The Hall of Famer dishes on his close relationships with Vivek Ranadivé and Pete D’Alessandro, reflects on his NBA career, evaluates Kings talent and more.
A five-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA Team selection and two-time Olympic gold-medalist, Chris Mullin reveals he found success throughout his decorated career by placing an emphasis on working diligently and trusting his teammates – traits the Hall of Famer and Kings Advisor to the Chairman aims to instill on an up-and-coming Sacramento squad.
“I always saw the game as a team game – having five people working together, the ball moving – whether it’s using screens or having a guy like Tim Hardaway create shots for me or understanding angles on the defensive end (and) being a help defender,” says Mullin. “I think it’s really important to have a vision of teamwork, team play and unselfishness. I think for this team, keys for me … (are) being an unselfish, pass-first, unconditional passing team, and then defensively, becoming better individual defenders and then a really tied-together unit.”
One of the League’s most efficient and crafty scorers, the St. John’s product averaged 18.2 points on 50.9 percent from the field over the course of his 16-year NBA career, including five consecutive seasons with more than 25 points per contest. A member of the iconic 1992 USA Basketball “Dream Team,” Mullin teamed up with Kings legend Mitch Richmond and Hardaway to form the memorable “Run TMC,” one of the highest-scoring trios in League history.
Upon retiring as a player, No. 17 transitioned to the front office, serving as a special assistant with the Warriors for two seasons before spending five years as the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations. During his executive tenure, Golden State became only the third eighth-seeded team in NBA history to upset a No. 1 in 2006-07, and won 48 games the following season.
In a recent Q&A with Kings.com, the NBA legend discusses his close relationships with Kings front office personnel, reflects on his memorable on-court experiences and much more.
What intrigued you most about the opportunity to come to Sacramento?
“Living in this area for almost 30 years now, you get a lot of familiarity with the Kings organization and the tremendous fanbase – they have a great following, a passionate fanbase.
“But my decision was really swayed by the people in the organization – first and foremost, Vivek Ranadivé and his ownership group. It’s an incredible, impressive group of owners who really have one goal in mind – to make this the best franchise in the NBA. Then, of course, Pete D’Alessandro, the general manager – I’ve worked with him before, I have great respect for him, he’s had great success and to be able to join up with him and to be able to help him get this team to where we all want it, it was very instrumental in my decision. And then, the coaching staff, I have familiarity with Michael Malone and his father, Brendan – I’ve known since I was in high school.
“Much like you want to put together a great team on the floor that plays well together, plays to its strengths (and) stays away from its weaknesses, I think Vivek has done that in his hirings on the operations side. For me, when I’m looking at opportunities, my No. 1 (criteria) is what people I’m going to be surrounding myself with – who I’m joining, what the people are like and what’s their vision. Everything was in place, I thought it was a great fit and I’m really excited to be a part of the Kings.”
How would you describe your relationship with Pete D’Alessandro, as well as his basketball knowledge and approach to the game?
“I met Pete originally a long time ago when I was doing some clinics for (then-St. John’s Head) Coach (Lou) Carnasseca at his camp and Pete was working for Coach as a film guy – that was probably 1988. My agent while I played was Bill Pollock, and Pete worked for him, so in ’97, toward the end of my career, I was dealing with Pete on the agent side. He was taking care of a lot of my deals. And then, lo and behold, when I became the G.M. of the Warriors, I hired Pete as my assistant – it was the best thing I ever did. He’s worked his way up, climbed the ladder and put his time in. He’s a brilliant mind – not just in basketball – just a really intelligent guy in general. He’s really applied himself across the board in all different facets of the NBA. He’s one of the best young GMs in the League, and I’m just thrilled to be part of his organization, part of his team here.
“It’s really important in the front office to have that chemistry, communication, openness, the willingness to speak your mind and not be concerned about ruffling feathers. I’m really fortunate to be reunited with Pete – I feel great about it.”
What have been your impressions of Vivek Ranadivé and the new ownership group?
“Vivek is just a unique person – his passion, his energy, his positive outlook – he just brings it every day. He wants every single second of the day focused on improving. ‘What are we doing to make this the best team? What are we doing to make this a winning team?’ He brings that every single day. He’s a self-made guy, he’s committed and just being around him – especially getting to know him this summer – you want to listen to him, you want to learn from him, you want to follow him. There are so many like him in his (ownership) group – (they’re) so successful in their own different businesses, but (they’ve) all come together for a common goal. I think that right there sets a great tone – it’s the tone we’re trying to set here with the team. (You can have) the talent together, but you’re not going to succeed until you’re on the same page. Share in the success for the common good.”
How would you characterize the key elements in building a winning culture?
“There are so many different things that go into it, but to simplify and generalize, I think it’s all about your daily habits – and that starts from the top on down. If you’re going to preach dedication, work ethic, teamwork, unselfishness and being part of a team to accomplish a common goal, you have to live it – you can’t just talk about it. I think we have people here who are totally committed to a common goal to make this team better – not committed to certain people or certain aspects, but committed to the cause, to the Kings organization, to do what we do best to make it the best organization in the NBA.
“The cliché is about changing culture, but to me, you change some personnel and staffing, but you really have to change your habits. It’s not just moving papers around and moving people around – you have to change your daily approach. The people I’ve been around who’ve been successful – be it players, executives, coaches – there’s no substitute for a hard day’s work.”
How important is assembling high-level coaching and basketball operations staffs in forming a successful team?
“It’s very important … when you can gather the right information and do your research, it’s a big part of getting the right people and assembling the right pieces to the puzzle. (If) you have a very talented player with great athleticism and great skills, if that player works hard, he’s kind of a can’t-miss type of player. And in the front office, it’s the same thing – if you have good contacts, good information and you work hard and you work together, you’re going to succeed.”
How would you evaluate the talent on the current Kings roster?
“I think there are some really talented young players, and I think when you take that talent and you add the right work habits, the right work ethic, it will blossom, it will keep maturing (and) it will keep progressing.
“A lot of times, I used to look at it like in the offseason it’s your selfish time – you work on your weaknesses and you can get your shots up. When you come back in October, then it’s time to figure out, ‘How do I incorporate all that hard work on my individual game into the team concept?’ I think it’s the key for all NBA teams, because most NBA teams have talent. It’s the (successful) organizations that are able to mesh that talent together and not only get them to play together as a team, but also get them to where they feel what they’re doing is making a difference, so everyone is engaged and actually part of it – it’s not just lip service, they’re contributing to a common goal.
“I think our G.M. has done a good job already in the offseason addressing some needs with some additions. Greivis Vásquez – one of the most improved players in the League – I think he’s a pass-first point guard, which will help get that ball moving and I think that becomes contagious. Individual defender (Luc) Mbah a Moute can defend multiple positions, so I think his impact on the defensive end will be key.”
Looking forward, which players do you view as franchise cornerstones?
“DeMarcus Cousins – to me, he’s one of the most talented big men in the League. He’s obviously a key. I think Isaiah Thomas has been a really nice player for the Kings. I think he’s a good guy – especially for our young guards like Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum – to learn from (as far as) his work ethic, his poise, his approach to the game, his mental toughness. He’s a nice veteran. Jason Thompson, I think is coming along nicely. There’s a bunch of guys – all of them have strengths – (but) I think the key is going to be how they can come together, because individual numbers don’t really translate into success.”
How would you describe the atmosphere created by Kings fans in Sacramento during your playing days?
“ARCO was tough! It was loud – it was like a college atmosphere. It was a really tough place to play. We all know, the fans are a huge part but (the Kings) were always tougher to play when they had a good team.”
“They have a tremendous following here. It’s the only game in town, and I think even more so now, from being around here, I feel they’re so grateful. I think they felt there was the chance of not having (the team), so I think there’s that energy and there’s the appreciation. I think they’re grateful for all the great work (Mayor) Kevin Johnson did of keeping this team here where it belongs. There’s a lot of energy just from that alone.”
You averaged more than 25 points per game over five consecutive seasons. What were the keys to maintaining your consistency as one of the game’s elite scorers?
“I’d have to say again, it’s habits. To me, consistency and efficiency come from three things – having the right routine, having the ability and having the desire to put the repetition in with a daily practice and commitment. Then, when you do that, it becomes muscle memory – it becomes part of you. It’s not something you have to think about, whether it’s an open shot or a rotation, memorizing a scouting report, watching film … it becomes second nature to you. When you have the correct and the right routine and you put the repetition in, then it becomes auto-pilot.”
How would you characterize playing alongside Kings legend Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway on the “Run-TMC” Warriors?
“That was the most fun I ever had playing basketball (with) two of my favorite people, favorite teammates of all time. The key was we all complimented each other not only in (terms of) talent, but our personalities were different. We really knew how to use each other, how to let each other shine and help each other. We had opposite strengths and opposite weaknesses, so it was a great match. I think we also really enjoyed playing together and we appreciated each other, so we went out of our way to make sure we respected each other and we would always try to make each other better.”
What stands out most when you look back at your USA Basketball “Dream Team” experience?
“The legendary roster of that team is the first thing, and people know who those players are – they’re some of the greatest players to ever play this game. When I look back 20 years later, the thing that to me was maybe the most gratifying was how quickly that group of players went from a collection of All-Stars, all-world, all-century-type players to a team – how quickly guys checked their egos, didn’t worry about stats, didn’t worry about shots and (set) the goal to play the highest level of basketball that we could to set the bar high for the teams that came behind us. (It was also) how quickly the coaching staff – Chuck Daly, (Mike Krzyzewski), Lenny Wilkens, P. J. (Carlesimo) – (helped) that collection of All-Stars become a team. A lot of times that doesn’t happen – it’s not always easy to get high-profile, incredibly accomplished players to play together, and that happened in two days of practice. It wasn’t a collection of stars then – it was a team.”