by Eldon Khorshidi / @eldonadam
On the eve of his commentating debut, where he’ll call the St. John’s-Seton Hall contest for ESPN, SLAM caught up with 3-time Big East Player of the Year, 5-time NBA All-Star, and 2-time Olympic gold medalist Chris Mullin.
We touched on an array of topics, from the resurgence of his alma mater to his new gig at ESPN and other future endeavors.
SLAM: It’s been a while, but your alma mater St. John’s has taken the nation by storm (no pun intended) and is putting college basketball in New York City back on the map. You must be loving it.
Chris Mullin: Man it’s been a great, energizing year. It’s great for the school, the city, and most of all the kids.
SLAM: First-year head coach Steve Lavin has the guys playing at a very high level. It can be tough to adapt when a new boss comes in, especially for the older guys, but that hasn’t been the case for the Red Storm.
CM: Steve’s done a great job. He’s very well prepared, coming from UCLA, one of the most storied programs in the country. When you follow the shadow of John Wooden, success is inevitable. I like their style of play, and the kids are playing well and with confidence. It’s been a pleasant surprise.
SLAM: Senior Dwight Hardy has been a monster this year, averaging 18 points and carrying the team on his back. In a conference with other great players, in particular point guards, such as Kemba Walker and Corey Fisher, where does Hardy rank?
CM: I’ve seen him play a bunch, and he’s right up there. Matter fact, if I had a vote, I’d vote him as Big East Player of the Year. The team is 15th in the nation, and his senior leadership is what’s been the one constant. It’s easy to win a few games in a row, but when you repeatedly beat good teams, you need a man at the helm to lead by example, and Hardy’s been the anchor.
SLAM: You’ve basically seen and done it all in the world of basketball—NBA All-Star, assistant coach, GM, etc… But you recently joined ESPN as an analyst, and are now on the other side of the camera. How’s the ESPN life going?
CM: I really enjoy it. I love watching basketball, and as you can see, I could talk ball for days. It’s different being on the other end of the camera now, but it keeps me connected to the game, and I couldn’t be happier.
SLAM: You’re going to be working a live broadcast for the first time tomorrow night. You usually do NBA Fastbreak and other roundtable NBA discussions on ESPN, but never before have you analyzed college ball, let alone commentated a live telecast. How are you approaching it? Are you excited? Nervous?
CM: I watch more NBA than college, so I’m a little less familiar with the teams and players, but I stay current enough to know what’s going on. Being that I’m a rookie (laughs), I’m going to lean on Doris Burke a lot and just let her be the captain. When I see something, I’ll say something, kind of like freestyle. It’s kind of like this.
SLAM: Like this?
CM: Yeah, like we’re just talking ball right now. I’ll be calling the game the same way, as if I was just talking to you.
SLAM: (Laughs) Let’s shift gears a little bit. You have strong ties to your former teams, the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors. Both teams have a young nucleus and have made some noise this year. What do you see in those teams going forward?
CM: I really enjoy watching both. Both teams are young and exciting to watch. In Indiana, Larry’s coaching change gave everyone, especially the young players, a burst of energy and it’s beginning to turn around. Young players need confidence, and the only way you gain confidence is by getting time on the court. You develop confidence once you prove you can play in this league. And I don’t mean proving it to other people—proving to yourself is most important in terms of self-confidence. Once you prove it to yourself, your game improves, and I think that’s what’s happening in Indiana.
They’ve got some good players in Golden State. Monta Ellis doesn’t get mentioned like he should. He’s a great scorer, up there with the best in my opinion. Him and Stephen Curry are a good backcourt and they’ve shown promise.
SLAM: Yeah, but the common criticism is that Ellis and Curry either can’t coexist or are too much of a liability on the defensive end for the team to succeed. Do you think it could work?
CM: People are quick to point the finger at the star players, but I don’t think they are necessarily the problem. I think it could be the players around them. Monta and Steph will earn their points and assists, but a basketball team is made of a lot more than two players. For Golden State, the focus should be on defense and rebounding. Right now, if they score 90 points, they’ll lose.
SLAM: Truth. With the season entering playoff mode, who’s your current League MVP?
CM: (Thinking…) (thinking some more…) Man, that’s tough. Right now, Derrick Rose, LeBron, and Dwight Howard are all in the conversation. Nothing is set in stone, but those three lead the way. If the Thunder keep winning, Durant’s in the mix, and Kobe’s always in the mix. It’s funny how San Antonio has the best record in the league, but a player on their team probably won’t win MVP.
SLAM: Given your history and love of the game, do you ever see yourself going back into the league, maybe as a coach or a General Manager?
CM: It’s definitely something that’s crossed my mind before. I’d look into it if the situation were right. It’s about whom I work with, not where I work. I need the right people, not place. But yeah, I could see myself going back into it.