A basketball Bedouin who has played for 10 teams in seven years,
Moochie Norris was a long shot to make the Sonics roster. But
that doesn't mean the 6'1" lefty point guard, one of the NBA's
early-season surprises, was a sleeper.
Martyn Bernard Norris--his grandfather nicknamed him Moochie
after the Cab Calloway tune Minnie the Moocher--has suffered
from insomnia since his mother, Irma, died of cancer in 1989. He
rarely gets more than two hours of shut-eye a night and says he
has "tried everything" to solve the problem. Last year, while
toiling for the Fort Wayne Fury in the CBA, he'd go to bed
wearing glasses that flashed lights and emitted a thumping sound
when he closed his eyes. (The thinking was that he'd focus on
the noise and lights and clear his mind.) But on a typical
night, Norris is doing push-ups and sit-ups, reading the Bible
or listening to the lullabies of another erstwhile member of the
Fury, Master P. "My coaches ask me, 'Did you sleep last night?'"
he says. "I say, 'Yeah, I got a lot of sleep--8, 10 hours.' But
it's really more like one or two."
Norris's prevaricating notwithstanding, Seattle's coaches are
swooning over him. He's endowed with fiendish quickness and a
nasty crossover, and his strong play against Payton in training
camp obviated the need for Seattle to sign a veteran guard such
as Kevin Johnson. "Moochie is good with the ball, and he has a
knack for making the right decisions," says Sonics coach Paul
Westphal. "At his height you'd better be crafty, or you'll be
Norris hasn't had to say, "Paper or plastic?" but he has
survived a dizzying hoops odyssey. A native of Washington, D.C.,
he spent two years at Odessa (Texas) Junior College and then
decamped to Auburn. He was declared ineligible before his senior
season because of recruiting violations, so he transferred to
West Florida, where he played in just 16 games. He was a
second-round pick of the Bucks in 1996 but was cut a few months
into the season. From there, he bounced like a pinball from team
to team, playing in France and Chile, doing an eight-game stint
with the Vancouver Grizzlies and four tours of duty in the CBA.
"I saw him during the lockout when Fort Wayne played against
Yakima," says Westphal. "I thought, That little fella can play."
February 22, 1999
The rest of the league thought the same thing after Norris's
performance in Seattle's season opener against Portland. During
a fourth-quarter rally, he drained four three-point shots and
helped to neutralize Blazers playmaker Damon Stoudamire. At one
point during Seattle's 91-88 victory, Westphal turned to Payton
and asked jokingly, "How'd you like to play some two [shooting
guard]?" Norris finished with three assists, three rebounds and
12 points and was an instant Seattle fan favorite.
"Unbelievable," says Norris. "I started the season in the CBA,
and now I'm on a top team where the fans yell out my name when
I'm on the court." Were it any other player, one would be
tempted to call it a dream come true.
--L. Jon Wertheim