What he almost got was dead. Part of his Centinela program was an A.A. group that met at night in a dicey section of Inglewood. One time the members were standing around in front of a church during a break. Some kids were fistfighting next door. After a while they disappeared. There was calm. Then, suddenly, a van pulled up, and somebody inside started strafing the church with an automatic. The rehabs dove for it. As the bullets flew, Mullin thought, Damn, I'm trying to get sober here, not get killed.
Maybe there's something about nearly dying with 10 addicts and bums in a gang shoot-out in a Ripple section of a town you don't even live in that gives your recovery efforts a certain urgency. Mullin came to realize something about the winos and the horse heads in his group. "Their stories were the same as mine," he says. "I just hadn't gotten to their degree yet." He stopped blaming himself for his alcoholism. He looked at it like a disease: If I were allergic to pizza, he thought, I'd stop eating it.
After he got out, he gave full credit to Nelson. "He might have saved my life," Mullin said. As soon as he was home, he and Grabow went to a gym on the University of California campus for a little workout. Shoot a few free throws, Grabow said. Mullin hadn't touched a basketball in 30 days. He made 91 straight. Are those great hands or what?
Chris Mullin is an alcoholic addicted to showers. "He used to have an alcohol problem," says Gilbert. "Now he has a workout problem." Mullin is working toward shower number three as he pumps away for 45 minutes on a stair climber, this following a 45-minute weight workout, this following the day's two-hour practice, this following a game last night, this preceding the game tomorrow. O.K., so he replaced one obsession with another. At least this one keeps him happy. "I can't tell you I don't worry about him burning out," says Nelson. "Most athletes have a hard day and then a rest day. Chris has a hard day and then a harder day. Followed by a hard day."
Of the 24 stair climbers here at Club-sport in Oakland, Mullin likes the one in the middle the best, the better to watch the mayhem on the pickup hoops court in front of him.
"Yo!" he hollers at the top of his voice. "Shoelace!"
A fat man who could be either Ben or Jerry notices that the offending shoelace is his and ties it, never seeing that it is a four-time NBA All-Star, a past and future Olympic hero, who might have just saved one of his chubby knees. Mullin gets a monster grin out of this. Mullin majors in monster grins these days. People can worry if they want to. He's cool. "My best day then couldn't compare to my worst day now," he says.
Liz is climbing unseen staircases next to him. "He's grown up," she says. "He talks more. He's much more honest than he used to be. I like our life 100 times better now. He's responsible now. I can depend on him. He can share now. He has nothing to hide."
If you think they like the new Mully, you should see the Warriors. The season after his rehab, Mullin reinvented himself. He came back hard. His new goal was to make Grabow throw up. He shot better than 50% from the floor, averaged nine more points a game than in his pre-rehab season and doubled his rebound average. And he has only gotten better since. Last season he scored 25.7 points per game, shooting 53.6% from the floor and 88.4% from the line. No other player in NBA history has recorded those percentages while scoring 25.7 points or more per game. Bird is dead. Long live Little Bird.