A basketball Bedouin who has played for 10 teams in seven years, Moochie Norris was a long shot to make the Sonics roster. But that doesn't mean the 6'1" lefty point guard, one of the NBA's early-season surprises, was a sleeper.
Martyn Bernard Norris—his grandfather nicknamed him Moochie after the Cab Calloway tune Minnie the Moocher—has suffered from insomnia since his mother, Irma, died of cancer in 1989. He rarely gets more than two hours of shut-eye a night and says he has "tried everything" to solve the problem. Last year, while toiling for the Fort Wayne Fury in the CBA, he'd go to bed wearing glasses that flashed lights and emitted a thumping sound when he closed his eyes. (The thinking was that he'd focus on the noise and lights and clear his mind.) But on a typical night, Norris is doing push-ups and sit-ups, reading the Bible or listening to the lullabies of another erstwhile member of the Fury, Master P. "My coaches ask me, 'Did you sleep last night?' " he says. "I say, 'Yeah, I got a lot of sleep—8, 10 hours.' But it's really more like one or two."
Norris's prevaricating notwithstanding, Seattle's coaches are swooning over him. He's endowed with fiendish quickness and a nasty crossover, and his strong play against Payton in training camp obviated the need for Seattle to sign a veteran guard such as Kevin Johnson. "Moochie is good with the ball, and he has a knack for making the right decisions," says Sonics coach Paul Westphal. "At his height you'd better be crafty, or you'll be bagging groceries."
Norris hasn't had to say, "Paper or plastic?" but he has survived a dizzying hoops odyssey. A native of Washington, D.C., he spent two years at Odessa (Texas) Junior College and men decamped to Auburn. He was declared ineligible before his senior season because of recruiting violations, so he transferred to West Florida, where he played in just 16 games. He was a second-round pick of the Bucks in 1996 but was cut a few months into the season. From there, he bounced like a pinball from team to team, playing in France and Chile, doing an eight-game stint with the Vancouver Grizzlies and four tours of duty in the CBA. "I saw him during the lockout when Fort Wayne played against Yakima," says Westphal. "I thought, That little fella can play."
The rest of the league thought the same thing after Norris's performance in Seattle's season opener against Portland. During a fourth-quarter rally, he drained four three-point shots and helped to neutralize Blazers playmaker Damon Stoudamire. At one point during Seattle's 91-88 victory, Westphal turned to Payton and asked jokingly, "How'd you like to play some two [shooting guard]?" Norris finished with three assists, three rebounds and 12 points and was an instant Seattle fan favorite. "Unbelievable," says Norris. "I started the season in the CBA, and now I'm on a top team where the fans yell out my name when I'm on the court." Were it any other player, one would be tempted to call it a dream come true.