After Nevitt was
waived by the Spurs in October, the Rockets reacquired him to make him their
12th man. The 12th man is a distinct species in the NBA, and the designation
usually refers to the guy down at the end of the bench who plays as a second
thought in the fourth quarter. It does not, however, mean the guy on the team
who's the most expendable; when the Rockets picked up Walter Berry recently,
they let guard Tony Brown, not Nevitt, go.
holder Jess Brown is very familiar with the species because his seat in the
Summit is catercorner to that of the 12th man. Brown, an Edgar Buchanan
look-alike who passes out bubble gum to the players before home games, slaps
the hand of the 12th man as he comes back to his seat after every timeout.
"I've known a lot of them over the years," says Brown. "Chuck's one
of my favorites, although, to tell you the truth, I ain't sure why he's
management has a little more faith in Nevitt than Jess Brown has. Says Ray
Patterson, the Rockets' general manager, "He's a much better player than
when we first had him. He has a nice touch from the outside, and he runs about
as well as any big man I've seen. We think he could be another impact player
like Mark Eaton [Utah's 7'4" center] if we could put some weight on
Ay, there's the
rib. Nevitt weighs only 225 pounds. He has a 38-inch waist, which is
extraordinary for someone 89 inches tall. He has tried everything, including
steroids—he now says taking them in the summer of 1983 was a mistake—to build
up his weight, but the meat never sticks to his bones. After one of former
coach Bill Fitch's notorious Rocket training camps, Nevitt was down to 207.
"I looked like a poster child for world hunger," he says. The Rockets'
strength coach, Robert Barr, has been working to put muscle on Nevitt. "I
need a summer to get some food into him," says Barr. "But as Chuck
says, he eats to live, he doesn't live to eat." Over lunch one day Sondra
Nevitt says she is perplexed. "I swear he eats four or five meals a day.
He's just so tall." She looks over at her husband's plate and says,
"Chuck, finish those french fries."
Off the court,
gawkers refuse to believe that Nevitt, who has a pleasantly normal face, can be
that tall. "People feel my legs to see if I'm walking on stilts," he
says. "One time, at the North Carolina state fair, I pretended I was doing
just that by walking real stiff-legged and wiggling my upper body." His
height really does strange things to people. Little children have been known to
fall over backward trying to look up to his head. People who walk with him
develop a habit of ducking sympathetically when they come to doorways or
overhanging signs that might test Nevitt's clearance. "It's really funny to
see me walking with a group of 10 people," he says, "and everybody is
ducking at the same time under objects that are at least a foot taller than
Being that tall,
of course, is the reason Nevitt is still in the NBA. But the assumption that he
can't really play the game is a false one. The Rockets seem to appreciate his
talents. Says head coach Don Chaney, "When we picked Chuck up, we figured
he was still a project. But he's much better on the court than I imagined, and
I like having him on the bench, because not only does he root for the other
guys, but he also says things that reinforce what we're trying to coach.
Believe me, he's not here to be a mascot."
Chaney's respect for Nevitt as a player has meant less action for him during
so-called "garbage time" at the end of lopsided games. The coach will
sometimes resist the chants of "Nevitt, Nevitt" because he doesn't want
the crowd or Chuck to think he's a garbage player. Consequently, in a nine-game
stretch from Dec. 27 to Jan. 16, Nevitt collected seven DNPs (did not plays).
In the other two games, he played a grand total of five seconds. He came into a
game in the last second with the 76ers trailing by two to block the in-bounds
pass from Mike Gminski, and he did such a good job that Gminski was forced to
get the ball to Hersey Hawkins out in three-point range; unfortunately for the
Rockets, Hawkins's shot was good. In a game against San Antonio, Nevitt came in
for the last four seconds of the Rockets' overtime victory after Olajuwon and
McCormick had fouled out. After the game, Nevitt accepted the hearty
congratulations of his teammates. "Way to go, Chuck," said one Rocket,
"you didn't screw up."
think I'll ever be a regular in the NBA," Nevitt says. "But I do think
I can play 15 minutes a night. When I was with the Pistons, there was one
stretch when I played a lot. In one game against the Knicks, I scored 12
points, and the best part was when they had to replace Bill Cartwright because
I was doing so well. At least I think that's why they took him out. I still
dream about being a star someday, but what the hey. I can at least say I dunked
on Bill Cartwright. And I once blocked a shot by Dr. J."
The real Dream,
Olajuwon, is perhaps Nevitt's biggest fan. "He is one of the nicest guys
you would ever want to meet," says Olajuwon. "Every day is a good day
when he is around. I think the crowd sees that, I think that's why they love
him so. I'll tell you something else. He can play. He gives me more trouble in
practice than any center."
The two of them,
Olajuwon and Nevitt, have little ritual one-on-one games during warmups. The
first one to five wins, and the loser has to wait on the winner in the
intervening minutes before a game—bringing him a towel or water. Nevitt has won
only a few times, but that's because Olajuwon is so proud, he can't bear to
lose. The other day Nevitt had the ball with a 4-3 lead, when Akeem announced
they had to get inside for a nonexistent meeting.