Sid Catlett, 69, Star of a Classic High School Basketball Game, Dies

Sid Catlett, 69, Star of a Classic High School Basketball Game, Dies

“Depending on where he was, there were always two people on him,” Catlett told capitalofbasketball.com, a blog about basketball in Washington, in 2015. “We’d beat him to a spot, take him out of his comfort zones and away from the particular places on the floor he liked.”

Photo

Bob Whitmore, left, Sid Catlett and Ernie Austin of DeMatha Catholic High School during the 1964-65 basketball season, when they ended Power Memorial Academy’s 71-game winning streak. Credit DeMatha Catholic High School

The plan worked. Before 12,500 fans at sold-out Cole Field House at the University of Maryland in College Park — which accommodated a far larger crowd than DeMatha’s gym could — DeMatha won, 46-43. Alcindor scored only 16 points, well below his average.

And Catlett led the Stags with 13 points, seven during the last four minutes.

Catlett, who went on to play college and pro ball, died on Nov. 3 in Atlanta. He was 69. His wife, Tahira Hughes Catlett, said the cause was complications of a brain bleed.

DeMatha’s victory over Power Memorial has been called by some the greatest high school basketball game ever played. It was the high point in Catlett’s basketball life, which continued at the University of Notre Dame and briefly in the National Basketball Association.

“Nothing I was involved in was bigger,” he told The Washington City Paper in 2011.

Abdul-Jabbar, whose brilliant career continued at U.C.L.A. and in the N.B.A. over 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, recalled the aftermath of the game in his autobiography, “Giant Steps” (with Peter Knobler, 1983).

“I was a little dazed,” he wrote, recalling that he had been reluctant to peel off his uniform. “I’d gotten only 16 points; it had been a hard afternoon, and I felt like I’d personally lost it.”

Sidney Leon Catlett was born in Washington on April 8, 1948. His father, also named Sidney (but best known as Big Sid), was a renowned jazz drummer who played with Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and many others. The elder Catlett died in 1951, shortly before his son’s third birthday. His mother, the former Florence Elizabeth Jackson, was an administrative assistant at the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

As a child, Catlett played the drums, emulating what he heard of his father from his records.

But, he said, “I’m 12 years old and I’m 6-foot-2 and there is no way I’d survive in the community without playing basketball,” he told The Washington City Paper. “I couldn’t serve two masters.”

James Brown, the CBS sportscaster who was Catlett’s teammate for two years at DeMatha, said that he had “prodigious talent.”

In a telephone interview, Mr. Brown said, “He was silky smooth, with a body like LeBron James’s and a feathery-soft jump shot.”

After averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds a game in his senior year at DeMatha, Catlett played three years at Notre Dame, averaging 7.9 points and 8.3 rebounds and graduating with a degree in business communication.

In 1971, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals, but an appendectomy before the season and subsequent injuries limited his playing time. Worried that he did not fit into the Royals coach Bob Cousy’s plans, Catlett told The Cincinnati Enquirer in early 1972, “I’ve come too far in basketball to think of getting down, giving up.”

But two weeks later, the Royals cut him. He never played in the N.B.A. again.

In addition to his wife, Catlett is survived by his son, Sidney II; his daughter, Sadjah Catlett Echols; a stepson, Mahmoud Hylton, and a stepdaughter, Hasaani Hylton; 12 grandchildren; and his sisters, Cheryl Lewis and Denise Hodges. His marriage to Sharon Johnson ended in divorce.

Catlett worked over the years as an executive at Converse and Motorola and an administrative assistant for the Peace Corps in Kenya. He was also an aide to Representative Dan Lungren, Republican of California, who credited him in a telephone interview with being “my point man” in his efforts to pass the legislation in the House of Representatives in 1983 making the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.

Catlett hosted talk radio shows in Washington and for Harambee Radio Online. And he organized basketball clinics for youngsters in Atlanta, which brought him to the attention of the N.B.A.’s Atlanta Hawks, for whom he had worked the last five years at camps and clinics as part of the team’s community basketball development staff.

DeMatha’s victory over Power Memorial bore an unexpected dividend for Catlett nearly 40 years later. Abdul-Jabbar, a jazz aficionado, called Catlett one day to say he had found a DVD with a film clip of a jazz performance that showed Big Sid speaking to the camera — a sound his son had never heard.

“We went to Tower Records in Rockville,” Ms. Hughes Catlett said in an interview. “And when he got home and watched it, he burst into tears — happy tears.”

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