BOSTON -- Apparently, a radio guy in L.A. called the Celtics "dogmeat," which led to a radio station here putting up a billboard at Logan Airport that says, "Every dog has his day. Go Celtics." Which in its way leads us to Greg Kite, the Celtics' deep-depth center, who has been called a dog so often, he answers to whistles the rest of us don't even hear.
Not to get carried away here, because the box score will show that Kite didn't score a single point in his 22 minutes Sunday against the Lakers; in fact, the three shots he missed were from no more than 12 inches away from the basket total, so you know he's a clanger. But the kind of praise that's being showered on Kite for his muscle-up, heavy-lifting, nine-rebound performance could keep the streets of Boston clean for a week. And it's coming from the Lakers! Here's Mychal Thompson saying: "Credit Greg Kite with stopping our break all by himself." Here's Michael Cooper saying: "Kite was great. He doesn't have to score. He got rebounds. He took elbows. He fouled people. He guarded Kareem. He did some real great dirty work." Here's Pat Riley saying: "He bodied Kareem in the low post. He did exactly what they pay him to do."
Bodied Kareem in the low post? Stopped the vaunted Laker break? Did exactly what they pay him to do?
I thought they paid him to sit.
Are we talking about the same Greg Kite? The Greg Kite who Boston Globe basketball savant Bob Ryan pronounced "the least talented player in the NBA." The Greg Kite who wears No. 50, the kind of number the Celtics give to people they're sure won't force them to hang it from the rafters. The Greg Kite who shot the NBA's second-worst percentage from the foul line (38.2) in the regular season, who averaged 1.7 points per game, fewest on the Celtics, who committed 25 more fouls (148) than he scored points (123)? The same Greg Kite who lurches around the court in fits and starts like a 1954 Packard?
Let me put it another way: In light of Kite's shockingly effective play, Larry Bird was asked if he thought Kite got a bad rap in that so many people said he wasn't talented, and Bird said, "Well, Greg don't have a lot of talent." So in light of that someone asked Bird if he thought Kite was overrated! And Bird laughed and said, "What I know is, he's slow and he can't jump." Other than that, like if you need a fourth for bridge, he's swell.
The Celtics were in desperate need of ghosts from past championships to help them, and they should have suspected they'd get a good game from Kite Sunday, because wandering the Boston Garden in the flesh were Henry Finkel and Steve Kuberski, Kite's logical forebearers on the Celtics' evolutionary chart. So if every dog has his day, this one indeed belonged to Kite, a 6-11 center from Brigham Young who has spent four years in the NBA watching from a front row seat, and made the playoff finals in every one. It was the Lakers' intention to go right at Robert Parish, to get him in foul trouble early, and force the Celtics to bring in Kite. Center figured to be the Celtics' most vulnerable position, since Bill Walton is hobbling and Kite hasn't yet been confused for Akeem Olajuwon.
Well, the Lakers got three fouls on Parish with 8:02 left in the first half, and K.C. Jones signalled to Kite to get in there. The Lakers led, 39-30, and seemed to be cruising toward their third straight victory over the Celtics. With Kite in there surely Kareem would light it up, surely the Lakers would break it open, surely Jack Nicholson would flash that demonic grin of his.
Kite played the rest of the second period, and the first 8:29 of the third period as well. During the time he was in there, although he didn't score, the Celtics outscored the Lakers, 50-30. Yes, Kareem scored. But he worked hard for every point. Kite bothered him. "He pushes," Kareem said. "He has to do that to justify his being out there." And in the third quarter Kite had what has to be the most memorable sequence of his alleged career: He chested up against Kareem, the two of them bumping like sumo wrestlers, and persuaded Kareem to back off and take a fallaway jumper that missed. The next time the Lakers got the ball, Magic was rumbling toward an uncontested layup, when out of nowhere there came Kite to swat away his shot. Bodying Kareem and snuffing Magic in two successive trips! It's like he died and went to heaven.
For all this they ushered Kite into the interview room, an honor he was unaccustomed to. "I stuck my head in the back door once when Larry was in there," Kite allowed. And there were reporters wall to wall, asking him all kinds of things. Like, do you think the Lakers will have to make any major adjustments to guard you now? Kite, who has a nice sense of humor about him, said, "No major adjustment. Just double-team me and watch when I spot up for the 3s." Later, when the interview room cleared out, Kite took the floating media show onto the fabled parquet floor itself, and said the only times he could remember getting this much attention was "when I was born, or when I got married and people came through the reception line."
He was in no hurry to shower, dress and go. Why would he be? He'd just had a personal best in playoff minutes, 22, and tied a career high in rebounds, nine. Normally he doesn't get to play that long for two reasons: 1) Because the Celtics are better off without him. (As are most teams in the league.) 2) Because he fouls so much. His playoff projection for a full 48-minute game is 12.7 fouls. Kite is the kind of player who has three fouls before he gets into the game. "If I'm near the ball and I hear the whistle, I automatically think they're calling me for a foul even when I'm nowhere near the guy."
But this time the refs let him play and, surprise, he plays well. Not only that, but he does it on national TV. "It was so very gratifying," he said of the ovations he received from the fans, "to get that kind of reception in this kind of situation." It would not be unrealistic to say that although Kite hadn't won this game, he had saved it. "This was like CPR for us," he said. "Going down 3-0 is a nearly impossible task." And what now for Kite, now that he's King for a Day? Probably back to the deep bench from whence he came. Perhaps not to play more than 10 minutes total for the rest of the series. "It wouldn't surprise me, no," Kite conceded, squinting into the setting sun of momentary fame.