"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 Nevitt during a
game, watch him cheer his teammates on, watch him high-and 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.
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 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 on Jan. 31, 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 (4 for 6 from the field) in only
six minutes; the other bussee, Kareem, had six points in 18 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. People around Houston honk at his van, which has
North Carolina license plates reading 7 FT 5 (Sondra drives a car with 5 FT 10
plates). He has inspired not one, but two Trivial Pursuit questions: "How
many inches above seven feet is Chuck Nevitt?" and "Who is the tallest
player in the NBA?" The answer to the latter question is now 7'7"
Manute Bol of the Golden State Warriors, but the answer on the outdated card
(Sports, professional basketball category) is still Chuck Nevitt.
He may no longer
be the tallest man in the league, but Nevitt is certainly the tallest juggler,
clothing salesman, carpenter, stripper, Nat King Cole fan, aspiring actor,
bicyclist and jokester. Ah, the jokes. He's got a million of them. "I call
him Mr. Improv," says Rocket rookie Derrick Chievous. Of course, you would
need a sense of humor if you were 7'5" and trying to get in and out of
airplane lavatories all the time.
Utah Jazz forward
Thurl Bailey, who used to listen to Nevitt's jokes when they played together at
North Carolina State, says, "Chuck says that he gets waived from a team
when he runs out of jokes. Well, he's such a great guy that I hope he has
enough jokes—and there are enough teams—so that he lasts 16 years in the
Nevitt is now in
his sixth NBA season, and he's on his third tour of duty with the Rockets, who
originally selected him in the third round of the 1982 draft. He has been
waived by the Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, the Rockets again, the Lakers twice, a
team in Forli, Italy, and the San Antonio Spurs. The Pistons didn't pick up the
option on his contract after last season. He has also flunked tryouts with the
New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks. Before this season he averaged 21 games
a year, and 5.6 minutes and 1.7 points a game. In other words, in five seasons
he scored as many points (177) as Michael Jordan scores in five games.