Sunday, November 24, 2019

One Approach Toward Meeting Your Favorite Athletes: Thank You, Chris Mullin

Like most sports fans, there are athletes I respect, admire and adore. I have my own Mount Rushmore, my favorite male and female athletes, those who are my heroes and my G.O.A.T.s I have had the opportunity to meet a few of them—Will Clark and Joe Montana and coaches such as Muffet McGraw and Brian Kelly. With each encounter, I offer a warm smile and what I think is a good lead—either a personalized question or insider's connection. I am happy to share that this preparation has paid off. Last week, however, I was proven otherwise. Here's the story. 
I attended KNBR's Evening with a Legend with my good friend Kevin at the San Francisco City Club. The honoree was none other than the Golden State Warriors' Hall of Fame shooting guard,  Chris Mullin. I have known Mully since I was in grade school. My Dad, like many other sports fans loved Big East basketball in its prime. And Chris one of its leading men, a shining star, not to mention an Irish Catholic emerged as my Dad's favorite. Needless to say, in 1985 when the Dubs selected this Irish Catholic as the seventh overall pick in the draft, my dad and I— could hardly believe our fate. The lefty out of St. John's was coming to the Bay Area? Lucky us. I can say with confidence that thousands of other sports fans felt no differently.

In the years after, I saw Chris play many times. At one game, he saw me sitting a few rows behind him, wearing a red St. John's University sweatshirt. My Dad said "Anne, look!" Chris gave me a thumbs up. I have seen him with his wife Liz and their kids at Christmas Mass.  And, on January 12, 2012, I was at Oracle Arena with my dad for the retirement of his jersey. In theory, I had so many angles from which to launch a question or share a story. However, his hour plus Q &A with Tom Tolbert filled my cup. He told so many personal stories, he spoke with such authenticity that I wasn't sure I needed to make a personal connection beyond what has already transpired. That upshot from that evening is my next post.

However, at the end of the night, I turned to Kevin and said "let's go up and shake his hand." Again, I had no nervous energy or anticipation. I had no need to find an angle or seek a story. I guess I just wanted to say "thank you."

We waited in a short line and when the time came, I asked Mully for a photo. I noticed that his shirt remained untucked. I turned to him and said "Do you still go to Valley Medlyn's for breakfast?" I have no idea why I said that other than I love one of their egg specials and had read years ago he was a regular. I don't know where one expects the conversation to go from there....but it did. 

I told Chris that I have taught about Manute Bol for years. He had spent a good portion of the evening talking about their friendship, so I was happy to share the impact Bol's life story has on young people. Kevin told him that I teach a course called Sports and Spirituality and he said "Where? That sounds great!." I then asked him if people really call him "Chalk." He said emphatically "that's what Manute called me!" I wanted to tell him that I thought it was hilarious that Mark Jackson once said "he is the whitest black man in the NBA" but others were waiting. To write about our conversation here feels disjointed and strange. However, I left it feeling like I had spent time with an old friend.

It can be strange for sports fans to meet their heroes, their favorites for an imbalance naturally characterizes the encounter. We know about their passions and joys, their struggles and their faults. We know what gets them out of bed in the morning....and yet, we don't. 
To meet a person you've "known" your whole life can't help but be disappointing...that is, until it is not. And in this example, I give all the credit to Chris Mullin. His authenticity—a byproduct of the tremendous interior work he has done break the selfishness of addiction, to maintain sobriety and continually give it over to God—has allowed people like everyday fan, a teacher, a coach to share what we know with gratitude and the small hope that maybe we can give back just a tiny fraction of all the joy they have given to us. I'd like to think THAT is what made this evening so special.

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