As last month's NBA all-star game tipped off in Seattle. Lafayette (Fail Lever was enjoying lunch with his daughter, Elyse, at Peter Piper Pizza, in Phoenix, his off-season home. "I didn't even watch it on television," said Lever.
You were missed, Fat. As Seattle forward Tom Chambers said just two days before he won the game's MVP award. "Fat Lever deserves to be on the All-Star team this season more than any other player in the United States. I feel bad that he's not here." Well, never mind, Fat. Please accept this consolation prize: You've just been named to SI's first NBA All-Underrated team. Congratulations and pass the pizza.
Our criteria in selecting the team were simple: We looked for versatile players who had been in the NBA at least three full seasons and had never made a coaches' a team. Eliminated then, were players such as Philadelphia's Maurice Cheeks, New Jersey's Buck Williams, Dallas's Rolando Blackman and Boston's Dennis Johnson. They may be underappreciated, but they're sure not underrated: DJ has played in five All-Star Games, Williams in three, Cheeks and Blackman in two.
There are several reasons why players become underrated, lack of media attention being the most obvious. In fact, it may be impossible for a member of the NBA's glamour teams, the Lakers and the Celtics, to be underrated. Big scorers generally aren't underrated, because that's the one statistic everyone knows about; indeed, only one member of our team is in the top 10 in scoring. Many underrated players perform in the shadow of superstars, and most of them came out of college lacking big reputations and simply stayed that way.
There are several second-and third-year players who do not yet qualify for our team but have that underrated look about them: forwards Karl Malone of Utah, Sam Perkins of Dallas and Kevin Willis of Atlanta, and Utah point guard John Stockton, among others. Let's watch their progress.
In selecting this team our research was extensive. We polled some 20 NBA players, including seven members of this year's All-Star team. We also queried a number of head coaches and assistants, as well as broadcasters who can dribble behind their back—namely Bob Cousy (Celtics) and Rod Hundley (Jazz). We didn't count the ballots with Price-Waterhouse looking over our shoulder. Rather, we let their collective effect wash over us and tried to sniff out prejudice and tainted critical judgment. Here are the results:
Point guard: Lafayette (Fat) Lever. Denver Nuggets, 6'3", 175 pounds, Arizona State, fifth season.
Career stats before this season: 11.0 points, 6.2 assists, 3.96 rebounds, 2.07 steals per game.
This season (through February): 18.8, 8. 8.8, 2.47.