Ironically, Chaney's respect for Nevitt as a player has meant less action for him during so-called "garbage time" at the end of lopsided games. The coach will sometimes resist the chants of "Nevitt, Nevitt" because he doesn't want the crowd or Chuck to think he's a garbage player. Consequently, in a nine-game stretch from Dec. 27 to Jan. 16, Nevitt collected seven DNPs (did not plays). In the other two games he played a grand total of five seconds. He came into a game in the last second with the 76ers trailing by two to block the inbounds pass from 6'11" Mike Gminski, and he did such a good job that Gminski was forced to get the ball to Hersey Hawkins out in three-point range; unfortunately for the Rockets, Hawkins's shot was good. In a game against San Antonio, Nevitt came in for the last four seconds of the Rockets' overtime victory after Olajuwon and McCormick had fouled out. After the game Nevitt accepted the hearty congratulations of his teammates. "Way to go, Chuck," said one Rocket. "You didn't screw up."
"I don't think I'll ever be a regular in the NBA," Nevitt says, "but I do think I can play 15 minutes a night. When I was with the Pistons, there was one stretch when I played a lot. In one game against the Knicks, I scored 12 points, and the best part was when they had to replace Bill Cartwright because I was doing so well. At least I think that's why they took him out. I still dream about being a star someday, but what the hey. I can at least say I dunked on Bill Cartwright. And I once blocked a shot by Dr. J."
The real Dream, Olajuwon, is perhaps Nevitt's biggest fan. "He is one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet," says Olajuwon. "Every day is a good day when he is around. I think the crowd sees that; I think that's why they love him so. I'll tell you something else. He can play. He gives me more trouble in practice than any center."
The two of them, Olajuwon and Nevitt, have little ritual one-on-one games during warmups. The first one to five wins, and the loser has to wait on the winner in the intervening minutes before a game—bringing him a towel or water. Nevitt has won only a few times, but that's because Olajuwon is so proud he can't bear to lose. The other day Nevitt had the ball with a 4-3 lead, when Akeem announced they had to get inside for a nonexistent meeting.
Olajuwon, as captain, meets with the referees at center court before every game, and lately he has been taking Nevitt with him. "What are you doing here, Chuck?" the head ref will ask him. "I'm here to translate for Akeem," says the honorary co-captain. This in itself is funny because Olajuwon, who is from Nigeria, speaks perfectly good English.
"Chuck's just a good guy to have on your ball club," says Patterson. "When I picked him up before the season started, I kidded him that I had to because it was the only way I could get back the money he owed me for wrecking my car a few years ago—the car I lent him skidded in the rain at a stop sign. He and I were so friendly even back then that the players called him Ray Junior. But he's that way with everybody. One of the things I like best about him is the way he handles his height. You know, a lot of big guys resent the public, but Chuck is very comfortable with himself. I have to give his folks a lot of credit for that."
Nevitt grew up in Marietta, Ga., the son of John Nevitt, a 6'7" engineering professor, and Marcia, a 6-foot registered nurse. Chuck's older sister, Lynne, is 6'3", and his two older brothers, Jack and Steve, grew to 6'7" and 6'8", respectively. "I pretty much knew I wasn't adopted," says Chuck.
The Nevitts still have a detailed growth chart on one of the walls in their home, and Chuck also keeps his own miniature chart in his wallet. He hit 6 feet at the age of 13, and from Feb. 26, 1974, when he was 14, to March 6, 1976, he shot up from 6'2¼" to 6'10¼". Says John, now in his last year of teaching at Southern Tech, "When Chuck was about six feet tall, he was having such bad growing pains that we sent him to an orthopedist, and he told us that Chuck was going to be over seven feet tall." Because of the growing pains, Chuck never did play much basketball as a youngster, though Lynne was a basketball star at Memphis State and Jack played at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala.
"They might have gotten their height from me," says John, "but they sure didn't get their basketball ability from me. I played at Lehigh, but I was pretty bad." As for the Nevitt children's pride in their height, John credits his wife. "She always told them that being tall was a gift and not something to be ashamed of, and that they should hold their heads up high."
While Chuck had to put basketball on hold, he was honing his joke-telling skills. "He was kind of shy at home," says his mother, who is now retired. "So it came as something of a surprise when a woman I worked with told me that her child said Chuck always kept everybody laughing on the school bus."