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Mullin reminded of the hard stuff

Like Baker, he battled through tough time

He heard the news about Vin Baker and he had one reaction: happiness. "I can totally empathize," Chris Mullin said over the phone from Oakland, Calif., where he's helping run the Golden State Warriors. "But when I look back on my own experience, as tough as it was, it also became the beginning of my life. So I'm happy and kind of excited for him to see what lies ahead. Hopefully, everything will fall into place for him. It's good news."

Mullin does indeed have an insight into Baker's recent acknowledgement that he is an alcoholic. Like Baker, Mullin fought the disease for years through denial. Like Baker, he played well enough to be an NBA All-Star and, like Baker, he played long enough to lead the league in minutes. And, like Baker, he was finally forced to confront his demons and did so. He came out of it healthy, and played well enough to become a member of the US "Dream Team" at the 1992 Olympics, and one of the elite players of his time.

"For me, [alcohol] was as much a part of my upbringing as anything," Mullin said. "It was my neighborhood. It was a character trait. Or defect, really. I was being ruled by something else. I tell kids now that I was a pretty good basketball player and a pretty good drinker. But I had to give up one to be really good. Maybe some guys can do both. I couldn't."

And when he stopped drinking, he became a workout maniac, working with strength coach Mark Grabow to build a chiseled body that one could hardly have envisioned given the memory of the floppy-haired kid from St. John's who was the seventh pick in the 1985 draft. Mullin said he didn't take up gym work to fill the alcohol void.

"I always liked to work out," he said. "It's just a little bit hard when you're always coming in at 4 in the morning."

He said Baker already has taken the first, critical step: admitting his problem. The next step, Mullin said, will be to stay committed to the recovery and rehab program that has been put in place.

"That's important. You have to admit that you've got the problem," he said. "It's not everyone else. It's not the weather. That's not it. The only time you'll see change is when you take it on yourself.

"The priority is to put your life back together. The basketball will take its course."

Baker will turn 32 in November and has a lot of miles on the tires. It remains to be seen how effective he can be, although the picture of the slimmed-down Baker in the Globe last week was encouraging. But, Mullin insisted, "The timeline doesn't matter. It's a good day right now."

Mullin was only 24 when confronted by then-Warriors executive Don Nelson in December 1987. Mullin had missed two practices in a week. Nelson told Mullin it had to stop. It wasn't the first time Mullin had heard it; his family had expressed concern, and his father had alcohol problems until his death from cancer.

But this time, Mullin wasn't given an option. And, like Baker, he finally owned up to the situation. He was soon in Centinela Hospital in Los Angeles for treatment, missing seven weeks of the season, his third in the NBA.

"He had a huge influence on me," Mullin said of Nelson. "It took me a while [to admit it]. It really did. But when I got to the treatment facility, I was reading all the literature and I said, `Yup, that's me.' "

So, his advice to Baker is to stay the course, listen to his counselors, and let everything else fall into place. "He should see it this way: From now on, it's good news that's going to come."

'Cat call could come

This could be an interesting next few weeks for Celtics general manager Chris Wallace. He is on Charlotte boss Ed Tapscott's short list of candidates for the GM position with the expansion Bobcats. The Celtics have given their blessing to Wallace interviewing in Charlotte, and don't be surprised if he hears this week from Tapscott. The plan is for the new Charlotte general manager to be in place roughly by the start of the exhibition season. Tapscott, who was in Sweden watching the European Olympic qualifier, also plans to talk to Gary Brokaw, the Magic's former player personnel director, and Bernie Bickerstaff, the longtime NBA coach who also was the Nuggets' general manager for a spell and who most recently ran the WNBA's Charlotte Sting . . . Auf wiedersehen, Germany. Not even the presence of luminary Dirk Nowitzki was enough to get the Germans to Athens. Germany, which won the bronze medal at last year's World Championships, was bounced in the quarterfinals of the European qualifier, which is winding up today in Stockholm. Lithuania, France, Spain, and Italy reached the semifinals. One of those four will not make it to Athens. Pau Gasol has been the unquestioned star of the tournament. Lithuania, meanwhile, may make it even though its only NBA player is Darius "We Hardly Knew Ye" Songaila . . . Also not making it to Athens is Croatia, but we can't lay the blame on former Celtic Bruno Sundov. You may recall that Sundov left the Celtics' summer league team early to begin practicing with the national team. But when the games began, Sundov was nowhere to be seen. He had been kicked off the team, apparently for getting into a dustup with a teammate. He also was said to be unhappy with the Croatian coaching . . . Danny Manning, last seen riding the pine for Rick Carlisle's Pistons, has decided to retire after 14 years in the league. Manning was the No. 1 overall pick in 1988, but never quite became the automatic All-Star many thought he'd be. (Maybe three ACL tears had something to do with it.) He did appear in two All-Star Games (as a Clipper, no less), and won the Sixth Man Award in 1998 as a member of the Suns. In addition to Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Detroit, Manning also played for the Bucks, Jazz, and Mavericks. Manning will return to his alma mater, the University of Kansas, to work with head coach Bill Self and the players . . . Old Friend Dept.: Shammond Williams, who finished up last season in Denver, is on the Magic's training camp roster. And Kenny Anderson is, as of now, without a job. Anderson has resisted offers of the veteran minimum (Miami was interested) in hopes that some money is freed up somewhere (Indiana?). Anderson, who turns 33 next month, finished up last season playing for the Hornets.

Ex-Celtics are LA fans

Gee, wonder whom Larry Bird and Robert Parish are pulling for in the WNBA Finals. Big Bad Bill Laimbeer is coaching the Detroit Shock against the Los Angeles Sparks, coached by former Laker Michael Cooper. Hint: As long as Laimbeer is one side, Bird and the Chief are on the other. Laimbeer and Cooper went up against each other twice in the NBA Finals, with the Lakers prevailing in 1988 in seven games and the Pistons prevailing in a four-game sweep in 1989. The two were brought together by the NBA for a conference call last week and Laimbeer recalled, "The hardest part for us, as the Pistons, was getting past the Celtics. We matched up with the Lakers in the Finals. We had a bunch of young players who were very aggressive and very focused and very confident of themselves going up against a two-time defending champion. [The same situation exists in the WNBA Finals. The Sparks have won the last two titles.] We didn't really know any better except to bring our game and see who wins. Unfortunately, we lost in seven. We should have won, but, hey, that's life. But it was a great series, and the next year, once we figured out the Lakers, we swept them." It also didn't hurt the Pistons' cause that, in 1989, both Byron Scott (the entire series) and Magic Johnson (injured in Game 1) were unable to play. Cooper said he has fond memories of the Pistons-Lakers series, "but no fondness for him [Laimbeer]. But it is fun to look down there and see him once again. His uniform fit him better than his suit does." . . . Dikembe Mutombo is telling friends that he thinks he'll be traded to Toronto. There apparently is no love lost between him and Jersey head coach Scott, and the Nets showed last season they can win without Mutombo. Should a deal go down, it would spoil the reunion of Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, the duo who menaced the inside together at Georgetown. Mourning, who has battled a serious kidney disorder, looked like his usual sculpted self when he played last week in a charity game at Madison Square Garden. He revealed that one of the people he has spoken to for inspiration is Tour de France champ and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong . . . Nick Van Exel also appeared at the charity game and said he'd love to be reunited with Antonio McDyess in New York. The Warriors still have not brought in Van Exel for a public appearance since acquiring him last month. Maybe that's because the basketball staff wanted nothing to do with the deal that brought Van Exel in from Dallas for Antawn Jamison and others . . . The Kings are hoping that Peja Stojakovic, who sprained an ankle in the European qualifier, is OK. He was unable to go Wednesday, and his team, Serbia and Montenegro, was eliminated by Lithuania. However, the Serbs already had qualified for Athens by virtue of winning the world championship last year. Which makes you wonder: Why would Stojakovic even risk playing when his country already qualified? . . . One of the regulars at the Spurs' practice site has been newcomer Ron Mercer. And, for now, assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo likes what he sees. "He's in the gym every day along with Anthony Carter, and I think they're both going to help us," Carlesimo said. "I actually think we may have a more talented team this year, but I doubt we'll have the same chemistry. Everything came together for us last year from a chemistry standpoint." Carlesimo said he envisions Mercer coming off the bench and getting a lot of scoring opportunities from Tim Duncan. "Of all the players we got, I was the least enthusiastic about him because of all the stuff that happened in Indiana," he said. "But from what I've seen so far, he's been terrific. I'm impressed." Carlesimo also took time to reminisce about the retired Arvydas Sabonis; P.J. was Sabonis's first NBA coach, in Portland. "He was so skilled and he still wasn't anywhere near the player he had been 10 years before," he said. "We had a restriction on his minutes early on, and he was so good I came close to breaking it every game. I just loved the guy." . . . The Jazz had no luck in free agency this summer with Corey Maggette or Elton Brand. They now have targeted Atlanta's Jason Terry, a restricted free agent. The Hawks have 15 days to match Utah's offer, but Terry, in a radio interview, said he hoped Atlanta would let him go. "I'd like to start my career all over again," Terry said. "It's been tough this summer, sitting around and waiting for something to get done. They should have rewarded me. I put the time in."

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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