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A Truly Tall Tale
Steve Wulf
November 07, 1994
This 1989 SI Classic took the measure of 7'5" Chuck Nevitt, the NBA's funniest 12th man
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November 07, 1994

A Truly Tall Tale

This 1989 SI Classic took the measure of 7'5" Chuck Nevitt, the NBA's funniest 12th man

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He didn't play much at Sprayberry High in Marietta, but his height interested a few schools, especially N.C. State, which was then coached by Norm Sloan. By the time Chuck entered college, he was 7'1" and 175 pounds, not much wider than a basketball stanchion. His Wolfpack career wasn't particularly notable—he didn't start until his senior year—but his car was. "I had given him my Ford Maverick," recalls Lynne, who now teaches English at Pope High in Marietta, "and he had taken out the front seat so that he could drive from the back. He also rigged up this microphone in the car, with a speaker on the roof. I seem to remember that he got in some trouble with the car, and Norm Sloan made him take it home." As Chuck recalls, "I lent the car to one of my teammates, and he made some impolite remarks over the speaker. Coach Sloan did make me get rid of it. One time, when I was driving my dad in the car, he picked up the microphone and said, 'What's this?' I told him, and he got a big kick out of telling cars to move out of the way."

Nevitt wasn't much of a student, either, at N.C. State, although he was an All-America partygoer. During his senior year he worked at a popular bar off campus as a sort of bouncer and ID checker. One night he and the bar's manager tried to liven up a Ladies' Night by performing an impromptu striptease onstage. Nevitt in Skivvies is quite a sight, and unbeknownst to him, his future bride was in the crowd that night. He didn't meet Sondra Childers, though, until a few weeks later, when he kept her ID so she would talk to him. "It was blackmail," she says.

One of the things that impressed Chuck about Sondra was her height. "My mother would never allow me to bring home a girl under 5'10"," he says. "I once dated a girl who was 5'3", and my mother lectured me on all the tall girls who were sitting home alone, waiting for someone taller to come along, and here I was, going out with a girl who was two feet shorter."

As a senior at N.C. State, Nevitt averaged 5.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and two blocked shots a game for coach Jim Valvano, but that's not what the NBA scouts noticed. Jack McCloskey, now the Pistons' general manager, recalls the first time he saw Nevitt in college. "I was scouting another player at an N.C. State game. During a timeout I always watch the huddle to see how the players relate to the coach. This guy in the back of the team was leaning way over, listening intently. I thought to myself, 'There's a dedicated player. He's standing on a chair and leaning over to hear his coach.' But when the huddle broke up, there was no chair. I couldn't believe it. He was so big."

The Rockets took Nevitt in the third round of the 1982 draft, and the only reason he went that high was because the player Patterson thought he was going to get in the third round had already been taken. So Patterson turned to assistant coach Carroll Dawson, the only one in the organization who was then high on Nevitt, and said, "You can have your big guy." But the Rockets decided Nevitt was too much of a project. So they placed him on waivers on Oct. 22, and he was claimed by Milwaukee. Six days later the Bucks gave up on him, and he was a waiver case again.

The Rockets gave Nevitt another chance and re-signed him as a free agent in June '83, but they waived him again in November. Nevitt spent the 1983-84 season playing for the Houston Flyers, an AAU team, in a downtown YMCA, supplementing his income by working at the King Size Company, a clothing store for big and tall men in Houston. Clovis Goodwill, who still works at the store, recalls that Nevitt was a pretty good salesman. "He did O.K.," says Goodwill. "He'd tell the customers these corny jokes, and if he had them laughing, I knew he had a sale. I didn't know he was back in Houston until I turned on the game the other night. I saw him and said, 'I sold clothes with that man.' The real shame of it was that nothing in the store fit Chuck." For the record, Nevitt has a 42-inch inseam, a 16-inch collar and a 41-inch sleeve. He also wears size 17 shoes, but that's almost small for someone his size. Most of his clothes are custom-made in Hong Kong, and there is a traveling tailor who services the big guys in the NBA.

Nevitt also had a hard time finding a team he could fit into. In 1984, with the help of an uncle in the printing business, he sent out publicity brochures on himself. On the cover was a picture of Nevitt blocking a shot by 7'4" Ralph Sampson, then at the University of Virginia. On the first inside page was this caption for the cover photo: "If you don't recognize No. 50, you don't follow pro basketball very closely. He's the incomparable Ralph Sampson. But how about the guy hovering over him, blocking the shot? Do you know him? After all, Sampson is 7'4". Not a lot of folks make him eat the ball."

The brochure actually intrigued a few clubs. At about this time Nevitt also got a new agent, Keith Glass, whose brother was a coworker of Chuck's mother-in-law in Raleigh, N.C. The Lakers invited Nevitt to camp. Things were looking up—even for Chuck.

But then came some tragic news. The closest of his siblings, older brother Steve, with whom Chuck had shared a bedroom, committed suicide at the age of 28. "Nobody really knows the reason," says Jack. "Steve was out of a job, living at home. He was the least athletic one of us. But you only see these things in retrospect. Under the circumstances, Chuck was a real comfort, even though he was hurting as much as any of us. He held up so well. He was like a tower of strength." Since Steve's death, Jack, a sales representative for Procter & Gamble, and Chuck have grown much closer.

After the funeral Chuck reported back to the Lakers. "I don't know if I was consciously trying to make the team to make up for Steve's loss, but I think I knew it was important subconsciously. I just didn't want to give the family any more bad news. I didn't want to have them hear that I was cut," he says. Coach Pat Riley gave Nevitt little chance of making the team at the beginning of camp, but working with assistant coach Bill Bertka, Chuck displayed a toughness nobody had seen before. The Lakers signed him as a free agent in September '84.

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