At Pittsburgh, Mullin sometimes hears the derisive chant "Chris-sie, Chris-sie," satirizing his prettified choirboy face—"I got cut from da choir in da fort grade," he says—but no other Big East fans have had the effrontery to jeer such a fine sportsman.
Not that his appearance doesn't make Mullin fair game. If his Gaelic sweet pug features aren't target enough, his sickly pale complexion surely will suffice. It must be truly bewildering to strangers when this shy, quiet, angelic-looking soul opens his mout. The first time St. John's sports information director Katha Quinn heard Mullin's tough-Mick Brooklynese schtick, she nearly went into shock. "Yikes," Quinn shrieked, "I can't believe that voice is coming out of that face."
It's a wonder hecklers haven't dubbed Mullin "Casper," so ghostly does he arrive on game night. Of course they'd be vanilla wafers, too, if they spent four-fifths of their life ratting around inside a gym. "Guys bust my chops," Mullin says. "But to tell da troot, last season when I hadda rash on my nipples, I started wearin' a shirt under my uniform, so I didn't look so white. I looked, like, O.K. But den I see dese pittures of me widdout da shirt. Ugh! I guess I really do look ill."
Fading into his whiteout, so smoothly efficient, playing within himself at all times, Mullin is often overlooked. Following the daily wipeouts at the Olympics last summer, opposing coaches kept referring to " Jordan and Number 13" or " Ewing and Number 13" as if they had never heard of or seen Mullin (No. 13) until they had consulted the scoresheets and discovered who that lefthanded stiletto was, the guy piercing them between the ribs.
In the eight games at Los Angeles, Mullin had 93 points (second on the U.S. team to Michael Jordan), 14 steals (second to Alvin Robertson) and 24 assists (third behind Leon Wood and Steve Alford). Yet he was a starter only once and was fifth on the team in minutes played. A couple of times Mullin got noticed. In his one start he led the scoring with 20 against Canada, and when Jordan was injured against Spain, Mullin came in to score 16 second-half points, with six steals and four assists.
For some reason—bang it inside, take it to the hole, force it down to the paint—the trend in basketball is to the two-foot offense. Whomp! As a result, nobody can hit the outside jump shot anymore. Mullin came to St. John's able to hit the jumper. Now he can get the jumper, which is entirely different. Mullin's use of every inch of the floor, and the other nine players, to get himself a shot is something to behold. This may be sacrilege, but Carnesecca compares his man's ability in this regard to Oscar Robertson's.
If love of the game matters, Mullin is a cinch. He has raised the caliber of his play at every level, working harder and enjoying it more; his passion is to the point now that there is only one thing Mullin actually dislikes about basketball—halftime. "Halftimes are da worst," he says. "I just wanna play troo."
In the fourth grade Mullin won a national foul-shooting contest, sinking 23 of 25, all expenses paid, in Kansas City. At Power Memorial, which produced the former Lew Alcindor, not to mention Len Elmore, before closing its doors last spring, Mullin's teams won both the freshman and jayvee city championships. Mullin survived one bus and two subway trains each way in order to play at his older brother Roddy's old school, but on the varsity Mullin encountered a coach who had had a "personality conflict" with Roddy. One day in the Monsignor King tournament, held at his old grade school in Brooklyn, around the corner from his house, Mullin, then a junior, scored nine straight first-quarter points for Power as the home parish crowd went wild. Suddenly he was yanked from the game, the coach mumbling something about "no superstars."
Wrong move. Punt-on-second-down move. Pitch-to- Kirk Gibson move.
Two days into the new year, Mike O'Reilly was sitting in history class at Xaverian, a small Catholic school overlooking the Narrows, when he saw Mullin lurking out in the hall. O'Reilly raised his hand to go to the bathroom and rushed out to meet his friend.