Chris Mullin still cherishes his memories growing up playing CYO basketball in the gym at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Brooklyn.
“I used to sneak up to that gym all the time,” the brand new St. John’s men’s basketball coach recalled in accepting the John V. Mara Sportsman of the Year Award at the 79th Club of Champions Tribute June 4 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Manhattan. The dinner, attended by 550 guests, raised $450,000 for CYO programs.
“We had that nice green tile floor. I’m paying for it now in tendonitis,” he quipped. “But nonetheless, that was our Madison Square Garden, our safe haven. And that’s where it all started for me. And it’s incredible how CYO inspired me and gave me so many values that I use today.”
It has been both a homecoming and a whirlwind, acknowledged the New York basketball legend since he was named to his alma mater’s top basketball job March 31. Mullin is the most decorated player in St. John’s history, with 2,440 career points from 1981 to 1985. He led the Johnnies to four straight NCAA tournaments, was a two-time All-American, Big East Player of the Year three times. He is one of only three players to win the Haggerty Award three times, an honor bestowed upon the best collegiate player in New York City. He also was a member of both the 1984 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympics team and the 1992 gold-winning “Dream Team.” He enjoyed a long career in the NBA as both a player with the Golden State Warriors, 1985-1997, 2000-2001, and the Indiana Pacers, 2000-2001. When he retired as a player, the Warriors retired his number 17 jersey.
Mullin also worked in management for the Warriors and the Sacramento Kings, and was an NBA analyst for ESPN.
“It’s been busy, but a good busy. And it’s nice to be back in New York City and see a lot of old friends and family. And the support and the energy’s been great, so I’ve enjoyed it,” he told CNY in an interview prior to the award ceremony.
Also honored at the dinner were Raymond Quartararo, head of Global Construction for JP Morgan Chase and a long time supporter of CYO, and Jeanne Mullgrav, executive vice-president of Capalino & Company and a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development. Quartararo received the Gold Medal while Ms. Mullgrav was awarded the Terence Cardinal Cooke Humanitarian Award.
In accepting his award, Quartararo noted the role CYO plays in the life of New York youth.
“I’m flattered to have been considered for it and certainly to receive it from Cardinal Dolan is a wonderful honor,” he told CNY prior to the dinner. “CYO is a wonderful program that I think is a way to really change youth in the city, so I’m thrilled and honored to be part of it. I think, given the way the world has changed around us, it’s one of the organizations we can really count on to help build character with our kids. I’ve been happy to be part of it.”
In accepting the Cardinal Cooke Humanitarian Award, Ms. Mullgrav also said CYO programs were invaluable in imparting life skills that lead to focused, productive, adult lives.
“CYO programs help young people develop the skills and attributes that we know from experience, and more recently from scientific studies, foster resilience throughout their lives,” she said. “From developing a set of core beliefs to finding meaning in stressful and challenging events, to learning from mentors and coaches, to discovering personal strengths from stepping outside their comfort zone, CYO participants gain invaluable life lessons, both on and off the field.”
And in his comments, Cardinal Dolan was able to point to two prominent New Yorkers who gained from their exposure to CYO programs, even though neither one of them was Catholic. The cardinal recounted a conversation he had with Mets owner Fred Wilpon at a recent game at Citi Field. Wilpon told him how much CYO programs had benefited him, a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn, and his friend Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Fame former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher.
“These are two extremely prominent sports figures who point to a priest and a parish and CYO as one of the more formative experiences in their lives,” said Cardinal Dolan.
“Is it any wonder that we are so proud and exuberant in supporting this noble cause? Is it any wonder we would honor Jeanne and Chris and Raymond for so illuminating and exemplifying the noble values for which this organization stands?”