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.