If you had seen him at the NBA draft at the palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., last week, you would have remembered Romanian center Gheorghe Muresan—all 7'7" and 315 pounds of him. You would have remembered how, when he stood near 6'9", 263-pound forward Chris Webber and 6'7", 235-pound forward Rodney Rogers, he made them look as if they were there for the jayvee game. You would have remembered how he had waited in the section reserved for players and their families, watching all the first-round picks leave after they were selected, until he was the last player sitting there, still unchosen but still smiling.
At last, Muresan's name was called, the third pick of the second round by the Washington Bullets, and he lumbered across the stage to NBA vice-president Rod Thorn, the crowd cheering the way it does when the last player on the bench finally gets into the game. But the Bullets, the team that drafted 7'6" Manute Bol and 5'4" Muggsy Bogues, didn't draft Muresan just as a novelty act. "He's potentially a fine player," said Washington general manager John Nash. "He hasn't played against the quality of competition players see in the U.S., so he obviously has some catching up to do."
Muresan, 22, averaged 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds last season for Pau Orthez, a team in the French League, which is not Europe's toughest league. NBA scouts liked his hands, though, and they say his shooting touch is accurate from 10 to 12 feet. "I think I can match their skills," said Muresan at the draft, referring to NBA players. "Right now, today."
Wrong. Muresan didn't get any topflight coaching until last season. Among other things, he had to be taught how to do a push-up. "You saw him walk across the stage toward Thorn?" said one NBA general manager. "He was pretty much moving at top speed. He's slow, but anytime you get a guy who can block shots without jumping, you take him."
The other thing Muresan got for the first time while with Pau Orthez was a decent paycheck. He made $300,000 last season, some of which he used to buy his parents a house in Romania, the family's first home with indoor plumbing and electricity. However, he wasn't thinking about guaranteed contracts and salary-cap restrictions on draft night. "I don't believe I've ever been so happy in my whole life," he said. "Just the thrill of having my name called was the greatest excitement."
Lots of players say such things at such moments, but Muresan obviously meant them. He is star-struck about the NBA, which may be why he enjoyed the draft so much. After he was picked, he spoke to the press with the help of an interpreter, until he was asked at the end to say something in English. He smiled and drew a laugh when he said, "I love this game"—the NBA's slogan.
You knew then, even if he never plays in a regular-season NBA game, which is a distinct possibility, you would always remember Gheorghe Muresan.
ALLEN EINSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS
Commissioner David Stern made small talk with a very large Romanian at the NBA draft.