One way or another, a former Indiana Pacer is making their way to Springfield. And while his accomplishments are best noted as a member of the Golden State Warriors, as well as the 1984 and 1992 Olympic Gold Medal teams, Chris Mullin did log over half of his playoff experience in the three short years he spent with the Pacers. For a player with such a career, spending the twilight of it in Indianapolis resulted in playing deeper into the year than he’d ever played; nearly toppling Michael Jordan’s dynasty, anguishing in Larry Johnson’s 4-point play, and playing in the NBA Finals.
While Mullin’s career as a Pacer will likely be a footnote to everything written about him in the coming days and weeks leading up to his induction into the Hall of Fame, Mullin does hold the franchise records for both three point percentage (.465 in 1998-99) and free throw percentage (.939 in 1997-98) making him an integral piece of the team’s history, even if he was far off from the player he was at Golden State.
Mullin, who had been involved in trade talks prior to the summer of 1997, was sent to Indiana in exchange for second-year center Erick Dampier and Duane Ferrell that August. He had requested the trade from the Warriors, but joining the Pacers was far from a ring chasing situation. Indiana was coming off a disappointing 39-43 season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1989 and had just handed the coaching duties to a rookie head coach in Larry Bird. Mullin was simply happy to have a new lease on his NBA life, and to do so playing for his former Dream Teammate and friend.
The Pacers, on the other hand, acquired Mullin as a replacement for an aging Derrick McKey. Mullin fit in perfectly with the Pacers, averaging 11.3 PPG as the team’s third leading scorer. His effect helped Indiana rebound to a 19-win turnaround, as the team set a new franchise record with 58 wins in 1998. He was ruthless in Indiana’s Game 1 and Game 4 victories against Cleveland, shooting 13 of 15 in both wins. And he tipped a loose ball that wound up in Reggie Miller’s hands for a game tying three that Indiana would use to beat New York in Game 4 of a quick five game series.
Mullin was one of two remaining Dream Team players who had never been to the Eastern Conference Finals, and he was finally there, getting the chance to play in series he’d only been part of as a spectator. The Pacers pushed the dynastic Chicago Bulls to the brink in Game 7, but ultimately fell short. The following season, age and a strike shortened season had started catching up with the 35-year old, but he remained in the starting lineup despite inconsistencies on both ends of the floor, and came up big in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, leading Indiana to victory, tying the series at 2-2, and at least temporarily erasing the nightmare of Game 3’s finale.
Following the season, Bird made the decision to promote six-year forward Jalen Rose into the starting lineup, a move that made Rose the league’s Most Improved Player. It wasn’t a move Mullin had to accept, but he graciously stepped aside in favor of his friend’s decision to improve the team. Mullin appeared in just 47 games, mostly in late-game situations, but remained ready for any call he might receive, even helping the team close the gap in a Game 4 loss to the 76ers.
He got his chance to appear in three of the six games of the 2000 NBA Finals, albeit four minutes per, but Mullin had no regrets for anything that happened while in Indiana. The Pacers cut him later that summer, a good grace by the team to a worthy veteran still looking for a chance to play. Where else would he end up but back in Oakland? Mullin would retire a Warrior, with the team that he had his greatest achievements, the moments that got him into the Hall of Fame, just as all great players deserve. But between his 13 years in a Golden State uniform, Mullin’s three-year detour in Indianapolis will always remain unforgettable years in the lives of not only Mullin, but Pacers fans in general.