B/R's March Madness Top Moments, No. 1: Lorenzo Charles Slams Houston

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Rare is the sports upset that grows more meaningful with time.

Usually the characters fade and whither. Usually our awe subsides, replaced instead with a sense of the inevitable. Usually we lose interest.

So when we say that North Carolina State's stunning win over Houston in the 1983 championship game might be more remarkable now than it was 30 years ago, what we're really saying is that the game and its principals, through triumph and loss, are still finding ways to surprise us.

The initial surprise, of course, was that NC State had made the final at all.

Seeded sixth out of the West Region, Jim Valvano's team finished the regular season 17-10, needing a miracle run through the ACC tournament simply to qualify for the NCAAs.

To reach that year's title game, the Wolfpack then had to beat the following future pros:

Dane Suttle (Pepperdine) -- 69-67, OT

Sidney Green (UNLV) -- 71-70

Pace Mannion (Utah) -- 75-56

Othell Wilson (Virginia)

Kenton Edelin (Virginia)

Rick Carlisle (Virginia)

Ralph Sampson (Virginia) -- 63-62

Vern Fleming (Georgia) -- 67-60

 

The Houston team that awaited them in Albuquerque had gone 31-2 that year, winning each of its four previous tournament games by seven or more. Guy Lewis' Cougars were led by four future NBA players: Michael Young, Larry Micheaux, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

By comparison, North Carolina State had just one player, senior forward Thurl Bailey, who would play more than 200 games at the next level.

In some ways, the outcome feels more impossible now then it did in 1983. Hakeem and Clyde, two all-time legends. Beaten. By who?

Naturally, how they were beaten plays some role in the remembrance.

After a series of missed Houston free throws, NC State had possession of the ball with time winding down and the score tied at 50.

A panicked final sequence left the ball in the hands of Wolfpack guard Dereck Whittenburg about 40 feet from the basket.

With four seconds left, Whittenburg launched a prayer, which was summarily answered when teammate Lorenzo Charles snagged Whittenburg's air-ball mid-flight and slammed it home for the game winning bucket.

Euphoric and in search of a hug, Valvano sprinted onto the court.

The moment would make heroes out of both men— player and coach. And both, tragically, would contribute to the moment's legacy, giving it new life and meaning through the loss of their own.

Valvano's charisma propelled him onto the national stage, where he would go to call games for ABC and ESPN as a color commentator. In 1992 he was diagnosed with bone cancer, and died less than a year later.

In death, Valvano would become a sort of martyr for the anti-cancer cause, his name appended to a high-profile cancer research charity and his famous speech at the 1993 ESPY awards re-purposed as modern-day scripture.

Charles played overseas for 12 years before returning to Raleigh. He took a job with a motorcoach company and died in 2011 when a bus he was piloting crashed on North Carolina's Interstate-40.

Both men were 47 when they passed. Both men are buried at Raleigh's Oakwood Cemetery, three miles east of Reynolds Coliseum.

 

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