SAN FRANCISCO -- Two hours before the Warriors' latest loss, organizational luminaries Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin stood in a dark corner just inside the Gatehouse adjoining Chase Center.
Seconds later -- as they'd done hundreds of times before -- they came out one by one to a screaming crowd as host Greg Papa announced each by name, creating all the makings of an on-court reunion. Except it wasn't, with athletic sneakers being replaced by orthopedic soles and a microphone in place of a basketball, the legendary triumvirate began their first of four appearances on NBC Sports Bay Area this season.
"Always look forward to it," Hardaway admitted. "You know being with my guys, hanging out with them. Talking to them is just a magical moment."
As the fans surrounding them Wednesday night already know, the trio's "Run TMC" era was more known for what could've been than the end result: A core broken before its promise was met.
Seeds of Wednesday's reunion were planted more than 30 years go when Golden State picked Mullin No. 7 overall in the 1985 NBA Draft. Three years later, after the Warriors and Mullin flirted with the idea of trading the wing to the Knicks, Golden State drafted Richmond, a burly guard from Kansas State, who led the Wildcats to the 1988 Elite Eight. A year later, Hardaway -- known for his "UTEP Two-step" crossover -- was drafted to complete the trio.
Following a 37-45 first year together, a buzz began to grow around the Bay Area. To capitalize on the attention, the San Francisco Examiner sponsored a contest to name the newly christened big three. After more than 1,500 entries -- including Joint Chiefs of Stats; Blood Thirsty Gym Rats from Hell; Heat, Meat and Sweet -- a handful of names were presented to the backcourt, who picked "Run TMC", an ode to the multiplatinum Queens-based rap group Run DMC.
"You know back then it wasn't email," Mullin remembered. "They actually wrote it down and stuck it in a ballot box. And pick one out, threw away a few. We all agreed on it. It's kind of incredible how it stuck, but it was pretty cool."
Over the next six months, the group would help the Warriors build one of the most prolific offenses of all-time. In 82 games, Golden State averaged 116.6 points per contest as Richmond, Mullin and Hardaway accounted 72.5 points per game. Each player ranked in the top 20 in scoring, helping the Warriors win 44 games, securing a playoff berth as the No. 7 seed. For context on the advanced offense, the trio's scoring averaged wasn't surpassed until 2017, when Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry averaged 72.7 points per game.
In their first game of the 1991 season, the Warriors scored a league-record 162 points, beating the Denver Nuggets by four in the highest-scoring regulation game in NBA history. The key to the offense was coach Don Nelson, whose wide-open system gave the league a change of pace from the rugged style of the early 90s.
"They were a dynamic scoring trio," Warriors coach Steve Kerr remembered. "If you remember the league at that time it had gotten really physical and everybody was betting the hell out of each other and you had these three guys on the West Coast who were running around having a really good time."
The strategy worked in the first round of the NBA playoffs when the Dubs knocked off the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs in five games. But they may have cultivated their own demise a week later when they invited Run DMC on the team bus to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena ahead of Game 3 of Western Conference finals against the Lakers. Days removed from a Game 2 road win at the Forum, the Queens-based group announced the Warriors starting lineup as Magic Johnson, James Worthy and the rest of the Lakers seethed on the other end of the court.
"Everybody was excited and how can we match up that hype? You know, Run TMC, let's do Run DMC, you know what I mean?" Mullin said. "So it was a perfect fit on a not a perfect night. Not at all."
The Lakers placed Johnson on Hardaway and Worthy on Mullin, who hit just 4-of-14 shots from the field after scoring 41 in Game 2. The Warriors hit just one field goal over the final 5:50 in the third quarter, as the Lakers won 115-112, taking control of a series they'd eventually win in five games. The loss was black marked by a pregame show -- like the team -- that belonged in a different era.
"Think about that man," Mullin said Wednesday. "That was ahead of its time. Now rappers are at all the games, right? So that might've pissed off the Lakers, but looking back ..."
"That's how it all started," Richmond chimed in.
Five months later, any future plans for progression imploded when Nelson traded Richmond to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for 6-foot-9 power forward Billy Owens, the third pick in the 1991 NBA Draft. The move was a result of friction between Richmond and Nelson, coupled with the league-wide assumption that a championship could not be won without a formidable frontcourt presence. It left the team in shock.
"I didn't feel that that time," Richmond said. "It was a lot of sh-t going on. I was numb."
"It was kind of tough to deal with when he got traded," Hardaway added. "That was like the beginning to the end. That was our brother, that was our family, you know, and he's getting traded away from us. You're not going to see me not hang out with him. We had a heck of a team, but it was just, it was just a void."
In the short term, the move helped Golden State. The Warriors won 55 games a year later, as Owens earned All-Rookie honors after averaging nearly 15 points per game. However, over the next 15 years, Golden State only reached the postseason once, becoming one of the worst organizations in professional sports.
"We had so much success in the years that we played together and usually when you have success with a unit like that, you tend to stick them together," Richmond said. "And so our short period of time together, we always get together and say, "What if? What if that happened?" So I know me going to Sacramento and not having these guys with me was a tough task."
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Late Wednesday night, the group's impact on Golden State lore was evident. Following the player introductions, each man slapped hands with fans, played pop-a-shot on live television and discussed the current iteration of the Warriors. But like each time they come back as one, a cloud remained of a destiny unfulfilled.
"It's fun to play the 'What if?' game, especially cause you're never going to know," Mullin said. "So like tonight we're going to say we would have won five champions to the right, no doubt about that. It'll leave you scratching your head. That's part of being in it, you know?"