It has been called the greatest high school game ever played.
It was the long-awaited rematch sending the nation's No. 1-ranked high school, Power Memorial Academy of New York, and 7-foot-2 center Lew Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), against No. 2 DeMatha.
Power, which had defeated DeMatha, 65-62, the year before, had a 71-game winning streak. DeMatha had won 24 consecutive games since. More than 12,500 showed up on a snowy afternoon at Cole Field House to watch the two powerhouses go at it.
"The degree of intensity and concentration had built to such a point that we felt we had to play the game of our lives," said Sid Catlett, who along with Bob Whitmore, was assigned the task of stopping Alcindor that day. "I remember he got 38 against us the first time and we knew he could only be better the next year."
Another DeMatha starter that afternoon, Bernie Williams, said: "We were just so much in awe of him the first time. He was 7-foot and could do it all so well. The matchup was everything anyone could hope for. It would be a game everyone would remember for a long, long time."
DeMatha needed a new strategy to offset the size and quickness of the player called the New York Giant. Principal John Moylan came up with it.
"John was a tennis player and he suggested we use rackets during practice to simulate Abdul-Jabbar's reach," recalled Morgan Wootten, now in his 25th year as head coach at DeMatha. "So we ran our offense with everyone taking turns shooting with a higher trajectory. Abdul-Jabbar blocked a lot of shots and forced us to change our shots in the first game. This time, we weren't intimidated by him."
DeMatha's strategy worked. Catlett and Whitmore, each 6-8, limited Alcindor to 16 points, half his average, and shot only high-arching shots over the tall center in fashioning a thrilling 46-43 upset.
In his recent autobiography, "Giant Steps," Abdul-Jabbar said, "It had been a hard night . . . . I was unwilling to take my uniform off and admit the game was over. I was a little dazed."
Power Memorial Coach Jack Donahue recalled the game as being one of the best high school events ever.
"DeMatha exploited some of our weaknesses the second time," said Donahue, now the Canadian Olympic basketball coach. "We finished about 32-1 that year and I was surprised other teams didn't try to. It was hard to believe many teams in America were better than we were. That game had a tremendous impact on the high school game."
Today marks the 20th anniversary of that game. A committee from that 1965 DeMatha team will hold a news conference today to announce a commemorative gala dinner to be held at a later date.
Catlett, the chairman of this affair, said the 20th anniversary is designed to honor those District-area athletes who participated and had such a major impact on high school athletics, to begin a scholarship fund at DeMatha in the name of the 1965 team and to introduce a nonprofit high-tech work program for youth of the Washington area.
Mayor Marion Barry has offically proclaimed today as a 20th anniversary commemoration day in recognition of the '65 DeMatha team.
Most people involved in the game say it had a measurable impact on high school basketball and was responsible for propelling DeMatha, its program and Wootten into the national limelight.
"At the time, the Redskins weren't winning, there was no Bullets and the colleges were not nearly as good as they are now," said Williams, who went to La Salle College and now is a marketing representative for a telecommunications company. "That game drew a lot of attention. Coach Wootten and DeMatha did a lot for area basketball that day."
Wootten said the victory certainly gave the Washington area credibility and put its teams on a par with New York's and Philadelphia's schools.
"The unbeaten Carroll teams (of the late 1950s) started us on the road to being recognized. Our win over Abdul-Jabbar and Power then gave us the reputation as a basketball area," he said. "The influx of college coaches coming here really began after that."
Catlett, a sophomore on the '65 team, said the game served as the first steppingstone for his playing days at Notre Dame and afterward.
"I'd like to think that game intensified the interest of Washington-area players," he said. "We established a tradition that day that's still paying dividends. The effort that went into that preparation was immeasurable. The work that goes into excellence, dedication and sacrifice shows up in life."
The scholarship for disadvantaged youth to attend DeMatha is sort of a payback for what the school did for them.
"Although it is in Maryland, DeMatha has gotten something from the D.C. kids and the kids have gotten something from DeMatha," Catlett said. "It's been a fair tradeoff. And we hope whatever we established in 1965 will help some kids who plan to better their education.
"All of our successes and paths we've taken the last 20 years are a direct result of that one basketball game. In 20 years, it will be 2005 and some of us won't be around to celebrate. That's why we want to highlight that aspect of our lives now."