Martyrdom is a Funny Thing

Cue up the sad music, because Chris Mullin is taking a Charlie Brown walk this summer.

But is it good grief of good riddance?

Chris Mullin has done some stupid things.  The contracts of Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Troy Murphy, Adonal Foyle, and Corey Maggette come to mind.  He, in part, was (and is) responsible for the Warriors perennial failures, and though he caught lightning in a bottle when he traded for Baron Davis, whatever spark was captured in 2007 left the bay with Boom.  There is Monta Ellis, there is Andris Biedrins, and there is the ever-ambiguous ‘hope for the future.’  Anthony Randolph has been every bit as fantastic as I thought he’d never be, Brandan Wright should still be a mainstay as an NBA starter, and Marco Belinelli is a tease, but a nice offensive talent.  This is the core that Mullin put together going forward, and though he’ll inevitably overpay them with long-term, lucrative contracts, isn’t the fact that he drafted them something?  You could make that argument.  But overall, Mullin has blown opportunities and hasn’t built a team capable of consistently fighting for a playoff spot.  You only get so many lottery picks before all the ping pong balls in the world can’t save you, and you only get so many freebie mistakes before the fingers start pointing at you.

If that was really the reason he was being fired, I think I’d be fine with it.  If it was really a matter of “Chris, you just haven’t been that good,” this whole thing would be easier to swallow.  Don Nelson drew a line in the sand, like he always has, and when the dust cleared Mullin was on one side, and Nellie and team prez Robert Rowell were on the other.  The whole situation reeks of sports politics, the seediness wafting to any NBA fan intent on sniffing the truth.  This isn’t just basketball.  It’s likely a cliche by this point, but I feel a need to reinforce that saddening fact.

Does Mullin deserve to make basketball decisions for the Warriors anymore?  No.  He’s had his run, he’s had his chances, and he blew it.  But when you’re being run out of town like a foreign dictator, everything just seems wrong.  Suddenly, Nellie’s insidiousness overshadows all, and Mullin isn’t quite the bad guy that he should be.

One of the most consistent flaws of basketball fans is our tendency to type players based on how they play basketball.  Bruce Bowen is an wanker because he plays like one.  He tugs at jerseys, undercuts jumpshooters, and bends every possible rule in the name of getting under his opponent’s skin and psyching them out of the game (after all, if you’re playing angry basketball, you’re probably not playing smart basketball).  But off the court, Bowen is one of the league’s premier nice guys.  I haven’t heard a single merited bad word about him as a person, not one anecdote of chronic jerkery.  Yet when we talk about Bruce Bowen, we talk about him in a general sense, and how much we hate him (unless you’re a Spurs fan…we don’t serve your kind here).  It’s not fair, and it’s not justified, but it’s just the way things go in this game, and to some extent, with sports in general.  When your worth is judged on how you perform in such a limited setting, you become your on-court personality in the eyes of the viewers.  If that’s a villain like Bowen, then so be it.

The same idea ties into Nelson.  He’s the “mad scientist.” the offensive wizard, and the cooky, unconventional coach who escapes to Maui in the offseason.  His coaching style appears whimsical, and so he appears whimsical.  But now, more than ever, we need to realize that he, as a person, is not.  His basketball mind is a unique one, and he’s done plenty of things that make me smile and think about the game in new ways.  But time and time again, he has angered everyone around him, and split town with more enemies than friends.  Mullin had a good gig going before The Whimsical One waltzed into town, and though his performance was poor, his job never seemed to be in jeopardy.  One Don Nelson later, Mullin seems to be the one packing his bags while Nellie coasts through thend of the season, laughing maniacally on that extended flight to the islands.  Nellie might be doing us all a favor by getting rid of Mullin, but is a good move for all the wrong reasons still a good move?

Seth Carstens