He came out of his mother’s womb named Lafayette, but would forever keep the moniker ‘Fat Lever’ as he entered into the NBA from Arizona State. His career in the NBA was glamorous as his NBA tenure traversed three cities in 11 years.
Fat received his nickname not from being overweight, the opposite was true, while in the league he was a 6’3”, 175-pound guy that ran the point, but rather from a younger sibling who found it easier just to call him ‘Fat’ than Lafayette.
His career averages: 13.9 ppg, 6.2 apg, 6.0 rpg, 2.2 spg, 0.3 bpg
Fat Lever’s Accomplishments
- 2x All-star (1988, 1990)
- All-Second NBA team (1987)
- All-Second NBA Defensive team (1988)
He spent his first two seasons in Portland and it was in 1984 and in a trade where he was sent to Denver which included future Denver Nuggets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe being sent to Portland. Portland thought this trade would be a “wake-up call” to their roster, when in fact it was the opposite. Denver should have sent the Portland front office a thank-you gift as this trade thrusted Denver forward. He would spend the next six years as a Denver Nugget. While, in Denver he would make quite an impact on the franchise:
- All-Time leader in steals, 1,167
- 2nd in assists, 3,566
- 6th in scoring, 8,081
- 46 triple-doubles
- Lever is one of three NBA players, Chamberlain, Kidd being the other two, to rack up 15 points, assists, rebounds in a single playoff game.
Lever played with Denver greats such as Alex English and Dan Issel, and the team gelled so well they would see the Western Conference finals that season. Although, they did lose to the mighty Lakers, it was a vast and immediate improvement since they entered the league in 1976. In his second season as a Denver Nugget, these were his averages: 14 points, 7.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.
However, it would be his third season in Denver, which would be the Herculean seasons of all seasons. He would dominate the offense and defense that year as he amassed the ridiculous averages of 19 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists per game. Filthy. He was everything for Denver at that point: a distributor, basketball IQ, smart decisions, and worked in the half court. Oh, and his lightning fast hand…..God wanted him to steal that ball.
Let’s not forget that Fat was ONLY 6’3” but could rebound like he was 6’8”. Think about the premier point guard of today, Chris Paul, how often is he snagging 9 rebounds per game for an entire season?? This is the greatness that is Fat Lever, he was this beautiful, well-constructed, all-around NBA player, something that is a scarcity in the NBA of his size and position. Let’s also realize that he attained more steals than turnovers, which was a hefty surprise in Coach Moe’s “running” system.
At a mere 6’3″ and 175 pounds, he not only led the Nuggets in rebounding but also outdid two thirds of the NBA’s starting centers, including 10 7-footers, in that department. Beyond that, he led the league by racking up 16 triple doubles—hoops shorthand for attaining double figures in points, rebounds and assists in a game. Only a few pros have the size and versatility to get more than a handful of triple doubles. The category was, in effect, created for Magic Johnson, who holds the NBA single-season record of 18, set in 1981-82. Lever’s averages in ’86-87 were 18.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game. And he was supreme at both handling the ball and stripping it; only three other starting point guards had more steals than turnovers, and Lever beat out all of them in swipes with 201 (against 167 turnovers), sixth best in the league.
Let’s not forget the game in 1988, where the Nuggets would take on the Chicago Bulls, in which Fat would nearly score a quadruple-double with 31 points, 16 rebounds, 12 assists, and 9 steals:
In the NBA era of today where ego is as common place as neck tattoos, Fat Lever was the polar opposite. He had ZERO ego, he treated the sport like the holy grail of professions. When he was honored for an amazing individual performance, he simply dismissed it as a stellar team performance.
One of the most shocking, but disheartening things about Fat, was the fact he was an All-Star Caliber player; to say was a brilliant player would do him no justice, but the he was never FULLY recognized by the league. His omissions from the All-Star games were so evident and gargantuan, that another Denver Nugget great, Alex English, wanted to give up his bid so that Lever could play. However, it would never come to pass as the league would never allow it.
Over the next 3 years, Fat Lever would rack up the stats: 18.9 ppg. 8.9 rpg, 7.5 apg, and 2.5 spg. However, by 1990, Denver was fighting a losing battle as age was showing in many of the Denver Nuggets, and it was time to start the rebuilding process. He would be traded to the Dallas Mavericks for two first-round draft picks and would finish his career as a Dallas Maverick He would endure two knee surgeries and would retire during the 1993-1994 NBA season.
The fact is, Fat Lever was merciless in his ability to have a near-perfect ALL-AROUND game, he didn’t do it with flashy dunks, he didn’t do it with showboating, he wasn’t grandiose or brazen. He was simply a beautiful work of basketball.
“ But a lot of the guys play toward the TV. And I think that’s part of the game. It’s changed. It’s a wonderful game, don’t change it. Basketball is basketball once you get on the floor. And if you win, that takes care of everything.”