Throughout his basketball career, Greg Kite has heard the laughter. Some laughed when he was at BYU, where he occasionally slammed a
free throw off the backboard so hard it shook. They laughed when he was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1983 draft. And they laughed when, after four-plus years in Boston, he went on to sign with the the L.A. Clippers, the Charlotte Hornets and the Sacramento Kings.But perhaps, after seven years in the NBA, it is Kite's turn to laugh. Now a starting center for the Orlando Magic, Kite has outlasted many players with far greater credentials and ability. No fewer than five players who were drafted above him in 1983 are no longer in the league, including Steve Stipanovich, Russell Cross and Ennis Whatley, Howard Carter and Leo Rautins. Ralph Sampson, who was the No. 1 draft choice overall that year, is on the injured list; some doubt he'll play past this season.
Regardless, Kite isn't one to gloat, even though he probably could. "Maybe a lot of people still are laughing," says Kite. "I'm just glad they're not making the decisions."
Kite doesn't have everything, but what he does have seems to keep teams coming back. You want reverse dunks, call Clyde Drexler. You want speed, send a fax to Kevin Johnson. But if you've got an APB out for someone who will close off the middle like a dead-end street, you want Greg Kite.
This year has been nothing new. What you see is what you get: 6-foot-11 inches, 250-pounds, and bruises. Kite is averaging six points and 7.6 rebounds. Over his career he has averaged just 2.3 points and three rebounds a game. His numbers aren't impressive, but he does a job few want - mixing it up in the middle.
Though nobody seems to want the ex-BYU player around enough to sign him to a long-term contract, he keeps showing up in the strangest places. After beingwaived by Boston in 1988, he was picked up by the Los Angeles Clippers for the rest of the year. Two years ago he started the season in L.A., but finished in Charlotte. Last year he started 41 games for Sacramento.
Kite and Orlando will host the Jazz Thursday night in Orlando Arena in a Midwest Division matchup. Utah is 2-3 and Orlando 1-6. The 5:30 p.m. (MST) game will not be shown on TV, but will be broadcast on KISN-AM (570).
Despite his status now as a starter, respect has been hard to come by. As a schoolboy athlete in Houston, he had credentials as one of the top four prep centers in the country, along with Sam Bowie, Stipanovich and Sampson. But when he got to BYU, he was a disappointment to many. Fans were expecting Ferrari and ended up getting a four-wheel drive truck.
Although he played good defense, and probably played a bigger part in BYU's success than he got credit for, he was often the subject of criticism. Even then-coach Frank Arnold would complain on his post-game radio show, "Greg Kite, bless his heart, needs to learn how to box out on rebounds . . ." or, "Greg, bless him, just has to learn to shoot free throws. . ."
However, Kite says he enjoyed the BYU experience. "Really, I was oblivious to a lot of that (fan criticism)," he says.
Not much changed after he went to the NBA. One writer termed him "the worst offensive player in the NBA." Another wrote that all one needs to know about how good Orlando will be this year, is "to consider that Greg Kite is their starting center." Orlando Sentinel writer Tim Povtak wrote, "In a game dominated by thoroughbreds, Kite is a clydesdale."
"It can be tough when people think you're the dregs of the earth," Kite told the Boston Herald.
But slowly, people are coming around to Kite. Though he'll never be construed as a great all-around player, fans and media have begun to allow that Kite has had to be doing something right to stay in the league that long. Though he doesn't have much security, he does have good money. Kite signed with Orlando for a reported one year and $500,000.
He earns every penny. Since the start of the year, Kite has broken his nose, torn radial collateral ligaments in his right hand, and taken 14 stitches as a result of three facial cuts.
"You know you're having a bad week when you get more stitches than points," said Kite.
Not only are fans and media giving him increasing credit for his contribution, they have found him to have a quick wit and an outstanding sense of humor.
On his lack of offensive production, he says, "Hey, I led the league in 3-point shooting last year (he was 1-for-1).
On his job as an enforcer, he says, "I bruised the doctor when he slapped me when I was born."
The natural talents of the world will come and go, but Kite says he's content to stay and do the grunt work in the trenches. "A lot of the things I do don't show up statistically and can be easily overlooked," said Kite. "But the big thing now is to be solid with my chances and make it go."
"If you need a center to score 15 points a game, you better look elsewhere," said Sacramento G.M. Jerry Reynolds to the Orlando Sentinel. "But he'll hurt some people. He'll play as good of post-position defense as anyone. He won't block many shots, but when he's in the game, Orlando won't be so soft anymore."
And if anyone still laughs, Kite can consider how many of them are making $500,000 a year for their trouble.
Game notes: The Magic snapped a league-record 16-game home losing streak by beating Dallas on Tuesday . . . The Jazz say Jeff Malone's sore elbow and Karl Malone's sore foot won't keep them out of tonight's game . . . Orlando features No. 4 overall draft pick Dennis Scott, who is averaging 10.3 points.