It could be argued that he was the greatest player ever to come out of New York City, the one player who went from being "Mr. Basketball" in New York, to a star at St. John's and then into a five-time NBA All-Star.
And now, St. John's head coach Chris Mullin must convince the area's top talent to follow the same path he did and to stay home and play for the Red Storm.
Mullin inherits a St. John's team that likely won't be very good next year, at least on paper. The program loses D'Angelo Harrison, it's leading scorer and the top recruit ever hauled in by Lavin. It doesn't have much depth and lacks a premier scorer. But it isn't about the upcoming season that should be Mullin's concern, it should be rebuilding a pipeline from the five boroughs to St. John's that has been sporadic since he left the program 30 years ago.
He is royalty on campus, the key cog in a St. John's team that from 1981 to 1985 made the NCAA Tournament four times, with their Final Four team in 1985 representing the program's best ever season. But more than just a basketball player, he was a local boy on a team full of local boys. From Brooklyn, Mullin was a city kid who grew up honing his game on the blacktop, much like teammate Mark Jackson, another kid from Brooklyn who was a part of those storied Johnnie's teams and who also went on to play in the NBA. Others from the area followed these pied pipers to create a team filled with tristate area kids competing on the national level.
The charge for Mullin is going to not only build a winner at at a school whose sense of basketball self is overly inflated, but to build a program on the same principles that saw the Red Storm put together great teams in the 80s and even into the 90s.
According to Rivals.com, eight of the nation's top 150 players in this year's class are in the Red Storm's backyard, that recruiting turf being North Jersey as well as the outer-lying areas in and around New York City. Seven of those eight players have committed to programs outside the region with only Cheick Diallo, a five-star forward out of Centereach, New York still on the market (and holding a St. John's offer). Up until last week, Diallo wasn't thought to be seriously considering St. John's.
Mullin could have no better start to his St. John's career than to land Diallo, a player who would change the perception surrounding St. John's with his verbal. But more than being a star – and this program has recruited decently on a national level the past few years - Diallo is also a local boy and if St. John's is going to have a renaissance, they need to keep the local talent at home.
This is something that their new head coach can speak about and should speak about.
There hasn't been a prominent blue chip player from the city that has stayed home and played for the Red Storm since Lavin hauled in Maurice Harkless in 2011. Since then, there have been some top recruits that have come into St. John's but never that marquee athlete from New York City to pave the way and be the lead recruiter in a class. There's a magic, a certain power to playing for St. John's at Madison Square Garden. Getting that one star to stay home and play in the "World's Most Famous Arena" should be the top of priorities for Mullin.
It will be the same sales pitch that Mullin received more than three decades ago when he bought into the dream of staying home to build a winner.