NBA championship hopeful with a British connection

BT Sport's NBA columnist talks exclusively to Byron Mullens about life at the LA Clippers and his ambitions with Team GB.
  • Byron Mullens received his British passport in 2012.
    Mark Woods
    By  
    Last updated: 19 December 2013, 20:01 GMT

    He’s as British as, well, McDonald’s and Uncle Sam. But Byron Mullens has an affinity with the UK that stretches back to his infancy in Columbus, Ohio, when his mother Barbara would recount tales of her own childhood, half-a-continent and an ocean away on the fringes of London.

    His grandfather Bob was stationed at the US Air Force base in Middlesex and it was here where his daughter spent the first seven years of her life before the family was called back to base in Virginia.

    “I can’t remember most of what she told me about growing up there,” says Mullens in an exclusive interview with BT Sport. “But she used to tell me about how it looked and the songs they would sing. One day, I want to take her back over there to reminisce over the good times. Hopefully we’ll get that chance.”

    Not until June at least, he prays. The Los Angeles Clippers have their sights set on the NBA Championship and the 24-year-old forward is among the building blocks assembled to construct what they hope will be a title-winning roster.

    Under Rivers, the LA Clippers have made a steady and occasionally spectacular start to the NBA season.

    Under Rivers, the LA Clippers have made a steady and occasionally spectacular start to the NBA season.

    He joined last summer from the Charlotte Bobcats, signing a two-season deal worth $1 million a year. A huge step up in ambition and goals set by a club whose expensive investment in head coach Doc Rivers was undertaken to win today, not tomorrow.

    It was a change of direction Mullens relished. “It’s awesome,” he proclaims. “These guys are great. There’s no pressure at all here. But there is expectation. That’s great. It’s good to be here in a better situation.”

    Some NBA players have floated on a cloud of privilege since their early teens, lifted by their talents beyond the harsh sides of real life. The Clippers’ big man worked as a plumber to pay his way through high school and then witnessed the dark recesses of society at first hand, spending his summers behind bars, not as an inmate but as a team-mate of the prisoners of Ross Correctional Institution in Ohio, a medium-security facility which doubled as his neighbourhood practice court.

    Over two thousand would gather in the prison gym to see the unusual guest star.

    “What surprised me most,” Mullens states, “was how good these guys are."

    With a taste for the unconventional, he now has his eyes fixed on an alternative summer job. In 2012, his British passport arrived in the mail, sparking a frenetic but ultimately fruitless courtship to recruit him for Great Britain’s Olympic squad.

    He was in, then out. Confusion reigned when he was taking part in a training game in Charlotte on the same day his no-show for London was announced.

    There was no misdirection, Mullens affirms. “I had a toe injury in April that year. It really messed everything up about the Olympics. It sucked not going there. But it was better for me. My son was born in August so there was no chance of me missing that.”

    It’s like any other job really. You go to another city. You’ve got to get your rest and then go and get your job done. It’s a business trip. Nothing more than that."

    LA Clippers | Byron Mullens

    With his move to the Clippers in the works, he also passed on this past summer’s EuroBasket finals. 2014’s qualification campaign, he hints, may be a different tale after a recent discussion with GB coach Joe Prunty. “The question’s in the air. I talked to Joe. I’ll need to talk to my family as well.”

    It could yet bring him back to Middlesex, or other stops unknown. “It’s a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and experience something different,” he adds. “To get out and see the world.”

    Better that than the relentless schedule of the NBA, jetting from east to west on a near-daily basis, losing track of time zones and destinations. Even on Christmas Day, the Clippers will be at work, one of ten teams in action on a seasonal slate. The private planes help. The five-star hotels and personal chefs.

    "Glamour? Forget it," Mullens laughs.

    ”It’s like any other job really. You go to another city. You’ve got to get your rest and then go and get your job done. It’s a business trip. Nothing more than that.”

    The Clippers, now emerged firmly from the shadows of the Lakers, have serious intent. Under Rivers, their start to the NBA season has been frequently steady and occasionally spectacular.

    With All Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as the pillars, the other pieces of the puzzle are slowly being fitted into place to be ready to challenge the likes of the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder come the springtime.

    The project, with its inevitable blips, has occasionally tested Rivers, who led the Boston Celtics to the title before escaping for LA. “Every team is different,” he underlines. “Some teams get it right away. For others, it takes a while. There’s no rhyme nor reason for it.

    Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the pillars that the LA Clippers have been built around.

    Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the pillars that the LA Clippers have been built around.

    “You know when you got it, I can tell you that. But you also know when you don’t. It just takes time. From a coach’s perspective, you have to be really patient. As long as you think there’s improvement, that’s all you want.”

    Mullens hopes for the latter and counts that he will have a part to play. On the side of the Pacific Ocean, he wants to create a high-flying story of his own.

    “That’s the goal,” he says. “But that’s everybody’s goal. So we’ll see.”

    ON THE UP:  Oklahoma City have won seven straight game and with Russell Westbrook arguably better than ever, the Thunder increasingly look like the West’s team to beat.

    ON THE DOWN: The Philadelphia 76ers had a miraculous start to the season to confound those who expected them to be the NBA’s worst. It was only a matter of time before the reality check arrived. Seven consecutive losses for the Sixers and the natural order is restored.

    COMING UP: Once the mince pies are scoffed, settle back for three NBA games on Christmas Day on BT Sport 1, starting at 5pm with Luol Deng’s Chicago Bulls against the London-bound Brooklyn Nets, followed by the New York Knicks v Oklahoma City (7.30pm) and the LA Lakers at the Miami Heat (10pm).\

    Mark Woods
    By  
    Last updated: 22 April 2014, 13:56 BST

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