Corey Randall McMullen (1962-1987) died from Leukemia at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial hospital while watching a Lakers/Celtics NBA Championship basketball game with me and my dad in June of 1987. I saw my older brother take his last breath. I was 21 years old and I will never forget the tear that fell down Corey’s face as he took his last breath. It was as if he knew he could not fight anymore, and he would be with his Savior soon. One minute we were watching the game, I remember Corey shouting about a missed Laker lay-up. We hated the Boston Celtics…Still Do! We love the Los Angeles Lakers and Corey’s former teammate from Arizona State University, where he played basketball for two years, Byron Scott was playing and Corey was rooting for him. Corey told me he felt like he was going to pass out. Minutes later he took his last breath. My hero was gone forever.
One week before Corey died, I was at his house the day the doctors gave him very bad news. Nothing had worked, his cancer was getting worse and time was short. I remember this moment as if it were yesterday. Corey was in his bedroom, and me and my mom and dad were visiting him. While my mom cooked him dinner, I had a brief moment alone with my brother. We were not a very touchy family so I really don’t know where I got the strength or courage to just hold him in my arms for what seemed like an eternity that afternoon. I will never forget the feeling I had as I told him over and over and over and over how much I loved him as I just rocked my older brother in my arms. We both cried as we held onto each other. My words were flowing with the tears and I became bolder and bolder as I told Corey how much I loved him and that I would never forget him. I told him as I held him as tight as I could that I would dedicate my entire basketball career to him and play in his memory. As he heard my words, his crying became deeper as he cried into my shoulder while I cried into his. Not having many moments like this our entire lives, I didn’t want to let go of my brother. It was a very special moment, one I will never forget.
I wanted to give Corey something meaningful, a word of encouragement to perhaps give him hope, or make him feel a little better. Or maybe I was trying to make myself feel better. I still had hope. Hope that God would answer my billionth prayer for Corey. Hope that someday we would all look back at this time and be thankful for God’s deliverance. The bible says that even faith as small as a mustard seed can tell a mountain to move and it will. Well, my faith was at least as big as a mustard seed and I was convinced that God was going to heal my big brother. During that long embrace with Corey, I felt a change in my hope. I felt like maybe this really was goodbye. I felt closer to Corey that moment than at any other moment in my life.
One of Corey’s roommates came into the room unexpected and the moment was over. We quickly pulled ourselves together, wiped away our tears and then acted like nothing significant was happening… typical male machismo. Nothing could have been further from the truth. It was one of the most significant moments in my life. I made a promise to my brother that day. A promise I will never forget.
Corey was an amazing person. My big brother! My hero! His life was a big inspiration to me. I liked whatever he liked. I did whatever he did. He played basketball, so I played basketball. Corey’s number at ASU was #52, so my number was #52. I remember he was in College and I was a freshman in High School when he got a perm (permanent… really tight, curly hair). He looked really cool so of course I wanted one too. I begged my mom to let me do it and she finally gave in. Well, as a tall, super skinny and lanky dork, that huge perm on top of my head made me look like a pencil or a carrot-top (both quickly became unflattering nicknames by my friends). I looked ridiculous! I was made fun of the entire time that chemical kept my hair tightly curled. I thought it was so cool! I looked like my big brother, life was good. Corey went to Point Loma Nazarene College, so I went to Point Loma too. Corey transferred to College of the Canyons C.O.C. (junior college), so I transferred to C.O.C. too. Corey went to ASU, well if they had recruited me I might have gone there too. Corey wind-surfed and wore Vans, so I did too. Corey was a major influence in my life. He paved the way and earned a full-ride basketball scholarship to a major university, thus showing me the way, which I followed.
Two years after he died, my promise to Corey became rather well known during my senior year playing basketball at San Diego State University. An Associated Press reporter did a story on me and my promise to Corey, and it hit just about every major newspaper in the United States. It was the most nationally publicized story ever written about me and I became recognized as the player with a cause. I was playing for my brother. Corey was getting press and I was happy. I figured that as long as people were talking about him, he was still alive. His memory was alive. And to remember my brother, believe me, is a blessing because his life was a blessing. He was like an angel. So when my basketball career finally ended in France due to my own health related reasons (cardiomyopathy), my promise to my brother did not end. I put his picture on the side of every bag of coffee, and the Corey McMullen Leukemia Fund is still alive and well today. Thousands of kitchens have a photo of Corey and every year when we are nominated for the Los Angeles Leukemia and Lymphoma Societies Man of the Year, (winner in 2002 and 2007) Corey is remembered, and when he is remembered, I feel good.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY COREY!!!!!!!!!!! I MISS YOU BIG BRO!!!!!! LONG LIVE #52!!!!!!