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Although their time was brief, 'Run TMC' continues to fascinate fans

Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway
Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway

Former Warriors, from left, Mitch Richmond,Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway played two seasons in Golden State together as the dynamic offensive triumvirate Run TMC, upsetting the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs in 1991.

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Published: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 10:47 p.m.

In the late 1980s, the Bay Area was a thriving sports scene. The San Francisco 49ers won back-to-back Super Bowls and the Oakland Athletics appeared in three consecutive World Series, winning one.

The 49ers had the market cornered on dominance, and the Athletics were putting on daily displays of power hitting and pitching perfection, but the market on cool for sports in the area was cornered by the Golden State Warriors.

Led by the high-scoring Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, nicknamed Run TMC in a reference to the rappers Run DMC, the Warriors set the basketball world on fire for two seasons.

Last week, the finalists for induction in the Hall of Fame were announced, with Richmond and Hardaway on the list of players who could join Mullin in receiving basketball's highest honor. Although it is unlikely that both Hardaway and Richmond will be enshrined this time around, the enduring nature of those Warriors teams is remarkable, given the short time they played together.

Mullin was the biggest star of the group, riding a spot on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, a sterling college career at St. John's and a prime in which he averaged more than 25 points a game in five consecutive seasons to the Hall in 2011. But his teammates are not exactly long shots. According to the statistic Hall of Fame Probability, calculated by Basketball-Reference.com using a complicated formula of statistics, position and player size, Richmond has a 65.8 percent chance of election, the fifth-highest total among eligible players not yet elected (the highest-ranked eligible player is Oakland native Gary Payton, also a finalist this year). Hardaway is not far behind Richmond at 56.2 percent.

More impressive than their individual accomplishments has been the lasting power of the group. To this day, you can buy Run TMC T-shirts online, basketball bloggers too young to have seen them play write glowing tributes, and YouTube is filled with highlight clips.

In all, the three players appeared in the same game only 148 times in the regular season, with a record of 72-76. They made the playoffs in their second season together, upsetting David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, then fell to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Despite the drastic improvement in their second season together, the Warriors blew up the team. They traded Richmond to the Sacramento Kings for Billy Owens, a rookie out of Syracuse who they thought could be the big man necessary to complete coach Don Nelson's vision of what a team should be. Richmond went on to six All-Star appearances for the Kings, but Owens played only three seasons for the Warriors, never making the impact the team had hoped.

As easy as it is to romanticize the Run TMC era, Warriors management was right that the team's structure was inherently flawed. Golden State had three fantastic offensive players, but even they could not put the ball through the hoop enough to make up for their defensive limitations.

In 1989-90, Hardaway's rookie season, the Warriors led the NBA in scoring. It took a while for Hardaway to get his scoring near the level of Mullin and Richmond, but in the 38th game of the season, a win over the Boston Celtics, all three exceeded 20 points in the same game for the first time. They did so 48 times over the two seasons, going 30-18 in those games.

In the first game of the 1990-91 season, a season in which the Warriors sold out every home game, Run TMC put on a show, scoring 162 points in a win over the Denver Nuggets. Typically, the team also allowed 158. It remains the highest-scoring regulation game in NBA history.

But the game that might have best encapsulated the Warriors' limitations was a loss to the Orlando Magic on Feb. 26, 1991. Mullin, Richmond and Hardaway each scored more than 30 points (the rest of the team combined for 21), but Golden State lost, 131-119.

Despite those flaws, the Warriors of Hardaway, Richmond and Mullin are still beloved among fans. Why their short time together endures will likely remain a mystery.

It could have been the contrast of the smooth Richmond, the pasty Mullin and the frenetic Richmond. It could have been the fast pace of the games that made people ignore the losses. It could simply have been the public's obsession with scoring.

Regardless, it was probably aided by their brief run and the “what might have been” aspect of their collaboration.

But more than 20 years since they last played together, Mullin, Richmond and Hardaway remain inextricably linked. And come April, they might all be reunited as Hall of Famers.

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