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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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They waived him seven weeks later, but they wanted him around to keep Abdul-Jabbar sharp, and in case of emergency, so he was given a job in the public relations office. "Basically, what Chuck did was get things off the top shelf for me," says Laker p.r. director Josh Rosenfeld. Nevitt also made appearances in shopping malls, helping to sell Laker tickets. Who could resist buying a seat from a 7'5" ticket seller?

During this period Nevitt tried out for a part in Back to School, the movie comedy starring Rodney Dangerfield. Actually, it was Dangerfield himself who suggested Nevitt be tested for a scene inside, ironically, a big men's clothing store owned by the Dangerfield character. Chuck did not get the part. But then, he was used to being cut.

Even though he wasn't playing, Nevitt had some memorable practices with the Lakers. Once, he nailed Mitch Kupchak, who was just coming back from a knee injury, in the nose with one of those pointy elbows. As Kupchak lay on his back in the trainer's room, Nevitt kept apologizing, "Mitch, I'm so sorry. Mitch, I'm so sorry." Says Kupchak, now the Lakers' assistant general manager, "My nose wasn't bothering me half as much as Chuck was. I finally told him to cut it out."

Nevitt was re-signed by the Lakers in March '85, when Jamaal Wilkes was hurt, and he stayed with the club right through the conference playoffs and the championship series. He actually played in seven playoff games, blocking six shots in just 37 minutes of playing time. So he earned his ring.

The Lakers waived him again the following November. "I guess it was decided he'd been given enough time to develop," says Kupchak. "I remember the day he was cut in Portland. Kurt Rambis and Ronnie Lester and some other guys and I went up to his room to make sure he was O.K. We went up there to cheer him up, and pretty soon he was the one cheering us up.

"But you know, maybe if he wasn't so nice, he'd be a better player. Sometimes I wanted him to get mad, get meaner. It's a double-edged sword. He's a good guy to have on a club because he's so nice, but his niceness makes him expendable."

The Pistons picked up Nevitt a week later. Before Chuck arrived, the Pistons were known as a divisive outfit. But his cheer-leading style soon caught on with both his teammates and the fans. "He'd push everyone to play harder," says Detroit's Rick Mahorn.

As for Nevitt's relationship with the fans, well, there were fan clubs, a write-in campaign for the NBA All-Star ballot and a popular Chuck Nevitt trivia contest on a Detroit radio station. Then there were the 12 pies Buddy's Pizza gave away for every one of his blocked shots. "They didn't lose an awful lot of money on me," says Nevitt. "I remember one time, going down to Buddy's for some publicity pictures. They photographed me making the pizzas and handing them out at the soup kitchen."

Nevitt reached new heights playing in Detroit. During the 1986-87 season he played in 17 straight games when Mahorn was out with a back injury, and in one of those games he scored his career-high 12 points in 20 minutes to lead the Pistons to a 122-111 victory over the Knicks. In one memorable sequence, he slam-dunked over Cartwright; then the next time down the floor, he brought the crowd to its feet with a 10-foot baseline skyhook.

The lowlight of Nevitt's career with the Pistons came during Game 2 of last year's NBA finals in L.A., and it was his own friendliness that got him in trouble. The CBS cameras caught him talking to comedian Billy Crystal during the game. "Billy just wanted to know a couple of nicknames of guys on the team," says Nevitt. "Like Toad for Rick Mahorn and Buddha for James Edwards. I didn't want to be rude." When coach Chuck Daly saw their exchange on the game film, he gave Nevitt a lecture. According to Daly, "I said, 'What are you doing? Giving him our game plan? You don't see me talking to Jack Nicholson. Pay attention.' " The funny thing is that usually nobody on the bench is more involved in the game than Nevitt.

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