The Gun insists he was a self-loader, getting a lot of his shots off the glass. "People said all I did was shoot," says Kelly, who is 6'7". "But I took pride in my rebounding. I'm the only guy to get over 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his college career."
Credit the nickname to his dorm director. Blame forces beyond Kelly's control for his lack of notoriety. While he was a TSU Tiger, an even more gaudily monikered bunch called Phi Slamma Jamma was convening frat meetings at the University of Houston, just down the street. Kelly, one wit offered, could have opened a one-man chapter of Ima Shoota Jumpa. Yet most of his baskets came in the low-profile Southwestern Athletic Conference, where a point well made isn't necessarily a point well taken. "The basket's the same height, the game's played by the same rules," says Kelly, who can't understand how the products of SWAC schools can stock NFL rosters but get passed over by the NBA.
With his behind-the-head jumper, the Gun could carry that chip on his shoulder and still score aplenty. But after the Atlanta Hawks released him in 1983, he passed up the CBA, Italy and the Philippines and finally despaired at "all these loopholes and politics and things you can't control." In the spring of '84 he married his pregnant girlfriend, Terrie, and took a job with the city of Houston reading water meters.
"Meter readers don't do anything that'll get us hurt," he says. "If someone's got a bad dog in the yard, we just pass. Let the supervisor handle it. Punch in 'bad dog.' " People would sometimes spot him, still an athletic figure even in his meter-reader blues, and ask whether he used to play ball.
But that hardly happens now, which is fine by Kelly, because he feels compelled to explain why he isn't playing anymore, and that brings up the subject of failure. "Getting cut by Atlanta was the first time in my life I really got depressed," he says. "But I'd never tasted big-time success. If I'd made it and then gotten cut, it would have been a lot harder to bounce back."
Harry Jr., 5, has already destroyed two Nerf hoops, and that makes his father look forward. "When my boys grow up, I'm going to recommend the Big East or the ACC. That's where the exposure is. There, you end up going pro averaging 15 a game."
When Lawrence Butler was two, he was left with his grandmother, a domestic who lived in the riverside hamlet of Glasgow, Mo. "We shared everything," he says. "We had to."
They shared Nancy Butler's thin wages and stout principles. Even as he led Glasgow High to 65 straight wins, Lawrence went humbly from class to class, toothpaste and toothbrush sticking out of his pocket. His grandmother had raised him to brush after every meal, and, by god, he was going to.
Butler crossed his grandma on only one count. "She worked hard all her life," he says, "and the way she felt, playing games was no way to become somebody." Yet making what he still calls the "Big Court" consumed him. "When I left home, pro ball was all I had on my mind. Making some serious money and halfway paying my grandmother back for what she had done for me."
He made his way to Idaho State, detouring through a junior college in Texas. Butler was strong and swift, as certain to be a pro guard as anyone in the class of '79, but Pocatello (pop. 45,000) intimidated the young man from tiny Glasgow (pop. 1,300). "People were coming at me from every direction," he remembers. "I decided the less people I knew, the better off I was."