The March Legacy

Posted By | June 30, 2011 12:00 am

I saw on ESPN’s website late Monday night that Lorenzo Charles had been killed in a bus accident.
Most of you reading this might not recognize the name Lorenzo Charles, but if you follow the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament, you have seen him many, many times.
Charles was the one who caught Derrick Whittenburg’s air ball and dunked it through as time expired in the 1983 national championship game against the high flying Phi Slamma Jamma aka the Houston Cougars. That dunk gave the Wolfpack the 54-52 win over the Cougars making them still to date one of the biggest Cinderella teams to win the title. The dunk, along with Coach Jim Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug, has become one of the most often showed clips of the NCAA tournament.
Charles’ dunk helped to really jump start what we now know as March Madness. The previous championship (1982) was won by North Carolina when they beat Georgetown in a dramatic final minute of action that included a game winning jumper by a guy named Michael Jordan and a crazy pass to James Worthy by a Hoya player sealing the win.
March Madness really became madness in 1983 in large part to N.C. State and Lorenzo Charles. The dunk at the close of the national championship game put the exclamation point on the Cinderella run through the tournament.
N.C. State had to win the ACC tournament to even get into the NCAA tournament. They had to beat Carolina and Michael Jordan along with Virginia, whose star was Ralph Sampson, to get in the field.
They very nearly didn’t make it past the first round as they had to overcome Pepperdine, the 11th seed, in double overtime.
They once again had to beat one of the number one seeds, Virginia, on the way to the title game.
The Wolfpack beat Georgia in one of the semifinal games. The other semifinal game was between the two top ranked teams in the country, Houston and Louisville. One was known as Phi Slamma Jamma, the other as the Doctors of Dunk. In a high flying offensive showdown, Houston won 94-81. Houston had 14 dunks in the semifinal game including a stretch of eight in a row to put the game away. Everyone presumed that the national champion would be the winner of that game. After all, N.C. State would be no match for Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.
But they were and Charles’ dunk will forever be etched in NCAA tournament history. State was an eight-point underdog. They survived a 15-2 run by the Cougars at the start of the second half. I remember vividly watching that game sitting in my living room. The final 44 seconds of that game were remarkable. State made 17 passes on that final possession holding for the last shot. However, a near steal by the Cougars left Whittenburg with the desperation heave from 35 feet. Houston was not in position for the rebound. Charles was. If I wasn’t hooked on every minute of the tournament then, I was from that moment on.
I had hoped that sometime when I was out visiting the Harpers at N.C. State, Charles might be hanging around the gymnasium and I might get to meet him and tell him that his dunk hooked me on March Madness. Regrettably that’s not ever going to happen now.
Rest in peace, Lorenzo Charles. Your legacy will forever be etched in video memory.

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