This is how the world has been turning lately for Bullet guard Kevin Grevey: when he got out of bed this morning in a Houston hotel room to answer a wake-up call, he stubbed his toe stumbling toward the telephone.
"I was yelling and screaming and the operator said, 'I'm sorry, sir, that it's 5:45,' but I told her it wasn't her fault," he said. "She couldn't help it if the desk moved into my way during the night."
Grevey had a problem. Both of his knees were aching and now his toe hurt. So with which leg should he show a limp? "I thought about alternating," he said. "But my toe won out. I thought I broke it."
If Charles Schulz ever wanted to pattern athletes after his "Peanuts" comic strip, Grevey would be a perfect choice for the Pig Pen character who is always followed by a cloud of dust. In Grevey's case, however, the dust would be replaced by a trail of injuries.
Last season, when everything from his neck to his ankle ached at one time or another, Grevey thought he was living some sort of nightmare that would disappear after a summer's rest.
But the injury ghouls have returned this year with a vengeance although there still remain five months on the regular-season schedule. He already has had fluid removed from his knees three times and the sore hinges are not getting better. For a 25-year-old athlete with a promising career that is cause for a lot of bad dreams.
"I'm not limping through games or anything like that," he said. "But it's obviously not a great situation. It is just the constant routine of treatments and ice after every game and the stiffness in between. It's not a pleasant thing to look forward to, especially when the major cause of it all is playing."
And that is Grevey's Catch 22. To rejuvenate the knees, he should rest. To have them return to normal, he should retire. But to earn his salary -- and to protect his future as a potential free agent -- he doesn't feel he can ride the bench, which is why he will play tonight at 8:05 against New Jersey at Capital Centre.
He never has had an operation on either knee and, although the right one pained him last year, the left one was never a problem until recently. He is developing tendinitis, which causes a constant buildup of fluid.
"The left knee has the doctors puzzled," he said. "It hurts on the left side and they don't know why. There hasn't been a time when I can say, 'There, that's when I hurt it.' Maybe it's just an accumulation of things."
Grevey sat out practice Monday and that could develop into a pattern if he doesn't gain further relief. But for his game to stay sharp, he is convinced he needs to work out almost daily.
"I'm still learning how to play guard and it doesn't do me any good to sit and watch," he said. "Also, I love to shoot a basketball, any time, anywhere. If I don't, I think my timing shows it."
The knees also could affect how Coach Dick Motta uses him in games. Grevey warms up as much as 45 minutes before a contest to make sure he is loose, but once he sits down in the second quarter for Charles Johnson, the knees stiffen. And he has found that it is difficult for him to move freely in the second half.
"When he is going good in the second, I probably should leave him in longer," said Motta. "I know the knees are a factor. They probably are one reason he hasn't had good second halves. It's something we are all aware of."
Like Motta's other eight key players, Grevey fills a special niche in the efficient machine the veteran coach has assembled. Grevey is the club's only big guard and its most consistent outside shooter. Without him, zones would be more effective and the Bullets' fast break not as crisp.
When he is in control of his game, as he was in the second half against Houston Wednesday night, he is as dangerous offensively as Elvin Hayes or Bobby Dandridge. He didn't force shots against the Rockets, but as Motta put it, "he kept within the framework of our offense and took shots when he had them.
"We keep telling him his chances will come. But sometimes he gets caught up in the emotion and gets a bit reckless. It's something he's working on."
Grevey has scored at least 21 points in seven of the last 13 games, raising his average to 17 and his shooting percentage to 47. He acknowledges he still needs to work on his defense and his floor play but as long as the knees hold up, "I feel good about what I can do with the rest of my career."
And then he laughed. "But if I don't last as a player, I can always be a trainer," he said. "No one will have to teach me a thing about injuries."