"How tall are you?"
"Do you play basketball?"
"Some people say I do, and some people say I don't."
And so it goes for Chuck Nevitt, oh, about 25 times a day. He answers every question about his height with uncommon civility, and he readily jokes about his playing abilities. He seems to like the view from up there, and he also seems grateful for his view from down there at the end of the Houston Rocket bench, even though he would like to work up a sweat during a game every so often.
Fans may giggle at first sight of his pipe-cleaner physique, but if they watch him cheer his teammates on, watch him highland low-five the ball boys, watch him listen intently to the coach during timeouts, watch him join the crowd in the Wave, they know that Chuck Nevitt is more than just the longest standing joke in the NBA. He is a genuine folk hero.
"I played with the 76ers," says Tim McCormick, the center who stands between Akeem Olajuwon and Nevitt on the Rockets' depth chart, "and Dr. J didn't get as much attention walking through airports as Chuck does." Indeed, when the visiting Rockets were introduced before a recent game against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Forum, Olajuwon was only first runner-up to Nevitt on the applause meter. Once upon a time Nevitt didn't play for the Lakers, and he has a championship ring to prove it.
When the Lakers were in Houston recently, the omnipresent Morganna ran onto the floor before the opening tip-off to give Kareem Abdul-Jabbar one of her famous kisses. Then, as she ran off the court, she stopped at the end of the Rocket bench to give Nevitt a buss. The fans went crazy, and no wonder. There, face-to-face—well, sort of—were two of anatomy's greatest wonders, one of them horizontal, the other vertical. Said Nevitt of the experience, "We laughed, we loved, and now she's a part of me."
That night Nevitt went out and scored a season-high eight points (four for six from the field) in only six minutes. "Gee," Nevitt said, "if I played the whole game, I would have had at least 60." Nevitt's wife, Sondra, was not jealous of Morganna in the least. "We're actually thinking of hiring her to kiss Chuck on a regular basis," she said.
Nevitt has more nicknames than most regulars: the Human Victory Cigar, for his occasional appearances at the end of winning games, and Chuck E. Cheese, for the mascot robot of a Texas-based pizza franchise. In Detroit, where he didn't play for the Pistons, a different pizza place used to give 12 pizzas to a soup kitchen for every shot Nevitt blocked.