictures and had them all taken from him. His room was done in Early Leavenworth: a cot, a desk and a closet. Here was a millionaire NBA player thrown in with heroin addicts, street winos, career drunks and crack heads. Still, the door out was unlocked, and Mullin almost used it. A lot of guys left and never came back. You're in there on Christmas Day, and on New Year's Eve the urge gets pretty ripe. Back home the New York Post pasted a picture of Mullin's face over a Heineken bottle. Happy holidays.
A.A. is a 12-step program, and that first step is a doozy: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. What? Me, like these bums? Have I lost my job? Have I lost my family? "It was easy to say, 'Hey, you're messed up, not me,' " says Mullin. Still, something kept him there. "I remembered my dad always said, 'You can always take the easy way out. But the easy way is usually the wrong way.' I guess I just felt if I did the right thing, I'd get rewarded in the end."
What he almost got was dead. Part of his Centinela program was an A.A. group that met at night in a dicey section of Inglewood. One time the members were standing around in front of a church during a break. Some kids were fistfighting next door. After a while they disappeared. There was calm. Then, suddenly, a van pulled up, and somebody inside started strafing the church with an automatic. The rehabs dove for it. As the bullets flew, Mullin thought, Damn, I'm trying to get sober here, not get killed.
Maybe there's something about nearly dying with 10 addicts and bums in a gang shoot-out in a Ripple section of a town you don't even live in that gives your recovery efforts a certain urgency. Mullin came to realize something about the winos and the horse heads in his group. "Their stories were the same as mine," he says. "I just hadn't gotten to their degree yet." He stopped blaming himself for his alcoholism. He looked at it like a disease: If I were allergic to pizza, he thought, I'd stop eating it.
After he got out, he gave full credit to Nelson. "He might have saved my life," Mullin said. As soon as he was home, he and Grabow went to a gym on the University of California campus for a little workout. Shoot a few free throws, Grabow said. Mullin hadn't touched a basketball in 30 days. He made 91 straight. Are those great hands or what?
Chris Mullin is an alcoholic addicted to showers. "He used to have an alcohol problem," says Gilbert. "Now he has a workout problem." Mullin is working toward shower number three as he pumps away for 45 minutes on a stair climber, this following a 45-minute weight workout, this following the day's two-hour practice, this following a game last night, this preceding the game tomorrow. O.K., so he replaced one obsession with another. At least this one keeps him happy. "I can't tell you I don't worry about him burning out," says Nelson. "Most athletes have a hard day and then a rest day. Chris has a hard day and then a harder day. Followed by a hard day."
Of the 24 stair climbers here at Club-sport in Oakland, Mullin likes the one in the middle the best, the better to watch the mayhem on the pickup hoops court in front of him.
"Yo!" he hollers at the top of his voice. "Shoelace!"
A fat man who could be either Ben or Jerry notices that the offending shoelace is his and ties it, never seeing that it is a four-time NBA All-Star, a past and future Olympic hero, who might have just saved one of his chubby knees. Mullin gets a monster grin out of this. Mullin majors in monster grins these days. People can worry if they want to. He's cool. "My best day then couldn't compare to my worst day now," he says.
Liz is climbing unseen staircases next to him. "He's grown up," she says. "He talks more. He's much more honest than he used to be. I like our life 100 times better now. He's responsible now. I can depend on him. He can share now. He has nothing to hide."
If you think they like the new Mully, you should see the Warriors. The season after his rehab, Mullin reinvented himself. He came back hard. His new goal was to make Grabow throw up. He shot better than 50% from the floor, averaged nine more points a game than in his pre-rehab season and doubled his rebound average. And he has only gotten better since. Last season he scored 25.7 points per game, shooting 53.6% from the floor and 88.4% from the line. No other player in NBA history has recorded those percentages while scoring 25.7 points or more per game. Bird is dead. Long live Little Bird.
And yet basketball doesn't mean as much to him as it used to. Before, if he would have a bad game, he would go sleepless. Now, if he has a bad game, "that's all it is, a bad game," he says. "It's funny. Basketball doesn't mean as much to me now, but I'm more dedicated to it." Figure that out.
7:45 P. M.
Chris Mullin is an alcoholic in a world of alcohol. For instance, watch as he and Liz pull into Clubsport's Valentine's Weekend party and eye the punch. A woman behind the counter waits.
"What kind of punch is this?" Mullin asks.
"Just regular, get-down-on-the-floor, everyday kick-butt punch," she says.
"Yeah, but what's in it?"
"I don't know. The usual stuff."
"Like 7-Up or what?"
"I don't know. Just try it!"
He skips the punch. Sometimes not drinking today is harder than it sounds. Later he and Liz decide on Chinese takeout. On the way Mullin reaches for the phone and punches his mother's number. Until last summer he would have called up his dad and talked basketball and life, as he did nearly every day. "I could always talk to my dad," he says. "My dad would always say, 'Here's the problem; let's figure it out.' "
But that all ended one day in 1990 with a video. It was a tape from a family picnic. Rod was the cameraman, but there was something strange. Chris's younger brother John noticed it first. "Dad, is that your breathing?" he asked. The Mullins all listened to the sound track. Rod's breathing was noisy and cluttered. They figured he had had a cold. Rod checked it out with the doctors. They found a cloud on the X-rays. Lung cancer.
When he was a drunk, Chris always hoped to die first, before any of his family, because otherwise, "I knew I'd never be able to handle it. I would've felt so empty. I had no nothing. No confidence." He sobered up just in time. He lost his guardian angel at St. John's, public relations director Katha Quinn, to cancer in 1989, and then he lost one of the family's best friends, Bob Sullivan, to the same thing. But seeing his father crumble, this tower of a man, that was too much. Chris would go out to his garage at two in the morning and take it out on the stationary bike, trying to put miles between himself and his rage. Then he would dive into the pool and think. Rod's fluffy white curls were falling out. It wouldn't be long.
Chris began to think of one blessing. Himself. Now at least he could be strong. He could say what he had always wanted to say. And he did, practically every day. He told Rod, "I love you so much, Dad. You've taught me so much. You've been the best thing that ever happened to me."
That July, Mullin flew across the country to his old room. That's where Rod wanted to be, in Chris's room in Brooklyn, because it was cooler in there. Rod was out of it, and the whole family was a mess. Chris was crying, sweating, red faced, splotchy. Suddenly his dad had a moment of consciousness and looked right at Chris.
"What?" his father asked. "You been working out again?"
Five minutes later he just stopped breathing, nice and easy.
Chris Mullin is an alcoholic with a minor in canine cuisine. The repast is ready for the World's Luckiest Dog. Tonight's special: Kal Kan with chicken broth, cooked carrots and raisins. What, no orchid on the plate?
Mullin isn't bad with humans, either. He invites limo drivers in to watch TV while they wait for him. Before they know it, they have a bowl of ice cream in their hands. Mullin took a poor Warrior ball girl named Francine Williams and paid her way to two different basketball camps. Her dad wasn't around, and a brother was in the can for murder, but thanks to Mullin, Francine got noticed and now has a full ride at San Jose State—the first in her family to go to college. Then there's Mark Popadick. Learning that Mark, a Buffalo teenager, was a fan of his and had leukemia, Mullin arranged to meet him at a New York hospital in 1987, taking Mark tapes and watching games with him. Mark had had a bone-marrow transplant about a month earlier but had been going nowhere. Mullin began calling Mark whenever he was in the New York area. Within a year, the bone-marrow transplant had taken hold. The leukemia is gone. Popadick and Mullin still see each other. Popadick is studying business at Fordham. Wants to represent athletes.
People notice it now, notice that Chris is turning out a lot like Rod. He married Liz last fall, and she's due this summer. If it's a girl, Erin Marie. If it's a boy, who knows? With a baby coming and a nine-year contract to stay with a one-cab team, the future isn't even worth a decent panic.
Chris Mullin is an alcoholic 24 hours a day, but the days are all different now. The fog has lifted. No way to get lost now. Sometimes Mullin will pick out a star and have a talk with his father. "I can feel his strength," he says. They'll talk basketball, life—jeez, even babies now. Yeah, he'll pass on every thing he learned from Rod but one.
"What I'm doing now is what I've always envisioned," he says. "It just took me a little while to get there. I was a little fogged out for a while, but that's cool. I appreciate it even more." We wouldn't go back for anything in the world.
There is a picture in the hall of Mullin and his dad and Carnesecca. Mullin takes the picture down and kisses his father. "Before he died, he told me he wasn't worried about me anymore," he says. "When he left, he said, 'You're gonna be O.K. You got the program down.' "
Past midnight now. Time to get out the little black book.