Derrick Chievous settles into a booth at the G&D Pizzeria, the closest thing to New York City one can find in Columbia, Mo., and orders a seven-ounce sirloin, a side of ranch toast and two glasses of iced tea, into which he empties 25 individual packets of white, refined, death-before-your-time sugar.
"I love sugar," says the high-scoring, board-pounding forward for the University of Missouri Tigers. "Ten Twinkies and I'm energized. Then, once I'm up and all the sugar's gone, I go into down syndrome. Listen to some records, old-time records. I was born after my time. I should have been born in the Cooley High days, with the shoo-bop-de-bops and the ooh-baby-babies."
A waitress soon brings another iced tea, which Chievous fortifies with the last of the sugar packets. Then he rattles on about the Tigers, whom he has led to an 8-5 start: "They got in on me late, so when I came here everybody thought they'd dropped a Lamborghini on me. I wish they had. Doing all that work, spending all that time—practicing every day, diving for loose balls...." The sugar is just taking effect.
About the media, of which he considers himself a member, he says: "I'm beginning to wonder if they think I'm ugly. They can't even hook me with a picture. My mother says, 'Oh, but they wrote something nice about you.' But no picture. And you see these monsters on the magazine covers—soooooo appealing."
About the "Aaaaargh!" he'll bellow on the court, where forward isn't just what he plays, but what he is: "I do it to get the foul call. Hey, reffing's a hard job."
Having ordered some tea yourself—and realizing that you had better sweeten it, too, if you hope to keep up—you reach for the glass canister on the table that, in the dim light, looks to be an auxiliary sugar supply. And just when you've grasped it, and raised it and tipped it....
Who exactly is this young man so off in the ozone he can distract you into pouring Parmesan cheese into your tea, yet so down to earth that, at the last instant, he can stop that calamity from occurring? And who could, if you happened to be dispatched to the Show-Me state to tell all about a Tiger of a different stripe who scores (24.8 points per game) and boards (8.8) and spends half his time at the foul line and the other half contriving ways to get there, even write your story for you?
Hello, sweetheart. Get me rebound.
Derrick Chievous is a 6'7", 187-pound junior interested in journalism and radio and TV communications. When on the court, Chievous sports a Band-Aid, which is his trademark and also his nickname. Chievous acquired the nickname when he was in junior high in New York City. A cut was opened above his right eye by a flying elbow, and it took a while to heal. Band-Aided, he scored 45 points in the next game. He then took to wearing a Band-Aid all the time, and it just stuck with him.
That's how the wire service copy would read—pretty straight stuff. To delve deeper into Band-Aid's multimedia world, you need a glossary to decipher some of his more colorful word inventions:
Comazones. Naps. "With all the Snickers in me, I get hyper and jittery. Then I feel ready to bag in. And if I don't go into comazones, I get Wall Street syndrome—a little sluggish." On a questionnaire he completed as a Missouri freshman, Chievous listed sleeping as one of his hobbies. "If I'm at the crib [home], I get six hours a night. But I only get five out here 'cause of the time difference."
Expensive. Anything trendy or glamorous. To "drive a Porsche, wear gold chains and go to the Regal Beagle" is expensive. "I talk to [St. John's guard and fellow Queens product] Mark Jackson, and he says he's been living expensive. Going to the Roxy and the Silver Shadow. What am I supposed to tell him? That I went to this club and saw some dude from the St. Louis Blues hit somebody with a hockey stick?"
Hook me. Take care of me, do me a favor, deal me in. "I'm trying to get Johnson & Johnson to hook me with an endorsement contract."
Jimsons. The sneakers in which one plays his best. First appeared under the Chievous byline in a 1982 issue of the Holy Cross High Lance, his high school paper, in an article about the Knights' freshman team: "On November 26, the 'Tranquilizing Ten' will put on their 'jimsons' to take on Power Memorial in their first real game of the season."
Scientific. Stilted, formal or fundamental. Vanderbilt, which three-pointed Missouri to death early this season, has "scientific players." Too many TV sportscasters, in Chievous's view, are "scientific."
Steaking. Trying to impress. A "steak daddy" tries to impress skeezers with dinners and gifts.
Stupid. An intensifier, always complimentary and usually attached to an adjective. Michael Jordan has "stupid fresh springs"—that is, unbelievably supple jumping equipment. Says Chievous, proudly, "I've got all of Columbia using it."
Television School. A team that gets on TV a lot in spite of having done nothing for years to justify it. Notre Dame is a television school. So is UCLA. "But DePaul's the alltime television school," says Chievous, whose cousin Kenny Patterson played for the Blue Demons a few years ago. "Kenny came on more often than the news."
It's a pretty impressive lexicon. But let's not forget that Chievous plays in Missouri, the state that takes its motto from a turn-of-the-century congressman who said, "Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."
O.K., already. Chievous grew up in the 40 Projects, a hardscrabble precinct in the South Jamaica section of Queens, where talk is cheap and show can be dangerous. His high school coach, Jim Kerr, never had the usual curfew concerns. "Derrick used to say, 'I'm not leaving my home. Are you crazy? I'll get killed.' " After that sort of environment, the foul lane—even in a physical, man-to-man conference like the Big Eight—is a comparative refuge. Street smarts, lane smarts, they're much the same.
Chievous's facial expressions, loud mouth and fabulous falls excite the crowd. His trickery is often surprising, too. He catches other players off guard with his antics under the boards.
In his very first game at Missouri, an exhibition against a touring Yugoslav team, Chievous tried to bamboozle an inbounding Yugo into giving him the ball by asking for a playground-style "check." He drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct technical for his ingenuity. "It's all tricks in college," he says. "As you can see, I'm not the biggest dude in the world. If they throw your ass down a couple of times, you've gotta pop the J. I find a way to get fouled. It's the easiest points you'll get. Three pointers? I don't bomb 'em from way out. I score, go to the line for a little rest, then shoot the free throw."
Chievous gets to the foul line so often that last season he made more free throws than all but four players in the Big Eight attempted. His scoring staple is the 10-to-l2 foot leaner, which seems to get more accurate the more strap-hanging defenders hop on for a ride. "It's a lot harder to lean into somebody and shoot it, but he can," said California's Jeff Huling after the Bears' 64-63 win over Mizzou in December. Chievous scored 33 in that game, an effort one Columbia writer described as "Homeric."
Of all the bards Chievous might be likened to, Homer isn't one. Call him the Black Breslin, perhaps, for his parochial pride. When he's serious—and he can be, as when he talks of Dom Laddy, a New York buddy who was shot in the face and killed one Halloween—he betrays a trace of the cautionary relevance of Gil Scott-Heron. "He's always telling stories," says Missouri teammate Lynn Hardy. "About what he did as a kid, in high school, his neighborhood. Sometimes it's like he's on his own island."
"And can you believe he's only 19?" marvels Norm Stewart, the Tigers' coach. (Come to think of it, Norm, at times we can.) "All my freshmen are older than he is." Indeed, Chievous should graduate before he's old enough to order a drink, and the team press guide describes him archly as "Missouri's youngest player (age-wise)."
But he's resisting the leadership mantle that Stewart, who doesn't have a single senior, is trying to fit for him. "I can't understand this 'Let's go,' 'C'mon,' 'Rah-rah' stuff," Chievous says. "In the park, you've got 12 Pearls. If someone's not doing the job, another guy just does the work."
Chievous is forever holding things up to city standards. He spent his adolescence playing with several New York AAU teams. He preferred the AAU circuit to the primping and preening of the competition summer camps. He passed up Five-Star, the camp run by Howard Garfinkel. Says Chievous, "Garf gave me five stars [in his scouting newsletter] and everything, but in his wise-guy comments he called me 'mis-Chievous.' Then he tells my mother I could wait tables at Five-Star." JoAnn Holcomb, Chievous's strong-willed mom, didn't realize that being a waiter was a cherished honor that amounted to a free ride to the camp. "She didn't want me working as a servant," Chievous says. "She was so mad, there wasn't gonna be a Five-Star that year."
It was she who challenged Derrick with the idea of attending Holy Cross in Flushing, where the students wear coats and ties and that grim look that comes from not seeing a member of the opposite sex all day. Among the school's alumni are former pros Mike Riordan, Kevin Stacom and Bill Schaeffer, players whose games reflected how the Holy Cross fathers punch up Catholicism with a healthy dollop of John Calvin. "When I took the entrance exam, there were some ladies in the lobby who really intrigued me," says Chievous. "But when I showed up, there were all guys." Concedes his mother, "He did pitch a boogie when he found out."
As a senior playing in one of the toughest high school leagues in the country, Chievous averaged 29.6 points and 17 rebounds. He also shot 91% from the foul line as the Knights won the city Catholic championship. Missouri doesn't recruit intensively in the East; Stewart made his approach only after hearing of Chievous's interest in journalism. The coach and his staff knew well that players of Chievous's caliber rarely consider academic factors in choosing a college, and those who cite them are usually just trying to rationalize a basketball decision. "But he was so much of an individual that I always thought we had a chance to sign him," says Rich Daly, the assistant who kept talking up Mizzou's prestigious School of Journalism.
The courtship had its bizarre twists. It wasn't enough that on his visit to Columbia, Chievous got lost in the campus library while finishing up research for a high school English paper. On signing day, when Daly appeared at the 40 Projects, Chievous had to yell down from his apartment window to the local hoods, who weren't going to let the interloper pass. "It was one of those places where, before you go, you put all your money in a safe-deposit box and leave a little note," Daly jokes today. But his hunch about the J-school had proven true. Says Chievous's mother, "I'd made it clear to Derrick he wasn't a piece of flesh to be sold to the highest bidder."
Chievous brought his Band-Aids west with him. "It's amazing," says Daly. "I go recruiting around the state now and I see kids playing ball, and they're all wearing Band-Aids." Chievous even took his Band-Aids east, to the 1985 World University Games in Japan, where he passed them out to fans like sticks of gum. Indeed, he keeps a constant fresh supply in a Doublemint gum package, each Band-Aid individually wrapped. If you look carefully at the cover of the Mizzou game program, you'll find a pair of ostensibly generic legs graced with a single Band-Aid. "I shaved my legs with Neet that day," Chievous says. "Or was it Nair?"
He currently favors Johnson & Johnson, though he would entertain offers from Curad when it comes time to cut the deal for what he calls "my million-dollar commercial." He has been known to wear the same Band-Aid for days, fastidiously removing it at night and sticking it to the wall beside his bed. "After a couple of showers," he allows, "it gets all sticky and gooey and icky underneath." No such problem with his designer strips, for which Chievous has worked up a few prototypes. They come in geometric shapes with decorative cutouts. "Just adhesive tape, without the sponge part in them. Water won't get under 'em. They're gonna be like Time Jordan. Band-Aid Chievous. I'll be in the broadcast booth with my Band-Aid on. Use one to clip my mike to my blazer."
Chievous and his coach, Norm Stewart, aren't the best of friends. Chievous seems to disagree with some of Stewart's tactics, but all in all they work out their differences. Stewart sometimes thinks Derrick isn't playing his best or hustling enough. The coach acts as though a person can't get tired.
Defense is one area in which they have minor tactical differences. "Coach Stewart says, 'Pull to the ball.' But the face check is the best D." The face check? "That's when you get close to a guy's face and tell him what toothpaste he used that morning. 'Oooh, you used Crest!' Or, 'Oooh, you used Close-Up!' "
Says Stewart, "He gets into that wisecracking and I tell him, 'You're trying to fool me. You're trying to make me think you're not a good guy. But I know you're a good guy.' "
In addition to learning how to get along with Stewart, Chievous had to come to grips with the slow pace of Columbia. The people seemed to be from another country. They were so friendly they scared him. He thought they were either trying to rob him or were gay.
Columbia is a city of 62,000, where you can get, besides a seven-ounce sirloin in a pizzeria, eight radio stations, three TV stations and two daily newspapers, including the Columbia Missourian, which has a staff of more than 300 student reporters at any one time. All of which makes for more journalists per capita than in any other community in the land. "They've got 11 people covering the point guard," jokes Stewart, who has never much cottoned to the press. "Once in a while they do a feature on the stool I sit on. But I've got to hand it to the J-school. It's given me headaches for years, but it finally got me a player."
Like many kids, Chievous played Nerf basketball at home, pretending he was some star or other. Only he would run over to record every shot after he made it. When he was at Holy Cross, he told Steve Barenfeld, the high school writer for the New York Post, "My dream is to do what you do. And in a few years, I'll have your job." When coaches came calling, he had so thoroughly devoured all the basketball annuals that he could tell each his starting lineup. "I wanted Bill Travers [Barenfeld's counterpart at the Daily News] to hook me with a nickname, and all he'd do was call me No-Show. So I figured, if they're not doing it right, I can."
He broke into big-time print with a dispatch from the World University Games to the Columbia Daily Tribune in which he commented on the "unique culture and exquisite character" of the Japanese. But the Missouri J-school demands time commitments that few students, least of all major-college athletes, can fulfill. So Chievous is majoring in broadcasting, serving as an interviewer on Stewart's TV show and casting his critical eye on the tube. "Al McGuire, he speaks the gospel to me," Chievous says. "But Dick Vitale should have never taken his glasses off. They were his gimmick. They made him look like Bullwinkle. That's Dow Jones, a guy who takes his glasses off"
Chievous did his first real television gig last fall in Columbia; the NCAA had him film an antidrug spot. "I show up, and I'm looking like New York with rings and things, thinking, 'Wow, this is national, I want some girls to check me out.' So I've got my Available-Just-Tonight look. I go, 'Drugs stink. And you know that's not the word I want to use.' The producer says, 'Oh, you don't mean it.' And I tell her I do, only that it's gonna get me killed. Back home they'll say, 'Yo, man, you didn't really mean that. That's bad for business.' "
Curiously, Chievous rarely speaks with reporters after games, and for a long time he spoke to few at all. "Not too many of these guys do a good job," he had said. "I want to be the first reporter who does." During his freshman season Chievous claimed that a Detroit writer misquoted him by saying he was so homesick he planned to transfer.
"I just want to play basketball, get my degree and get out of here," Chievous says. "When I get my degree I'm gonna have on nothing but punk panties under my gown and a big rope with a medallion around my neck and a Word-Up hairdo. Have a city graduation, instead of a Missour-uh one. Then, get a job—nine to five, behind the scenes. Think about the future.
"For so long I lived life day to day. Living in this different atmosphere gets me thinking, 'Hmmmm, maybe I will be around tomorrow. Maybe I won't walk outside my apartment building and get shot at.' 'Paper" is my new word. Represents money. Once I make that, I'll pay back my dues to my mother."
His mother, a nurse, wouldn't have let him transfer. They're a family of survivors. Ask Chievous about it and he says, "You've got to concentrate, now," before embarking on a complex story of fathers—natural, surrogate and step, living and dead; multiple birth certificates; and far-flung siblings, including a twin sister and a brother named Karim. But he would rather you not spell out the details, because it is confusing, and, besides, the real point is that his mother has been there all along. "My mom and I are similar," he says. "Only I'm real patient, and she's not."
Says she, "Sometimes I tell him it's not always good to say what you think. He says, 'But Ma, you do it.' We more or less raised each other. I'd say he's my husband and dad, too."
Her care packages of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch pulled Chievous through his freshman year. But now he would have you believe he takes his diet more seriously. As any good athlete would, he says, "I eat my Wheaties."
As any good journalist would, you follow up with that extra question: How?
"With chocolate milk."