"No, thanks," says Mullin, smiling as the window goes up. That's all Mullin needs, to conduct business with a moving Crazy Eddie. Mullin knows every lie, street con and hustle in the book. He learned most of them from drunks just like him, and he learned them thanks to Nelson, who finally went up to Mullin in early December 1987 and said, "You've got a drinking problem."
"I don't," said Mullin.
"You don't?" Nelson said. "Prove it to me. Promise me you won't drink for two months. Give me your handshake."
They shook. "I wasn't even considering it," Mullin admits. Two nights later Nelson got a call from a fan. You should have seen Mullin tossing them clown at the bar last night.
On Dec. 10, 1987, Nelson suspended Mullin for missing two practices. Two days later he put Mullin on the injured list. Later that same day Nelson had Mullin nose to nose.
"I want you to take care of this problem right now," Nelson said. "I want you to call your parents and your agent." Mullin was the fifth player Nellie had suspended for drug-or alcohol-related infractions. None of the players ever made it back to the league. Nelson wasn't leaving any lights on for Mullin.
Mullin checked into the clinic, but he wouldn't buy into it. He was denying all the way. The night before, he called Liz, crying. "You may not want to go out with me after this," he said, "but I'm checking into an alcohol rehab clinic tomorrow."
"Are you kidding?" she said, crying too. "This is the best Christmas present you could have given us."
But that's not how it felt. Mullin went to Centinela with a jam box, CDs and pictures and had them all taken from him. His room was done in Early Leavenworth: a cot, a desk and a closet. Here was a millionaire NBA player thrown in with heroin addicts, street winos, career drunks and crack heads. Still, the door out was unlocked, and Mullin almost used it. A lot of guys left and never came back. You're in there on Christmas Day, and on New Year's Eve the urge gets pretty ripe. Back home the New York Post pasted a picture of Mullin's face over a Heineken bottle. Happy holidays.
A.A. is a 12-step program, and that first step is a doozy: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. What? Me, like these bums? Have I lost my job? Have I lost my family? "It was easy to say, 'Hey, you're messed up, not me,' " says Mullin. Still, something kept him there. "I remembered my dad always said, 'You can always take the easy way out. But the easy way is usually the wrong way.' I guess I just felt if I did the right thing, I'd get rewarded in the end."