Tuesday, June 28, 2011

March Madness Hero that will live forever

One of the truly great moments in NCAA Basketball History was brought back to life on Tuesday, but in June not March. The rebirth took place once again, because the architect of the high-lite passed away. On a stretch of Interstate-40 in Raleigh, North Carolina, not far from where he was still worshipped as a godlike figure around North Carolina State’s William Neal Reynolds Coliseum, Lorenzo Charles died. Charles was driving a charter bus, something he’d done for the Elite Coach Company for over a decade. The vehicle swerved off the road, ran up a hill and into some trees. He perished at the scene.

But you see, Charles will really never leave our world or college basketball fans for that matter. His memorable play in the 1983 NCAA Championship Game is burned into the fabric of the March Madness, while it’s also of course, caught on video tape.

His one shinning moment was more than just being at the right place at the right time. It was about desire and determination, something his Wolfpack teammates that season rode all the way to a title. Playing against Akeem Olajuwon and the famed Phi Slamma Jamma team from the University of Houston, N.C. State was a heavy underdog. But that is just where they wanted to be. You see, Houston had won 26 games in a row coming into the final, so no one gave the Wolfpack much of a chance. So when Dereck Whittenburg rose up and lofted a 30-footer with the score tied at 52, and almost no time remaining, no one thought the shot was going in. Even game announcer Gary Bender said while calling the play… “Oh that’s a long way.” But only one player saw the play all the way through, it was Charles. While everyone in Albuquerque’s Pit watched the jump shot float towards the rim only Charles anticipated and reacted. Like a perfectly timed ally-opp he leaped, grabbed and dunked the air-ball, all in one motion. As the leather passed through the goal, the scoreboard clock read triple zeros and bedlam erupted! N.C. State players looked on in disbelief. Head Coach Jim Valvano raced onto the court running around in need of a hug and of course Houston players fell to the ground in despair.

It was one of not only the greatest moments in tournament history but sports history. It was one of those plays that have helped build March Madness into a cult like ritual with every spring that dawn, three months into the new year.

Every March when the tournament rolls around, you see the young man and his unending quest for the basketball and finish that has stood the test of time for almost 30 years. So even in on this day in June, when Charles has left this world for a seat on Valvano’s bench in heaven, the spirit of his memory and iconic play will stay with us. So, no need to be sad. Because Lorenzo Charles may now be gone, but he will never be forgotten.

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