The New York Post said he was 7-feet-2 and growing by the hour. The New York Daily News called him the 7-foot-4 giant." The New York Times, careful as always, would only allow him 7-feet-1.
But it was a case of a rose by any other height. Or perhaps a whole bouquet. For this was The Man they were talking about. The Tower of Power. The greatest basketball player ever to survive boyhood on Manhattan Island: Lew Alcindor.
Not much bad had befallen Lew Alcindor by the time he was 17, in January, 1965. But on the 31st of that month, he and his Power Memorial Academy team came to Washington to play De Matha High School of Hyattsville.
They say Memory Lane has no ruts. But for the De Matha folk associated with that game, the pavement is legitimately smooth. Not only did De Matha win, 46-43, but the loss was the only one Lew Alcindor suffered in three years of high school play.
Thirteen years later to the week, only Morgan Wootten remains remotely the same. He was, and is, the De Matha coach.
Alcindor, now know as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is the hub of the Los Angeles Lakers and a five-time most valuable player in the National Basketball Association. The De Matha starting five, now pushing 30, or pushing past it, have gone on to careers in business or law.
But they all remember. You'd better believe they do. In microscopic detail.
It was the game that put Washington basketball on the map," said Wootten. "It was the greatest moment of our lives," said Bob Whitmore, now a Washington lawyer but then the man who had to guard Mr. Big.
Even Abdul-Jabbar remembers. Last month, a former De Matha player, Adrian Dantley, was traded to the Lakers. "I don't know if I should talk to you," [WORD ILLEGIBLE] man is said to have said, by way of a greeting.
But the memory of '65 may be sweetest for Wooten because, for him, it was more than a big basketball victory. Two days afterward, his oldest child, Kathy was born.
In fact, Kathy unwittingly provided her father with a small psychological edge.
Power coach Jack Donohue had been assigned a parking space at Cole Field House for the game. But when he showed up in his rented car, a Secret Service agent (and Wootten pal) was standing in it. He told Donohue no dice.
It seems the expectant father had arranged to have an ambulance standing by during the game, in case Mrs. W. chose that time to start delivering. One-upsmanship being what it is, Wootten could not think of a better space to have it stand by in than Donohue's.
Actually, though, the psychological edge was all Power's. Just to lay eyes on Alcindor was to be flipped out. Bob Whitmore, no leprechaun himself at 6-feet-8, remembers his first glimpse all too well.
"We had a pregame meal at De Matha, and the priest asked everyone to stand for the prayer," Whitmore recalls. "He just kept going up and up and up. And my heart kept going down, down, down.
"You know, you hear so much about a guy, and you tell yourself he can be but so good.Hell, I had played against seven-footers before. But he would turn and shoot it on you just like that. It was an experience I had never encountered before."
Nor had the De Mathas encountered the likes of Alcindor's shotblocking. "The first shot we took, Alcindor knocked it into Section C somewhere," Wootten remembers.
But Power was not having an easy time scoring on De Matha, either. The New Yorkers led by 11-8 at the end of the first quarter, but when Sid Catlett hit a long one-hander in the second quarter to put De Matha ahead, 18-17, Power never again led.
De Martha ended up with 17 field goals in the game, an exceptionally small total. Exceptional, too, was where they came from. All were higharcing shots from the outside, for anything inside would have met with an obvious, Alcindrous fate.
But it was no accident that De Matha's arcs were high. For a whole week before the Power game, De Matha had practiced shooting over Catlett and Whitmore as they held tennis rackets high in the air. Alcindor wasn't that tall, but practice made perfect.
Still, De Matha led by only a point with two minutes left. A crowd of 12,500 was screaming itself silly. But that did not prevent Carlett from hitting a jump shot and two free throws. When guard Mickey Wiles made two more free throws with a minute left, De Matha was home free.
Gone was Power's 71-game winning streak, the second longest in high school history at that time. Gone was the knock so often administered - that Washington basketball temas never beat anyone good. And gone was all hope or order in the De Matha locker room.
"We were deliriously happy," Wootten recalls. "So delirious I can't remember much. What I do remember is at about 4 that morning, we were still celebrating and the newsboy, who went to De Matha, delivered the paper. He put the sports section on top."
Five players went all the way for De Matha in that game of games: Whitmore, Catlett, Wiles, Ernie Austin and Bernard Williams. All played basketball in college, and Williams played seven years in the pros. Four are still in the Washington area, and all remain close friends.
For Morgan Wootten, though, it's another season. As he sat in his office one day last month, ranked first in the city and undefeated, a familiar cyclone spun around him. A sportswriter called. A college recruiter called. A student got approval of an ad that will appear in a program.
Thirteen years may be marched by since The Game, but time doesn't stand still.
"You know, I never want to compare players and I hate to compare teams," Wootten said. "But being very honest about it, this was the game that got the whole world talking about us. It was just total unselfishness and dedication toward a goal. Beautiful."
For Bon Whitmore, The Game wasn't much statistically. He scored only four points. But he held Lew Alcindor to 16, less than half his average.
"I played a guy who was almost superhuman," recalled Whitmore. "He knocked me down, but he didn't knock me out. That's what you learn from athletics. You climb back up. You stay with it."