Someday in the future, Kim Mulkey’s phone will ring, and the voice on the other end will belong to a representative from the Basketball Hall of Fame. That person will then pass along the news that Mulkey has been waved through into the most exclusive club in hoops.
Now, Mulkey is not a person who has done a lot of clubbing — “I’ve never had a drink in my life,” she reminded media members following Baylor’s Big 12-clinching win over Texas on Monday night. But this particular call will offer reason to party, booze or no booze.
It’s inevitable. Mulkey is a no-doubt Hall of Famer. So, why wait? Her time has come.
Look, I get it. There exists a waiting room on these deals. I’m on the selection committee for both the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, and I can tell you that it takes time. There are so many worthy candidates, and each voter has his or her own opinions on how to rank them. You can’t put them all in at once.
But Mulkey isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. Her inclusion should be a no-brainer.
John McClain, longtime NFL writer for the Houston Chronicle, serves on the Texas Sports Hall of Fame committee with me. He also is a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He said that when sifting through the candidates for Canton, that committee will ask the question, “Can you write the history of pro football without this person?”
Well, then, can you write the history of basketball without Mulkey? Sure, if you’re writing half the book. A half devoted only to the men’s game. But the Basketball Hall of Fame also rightfully honors women’s hoops. And Mulkey deserves her own chapter in the history of the women’s game.
Long before the World Wide Web came along, Mulkey owned a monopoly on Ws. She remains the only person in history to have won a college basketball national championship as a player, assistant coach and a head coach. Not the only woman — the only person. (Two others, Bobby Knight and Dean Smith, have titles as both player and head coach. Naturally, their plaques already hang in Springfield, Mass.)
Mulkey won in high school, she won in college at Louisiana Tech, she won as an Olympian, she won as a Lady Techster assistant, and she’s won like crazy as head coach of the Lady Bears. Over the past 20 years, she has turned the once-competitive Big 12 into the Baylor Invitational. Music mogul DJ Khaled says all he does is win, but he can’t match Mulkey.
I did the math, and it’s staggering, especially for someone like me, who is more partial to words. Mulkey’s lifetime won-loss record, as a player and coach, is 1,097 wins and 171 losses, with four state high school championships, one AIAW national title, four NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal. She has won nearly 87 percent of the games in which she’s ever been involved.
No wonder she doesn’t like to lose. It’s uncomfortable, unfamiliar territory.
Now, I’ve had my run-ins in the past with Mulkey, as a former beat writer for the Lady Bears and current sports editor of the paper. Kim can be demanding and tough on the press. But I’m not petty. When it comes to the question of Kim’s Hall of Fame worthiness, there is absolutely no question. She’s a lock.
Beyond the numbers, here are the three things I most admire about Mulkey:
She is deeply passionate
That passion shows in her sideline histrionics, whether she’s throwing a jacket or incredulously reacting to a call or artfully conducting the crowd’s cheers, like an orchestra maestro.
Yet I can promise you — Kim doesn’t turn it off when the game ends. Her passion drives her in everything she does. She speaks her heart, and doesn’t mince words. That particular tack has occasionally led her into trouble, be it violating NCAA guidelines by criticizing the tournament selection committee to imploring Baylor fans who encounter people refusing to send their daughters to Baylor to “knock them right in the face.” (She apologized in both instances.)
More often, Mulkey’s passion shows people who are close to her how much she cares. She challenges and pushes her players, but they know she has their best interests at heart. She is a devoted mother to Makenzie and Kramer. You can say a lot of things about Kim, but you’d never describe her as apathetic.
The woman cares.
She is fiercely loyal
She is loyal to Baylor. She is loyal to her family. She is loyal to her players and coaches.
At various points in her career, Mulkey could have easily departed and had her pick of plum coaching jobs around the country. After Baylor won its first national title in 2005, in the wake of the men’s basketball scandal that resulted in Carlton Dotson killing teammate Patrick Dennehy, Mulkey could have cut and run. She didn’t have to stay, especially when she knew that her staff may have to work harder in recruiting.
But she hasn’t even flirted with leaving. Her name doesn’t pop up in rumors. It’s not in her makeup to run — hence the title of her autobiography, “Won’t Back Down.”
She is a kook
OK, don’t misunderstand. I mean that in the most lighthearted way possible.
Mulkey owns a terrific sense of humor. Kim’s comedy stylings can show up in the manner of a quick-witted quip or even in a well-conceived prank. (She once involved Baylor Bear Insider editor Jerry Hill and me in a prank against her former longtime sports information director Julie Bennett, as we alternately called Julie to check on a “rumor” that Kim was leaving to take a men’s coaching job. She wasn’t.)
Of course, I’ve been on the butt end of Kim’s jokes a time or three. I did get her back once, though. Once, Mulkey missed an NCAA tournament game after a nasty bout with a kidney stone. I let a few days pass, and then asked her, “Kim, I thought as an old point guard that you could pass the rock?”
“Now, Briiiiiiice,” she said, letting the Southern Louisiana drawl linger. “I’ve given birth! It’s worse than giving birth!”
It was on assignment covering the Lady Bears that I made my own pilgrimage to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. (God bless Doctor Jimmy Naismith.) The Lady Bears had a game against UConn in Hartford, Conn., and I realized that Springfield, Mass., was only a short 28-minute drive away. Jerry Hill joined me, and we spent several hours soaking up the basketball bliss.
Of course, we went as patrons. Soon enough, Mulkey will enter the Hall as an inductee.
She’s currently a finalist, along with Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Rudy Tomjanovich and others. It’s the second straight year that Mulkey has made the ballot. The new class will be announced March 31 at the men’s Final Four.
It would be a shame if Mulkey had to wait another year.