Harvey Catchings

Harvey Catchings’ path to the NBA was less than conventional. But an 11-year career that included nine playoff appearances is proof that success is found when hard work and opportunity come together.

“I had decent skills and ability, but I always tried to keep getting better,” Catching said in reference to an NBA career in which he provided rebounding and defense as a big man for Philadelphia, New Jersey, Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Clippers. “Inevitably, at the end of training camp, I was still standing because I went out, worked hard and tried to make my teams better.”

The fact that Catchings had an NBA career that spanned more than a decade might seem like a minor miracle, considering he didn’t really play basketball in high school while growing up in Jackson, Miss.  Instead, Catchings played the drums.

“I was a member of the band and was all-state on drums,” Catching said. “It was a wonderful experience, but it became kind of awkward when I kept growing. People started asking me if I was going to play basketball. Coaches asked me if I was going to play.”

So as a 6-foot-6 high school senior, Catchings gave basketball a try. But with extremely limited experience and abilities, his first shot at basketball was an air ball.

“I couldn’t run and chew gum at the same time, so I quit and went back to band after eight games,” Catchings said.

Still, despite a rocky beginning, Catchings was just about to get his first big break in basketball. An aunt in California worked at UCLA and had a relationship with legendary Louisville coach Denny Crum, who was then an assistant to the even more legendary John Wooden. Catchings knew he wasn’t even close to being the type of player Wooden and Crum brought into a UCLA program that won 10 NCAA championships between 1964 and 1975, but that didn’t stop him from going out to Los Angeles and working out for Crum.

“My parents sent me out to California and I worked out for Denny Crum,” Catching said. “There’s no question that I was not UCLA material at that point, but Denny had a friend who coached at Weatherford Junior College.

And so Catchings – who had grown to 6-foot-9 – made his way to Weatherford, Texas. Hard work marked his time in North Texas and slowly he began to develop and take to the game of basketball. But when the program was dropped after the 1971 season, Catchings again found himself at a basketball crossroads.

Now a known commodity as a college basketball post player, Catchings had options and initially signed on to play at the University of New Mexico. But once he got to Albuquerque, something just didn’t feel right. Glen Whitis and Russell Berry had recruited Catchings at Howard Payne University, an NAIA program, and when they took over at Hardin Simmons (Whitis was head coach from 1970 to 1972, Berry from 1972 to 1976) – then a Division I program in Abilene, Texas – Catchings followed his heart back to the Lone Star State.

At Hardin Simmons, Catchings truly blossomed as a player and averaged more than 17 points and 11 rebounds in both his junior and senior seasons. The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Catchings in both 1973 and 1974 and he joined the club as a role player for the 1974-75 seasons. He would go on to spend five and a half seasons in Philadelphia.

Perhaps the high point of Catchings’ NBA career was the five seasons he spent with Milwaukee. Coached by Don Nelson, the Bucks featured star players Sidney Moncrief, Marques Johnson and Bob Lanier. Milwaukee made it at least to the conference semi-finals from 1979-80 to 1983-84, with Catchings filling a solid role as defensive presence in the paint.

“Nellie was fun to play for,” Catching said. “You hear the term players coach, and it’s always great when you play for someone who played the game. I knew my role was to play solid defense, block shots and rebound.”

Filling that role gave Catchings – the high school drummer from Jackson, Miss. – a career that allowed him to play in more than 700 NBA games. Today he applies that same work ethic to his branch manager position in the mortgage business in Houston. Catchings remains close to the game today as a member of the Board of Directors for the NBRPA and stays grounded as the father Chrystelle, Kenyon, Tauja, Bryce and 2011 WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever.

“As an NBRPA board member, I want to listen to membership and let them be involved in processes we have,” Catching said. “It’s time to come together the way we did when we played the game. We have a lot to do with this organization.”

And with a full to-do list, the NBRPA should be served well by a blue-collar teammate like Catchings as one of the organization’s leaders.