BOSTON — Minutes after the game was over, a mob of reporters was already around his locker. Cameras were steadied. Microphones were tested.
“When’s he coming?” the voices cried.
“He’s not coming,” came the answer, “there’s not enough room in here. He’s doing his interviews out in the stands.”
The mob picked up and rushed to the court. In the stands? Greg Kite was doing interviews in the stands? How deep had the Celtics dug for this 109-103 decision over the Lakers? How much effort was needed to earn their first victory of this best-of- seven championship series, and cut LA’s lead to 2-1? How unlikely a weapon did it take? Greg Kite was doing his interviews in the stands.
“Greg, hell of a game today,” a reporter said to the man often described as the least-talented player in the NBA. “How do you feel?”
“I feel great,” he said.
“What about today’s performance?”
“I was just ready when K.C wanted me. . . . “
“The last time you had a thrill this big?”
“When I was born.” Whatever he did, was great
Quote. Quote. It was all written down. Was he the star of the game? No, not really. Was he the leading scorer? No, not really. Actually, he didn’t score a point. Actually, he had five fouls. Actually, he exited with more than eight minutes left.
And yet, when he came in for Robert Parish for the second time, in the second quarter, he bumped and he pushed and he rebounded and even blocked a shot, and he kept Kareem Abdul- Jabbar in check, and mostly what you remember is that the score was Lakers 39, Celtics 30 when he entered for the second time and Celtics 80, Lakers 69 when he left, and the fans gave him a standing ovation because they knew, even without stats, that he had a lot to do with it. Whatever it was.
“Today, Greg did the job,” Larry Bird said afterward. “He set the picks, got the rebounds, played good defense. And with Robert in foul trouble, he kept Kareem from taking over the game at that stage.”
Kite, 6 feet 11 inches of slow mediocrity, was needed by the Celtics from the moment Parish picked up his second foul after 6:46 of the first quarter. The Celtics were in danger of losing this series before they finished tying their sneakers. Speed-wise, they were overmatched. Depth-wise, they were overmatched. Effort? Well. Aha.
So here was Kite, the perennial bench warmer, bumping with one of the best centers in history. Here was Kite, a man who looks awkward standing still, coming from nowhere to smother Magic Johnson’s lay-up attempt.
He finished with nine rebounds and a lot of pokes in 22 minutes of action. No, he did not beat LA by himself. Dennis Johnson, with 26 crucial points, did more. Bird, with 30 points and 12 rebounds, did more. Yet there are intangibles when playing the Lakers and one is how you slow them, and on this day, Kite was like the big dart gun shot into the charging elephant; he rebounded, he defended, and slowly, the beast wore down.
And the Celtics won. They needed victory to retain hope, to avoid embarrassment, to feel the regular season and the previous playoffs weren’t just a ladder to some carnival booth, where they get their faces splashed with wet sponges.
“Pat Riley, the Lakers’ coach, said he would give you the game ball if he were coaching the Celtics,” a reporter told Kite.
“Really?” Kite said. “Well, that’s nice.”
‘I couldn’t be that bad’
When the game had ended, and the Boston Garden announcer read off the final totals, he bellowed the sentence, “GREG KITE DID NOT SCORE,” and the crowd still inside the sweaty arena roared just the same.
Kite has been here four years, and every year he has gone to an NBA final. On the bench. He is usually known as the guy who fouls the fastest. The guy who gets in when the game is over, one way or another.
“It’s hard being a bench warmer,” he admitted, “trying to stay ready all the time. The jokes they make. . . . I try not to pay attention. I couldn’t be that bad and still be with the team, right?”
Well. Who knows? On this day, however, he was in the Garden’s womb, he was symbolic of the Celtics in this series — slower, less graceful, written off. Yet, today, victorious. As his teammates slowly filed out of the locker room, Kite stayed in the stands, his feet dangling over a seat, answering questions, having the time of his life.
Who knows if the Celtics will even get another game off these mighty Lakers? Here, for one afternoon, they could bask in the tired knowledge that at least it could be done once, one game, they would not be swept. Use every weapon. Greg Kite, doing interviews in the stands? Why not?
“What special words did K.C. tell you when he sent you in for Parish?” a reporter asked.
“He told me, ‘Go get Robert,’ ” Kite said.