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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Calvin Natt

The excitement and electricity associated with an NBA career are part of his past. These days, Calvin Natt is the proud owner of Natt Mortuary, a funeral home in Denver.

His transition from baskets to caskets has been a successful one, and those who know him well know there is one common denominator: hard work.

“No one had that kind of drive,” said Northeast Louisiana basketball coach Mike Vining, who coached Natt at Bastrop High. “I’ve been around players with as much or more talent, but none that carried that competitiveness with them 24 hours a day.

“He always felt like he was supposed to finish first in everything he did. If he ran sprints, he wanted to come in first.”

No surprise

It’s no surprise then that Natt finished as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in NLU history and went on to have a successful 11-year NBA career with the New Jersey Nets, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers. Those achievements earned Natt an induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. He was elected in his first year of eligibility.

Away from the bright lights of NBA stardom, Natt still succeeds. He has taken his general business degree from NLU, his earnings from his pro basketball career and legendary work ethic to be come a successful businessman in one year. The secret? Extra effort.

“That’s just the kind of person that I am,” Natt said. “I’m still that way in my business. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it 100 percent, even if it’s mowing the lawn. My wife tells me that a lot of times I do more than I ought to because I’ve got people here who can do it. But I like things done correctly.”

Owning a mortuary, says Natt, “gives you a different perspective on life. Death has no prejudice to race or age. It makes you have more respect for life. You have to live life to the fullest every day.”

Natt said he has taken a nontraditional approach to the funeral home business and believes his customers appreciate the change.

“When people come in here, it doesn’t look like a mortuary,” Natt said. “We play classical music instead of the old solemn music. We try to make people more relaxed. Our limos are different, too. They’re white instead of the traditional black.”

During his playing years, Natt was hardly a traditional player. At 6-5, he lacked the size to match up with the towering 6-11 and seven-footers commonly found in the NBA. But his diligent play, strength and hustle enabled Natt to pound with the big boys and succeed.

Said Natt: “I was born with a lot of athletic skills, but I had to work on it a lot harder than other people. I had to lift more than other people because I was smaller than a lot of people, and I got used to that.”

Very quick

Lenny Fant, Natt’s coach at NLU, knew he had something special with a player of his size.

“His quickness and timing were so great against those 6-10 and seven-footers,” said Fant, Natt’s presenter at the induction ceremony. “I know what his quickness and strength meant to our basketball team, and I knew he would do the same thing in the pros.”

The NBA was a long way from the cotton and soybean fields of Bastrop. It was at the Morehouse Parish school were Natt earned his reputation and learned hard work was the only way to succeed.

Jamie Mayo, a teammate of Natt’s at Bastrop and NLU, remembers watching the development of a future NBA All-Star.

“We started together in the seventh grade, and that’s when he and I became friends,” Mayo said. “At the time, everybody thought I would be the superstar because I was more advanced. But the thing I saw when we were eighth graders was his work ethic. I can distinctly remember passing him the ball inside, and at the time he would miss a lot of easy shots, but he would miss it, get the rebound, miss it get the rebound and stay after it until he got it. That told me a lot.”

As a sophomore Natt led the Rams to the state runner-up spot and it was then that Vining began to realize what was developing.

By the time Natt was a senior he had developed into a player that would lead the Rams to a state championship and draw widespread interest from college recruiters. The recruiting war was sometimes intense and bizarre.

“I really think he wanted to go to LSU,” Mayo said. “I think that was his first choice, but Calvin was very proud and confident of his abilities and LSU simply treated him as a second choice.”

Dale Brown’s recruiting faux pas was to sink most of his efforts into a player named Larry Wilson. At the time, players had to sign a national letter-of-intent and then a state letter-of-intent. Wilson signed the national letter, but backed away from signing the state letter and eventually ended up playing at Nicholls State. Fant said LSU backed off because of the mistaken impression Natt couldn’t shoot well from the perimeter. Fant is glad for that mistake. For the matter, so is Natt.

Good experiences

“I don’t feel I could have gone to a better school than Northeast,” he said. “I could have gone to a bigger school, but I can’t remember a bad experience that I ever had at Northeast.”

Natt took the NLU campus by storm in 1976, cracking the starting lineup from day one and becoming the highest scoring freshman in the country by averaging 20.6 points per game. As a sophomore he averaged 29 points per game and began to attract national attention and take on the look of a future NBA star.

“As sophomores we went to UNO (New Orleans) for a tournament during the Thanksgiving holidays,” Mayo said. “It was a four-team tournament and we lost our first two games and were out. At the end of the championship game they named the all-tournament team and Calvin was the MVP. The MVP was a guy that played on a team who didn’t win a game. How often do you see that? That’s when I said ‘This is a special person.’”

Later that year Natt got national exposure when the Indians played Denny Crum’s Louisville Cardinals at Freedom Hall. Louisville, led by high-flying Darrel Griffith predictably crushed NLU, but Natt poured in 35 points and thoroughly impressed Crum.

That summer Crum chose Natt to play on the U.S. team at the World University Games along with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Sidney Midcrief, Bill Cartwright and others.

Natt said the experiences of playing alongside players of that caliber was invaluable.

“It made me realize I could play with those people,” he said. “That was a great team and we had a lot of fun. I look at the team and (the Dream Team) that won the Olympics and feel like we were just as good, but we were college students.”

After his illustrious career at NLU, Natt was the sixth player selected in the first round by the New Jersey Nets and was named to the All-Rookie team. In 1985 he was selected to play in the All-Star game. But bad knees and problems with his Achilles heels probably cut short his career by a few years.

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