BOSTON — BOSTON -- You want warm and wonderful this time of year? Look no further than the end of the Celtics bench. There you will find a player who, hands down, wins the Most Unlikely To Be Here contest.
Brett Szabo is earning an NBA paycheck this season. It's a first for him and it represents the culmination of many years of long hours, hard work and little exposure. He may not be around to collect it much longer, but he has defied pretty long odds to make it this far. In other words, don't bet against him.
LTC Let's start with the rather unusual scenario that Szabo, a rookie, is older than Gary Payton, Rick Fox, Dee Brown and Toni Kukoc. He'll turn 29 on Feb. 1. Usually, 28-year-old rookies have some cachet -- mainly, a European background. Especially if said individual is 6 feet 11. In other words, if he hasn't made it by now, there should be a message there.
Szabo never saw the message and doesn't even know if there is one.
"I've never been the kind of person to quit," he said. "Nothing has ever been handed to me."
A 28-year-old rookie is rare enough. How about a 28-year-old rookie with double vision who went through college as a walk-on at a Division II school and was never even drafted?
Two days after graduating from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S. D., Szabo was on a plane to Australia. A team had offered him a job, sight unseen.
That lasted a year. Then came a succession of CBA stops. He returned to Sioux Falls and played in the CBA franchise there from 1991-93. He also had stops in Rochester, Rockford and Harrisburg. Last year, he went back across the pond and played for Landshut in Germany.
His CBA resume looks a lot like someone who, well, probably should be looking for another line of work. He averaged 3.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 13.1 minutes a game in 122 games. He shot 48 percent from the field and 67 percent from the line.
M.L. Carr takes credit for Szabo being here. He said he noticed him working out at Brandeis with agent Guy Zucker, who occasionally brings his players over to the university to play. Carr played a little with Szabo and put the memory in storage. Then, big men started falling in training camp and Szabo was signed a week into camp.
"This has always been a dream of mine," he said. "I have bounced around quite a bit. But I know there are no guarantees. I realize I'm not getting a lot of opportunities. I have to go out and play hard every day in practice. You never know what's going to happen."
Szabo has become a fan favorite in the FleetCenter. The sight of him getting ready to enter the game and putting on his corrective goggles gets them charged up.
Szabo has appeared in 17 of the 24 games, sometimes as a last-second substitute to guard the passer of an inbounds play. He has produced a total of 18 points, three more than Pervis Ellison in 55 fewer minutes.
He will be on pins and needles in the next couple of weeks. The dreaded day for players without guaranteed contracts is Jan. 10. On that day, all contracts become guaranteed and, sometimes, players like Szabo, whose $220,000 minimum deal is not guaranteed, get released.
"I approach every day like it might be my last one," he said. "But I've never been one to say I see the end of the road."
Pub Date: 12/24/96