The writing was on the wall, anyway, because he had played in only 17 games all season. The Pistons did not invite Nevitt back.
One might have thought an expansion team would pick him up. But Carl Scheer, the Charlotte Hornets' vice-president and general manager, was quoted last July as saying, "Chuck Nevitt is the one guy our entire coaching staff says can't play." That hurt, especially because Nevitt would have liked to play near his off-season home in Raleigh. And Miami didn't want him either.
So he went to Italy last summer for an audition with the team in Forli. "I actually was playing pretty well over there," he says, "but they want their big Americans to score a lot, and I just wasn't used to doing that." He was sent home.
Glass, Nevitt's agent, also happens to represent Larry Brown, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, and Glass talked Brown into giving Chuck a shot. But Brown didn't feel that Nevitt would fit into the team's plans, so on Oct. 24, Nevitt made the waiver list for the sixth time. "I can't understand why more clubs don't want Chuck," says Glass, whose agency is called, interestingly enough, Glass and Father. "And I'm not just saying that because I'm his agent. I happen to be something of an expert on white centers. I have 43 feet of them: Blair Rasmussen, Mark Eaton, Mike Smrek, Stuart Gray, Greg Kite and Chuck. And I think Chuck is the best shooter of all of them."
Three days after the Spurs waived him, Nevitt got the call from his old mentor, Patterson. He would have to come back to the Rockets, in essence, as a sixth-year "rookie," and he would have to swallow a $125,000 salary. (Actually, the real hardship for Nevitt was giving up his seniority rights on flights; sometimes he has to fold his frame into coach scats when the Rockets can't get enough first-class space.)
Nevitt has surprised the Rockets, and not just with his playing ability. On the road in Portland earlier in the season, Chaney and trainer Ray Melchiorre were approached by a man who said he could improve players' hand-eye coordination by teaching them how to juggle. "Don and I were kind of intrigued," says Melchiorre, "so we told him that there's one guy on the team who would really benefit. We meant Chuck. Then, while we were fooling around with these bean-bags, throwing them all over the place, Chuck walked in. He picked up three of the beanbags and started juggling them like a pro. Well, there went that idea down the drain."
"Sure, I can juggle," says Nevitt. "Sometimes Sondra and I will be shopping in the supermarket, and I'll go into the frozen food section and juggle three tubs of Cool Whip. I can imagine housewives telling their husbands that night, 'Honey, you wouldn't believe what I saw in the supermarket today. A seven-foot-five guy juggling Cool Whip."
Nevitt is full of surprises like that. He jumps rope like Sugar Ray Leonard, and he loves to bicycle and to fly stunt kites. He is a wizard at electronics and carpentry. He recently assembled and stained a grandfather clock taller than he is. His musical tastes run to big bands, Nat King Cole and classical. "I drew Chuck's name for Christmas shopping this year," says his sister, Lynne. "So I asked him what he wanted. He told me he wanted an Itzhak Perlman tape. Blew me away. His interests have gotten so wide since he got out of school." Nevitt is even able to do a pretty fair impersonation of Lee Marvin singing Wandrin' Star, from Paint Your Wagon. It is, of course, a particularly apt song for him.
Now, at least, he's feeling at home in Houston. "I'm playing for the first coach who I think believes in me, with a great bunch of guys," he says. "I just hope I can contribute. I feel like a lucky guy." Talk about lucky. A few weeks ago a thief broke into the Nevitts' apartment, and among the items stolen was the championship ring. Nevitt figured he had lost it forever. But then an anonymous caller contacted the Rockets and asked how much he could get for the ring. The caller obviously did not work for Mission Control in Houston: He left his phone number, the police traced it, and the ring, along with a lot of other stolen merchandise, was recovered. And that's pretty much the way Chuck Nevitt's career seems to go. Gone today, here tomorrow.