In recent weeks leading up to his enshrinement, media has honored Chris Mullin glowingly when tracing his archive of hoops stardom. Work-ethic, not athleticism, are what media, quoting his teammates and former coaches, set Mullin aside from his contemporaries. In some ways, these comments could be construed as an indirect slap in the face to the current state of the NBA where potential, defined by out-of-this-world athleticism, continues to matter more than solid fundamentals (this is not an apologia for Mike Dunleavy Jr.).
To Danny Savitzky, contributor to Grantland, Mullin is an "endangered species," a kind of player that has been wiped out by the evolution of hoops athleticism. We often say there will never be another Michael Jordan or a Magic Johnson. But is it possible to say there will never be another Chris Mullin?
For Savitzky, Mullin is a monument to a by-gone era of hoops where finesse, not muscles, mattered more on both ends of the floor:
This raises a question of how often the NBA, moving forward, will allow Mullin's approach to be sustainable. Small guards like Steve Nash and J.J. Barea still exemplify many of Mullin's greatest characteristics, but his calculated strategies aren't so prevalent in other 6-foot-7 guys these days. Where's the tweener forward today that rarely dunks with a solid jumper, inventive midrange game, sneaky layups, and razor-sharp hair?
And that's why it's so important to remember what Mullin accomplished. His numbers and style of play are a clear reminder of what the league used to be - Chris Mullin's legacy is beyond that of just a basketball player because he's a clear measure for how the game has evolved.
Oddly, this seems like another eulogy to the skilled white man in a "black" sport. But Savitzky seems to go beyond this by highlighting that big men were not always the Dwight Howards or Andrew Bynums (by Bynum, I wonder if Savitzky is suggesting "lazy" than scary big). That is, bodies have evolved as training regiments transformed to develop more Adonis-like figures on the court (see Kris Humphries) with the grace and quickness of a ballerina dancer. Physically, the modern day version of lanky and frail Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is probably JaVale McGee. But McGee, possibly, has the basketball IQ of Chris Washburn. So, the death of "fundamentals" isn't necessarily an issue of race.
It's hard to tell whether Savitzky is making some sort of racial claim to why hoops is less Mullin-like and more Howard-like nowadays. But I see that Savitzky's claim that Mullin exists a living monument of a generation of what looked like effortless finger-roll layups and ridiculous precision shooting.
Could Chris Mullin in his prime exist in today's NBA game? If so, who is his modern day equivalent?