Lorenzo Charles made more than just one basket, you know

"They won it! On the dunk!" (Sports Illustrated photo by Rich Clarkson)

"They won it! On the dunk!" (Sports Illustrated photo by Rich Clarkson)

Lorenzo Charles made the most famous basket in the history of college basketball. What people forget is that he made a few — more than a few, actually — other baskets. He wasn’t just the guy who got lucky and dunked home an air ball to fell mighty Houston. He was a very good player who was drafted by the wrong NBA team.

That team was the Atlanta Hawks. The year was 1985. He was the Round 2 pick (41st overall) of what would become a famous rookie class. The Round 1 pick was Jon Koncak; the Round 4 pick was John Battle. And there was a rookie free agent by the name of Spud Webb whose claim to fame at that time was that he’d played college ball with Lorenzo Charles.

The Hawks were the wrong team for Charles — known as “Lo” or “Zo,” FYI — because he played forward. These were the forwards ahead of him: Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis, Cliff Levingston and Antoine Carr. Charles played in 36 games as a rookie for a rising team that would finish 50-32. He made 49 baskets. He left the next summer for Europe. He would never play in the NBA again, which was a shame. He was a nice man, a hard worker and a talent.

Lorenzo Charles died Monday at age 47 when a bus he was driving — he was the only passenger — crashed alongside Interstate 40 in West Raleigh. I-40 runs near the RBC Center, which is where the North Carolina State Wolfpack plays home games now. Back in Charles’ day, the Pack played at Reynolds Coliseum on campus, and that was a time when the ACC was truly the ACC.

A partial list of ACC players who were Charles’ collegiate contemporaries: Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Ralph Sampson, Len Bias, Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Mark Alarie, Muggsy Bogues, Mark Price, John Salley. Let the record reflect that Charles made first-team all-ACC in 1984 and 1985 — the two seasons after his historic dunk.

OK, about the dunk: I was there. It was my first Final Four and, like pretty much everyone else in The Pit that Monday night in Albuquerque, I fully expected Houston to win. Its semifinal dunkathon against Louisville still stands as one of the most stunning games in basketball annals. (N.C. State, by way of contrast, had won a rather plodding decision over the Georgia Bulldogs.)

The championship game began with N.C. State controlling tempo — it had no choice, and there was no shot clock then — and taking a 33-25 halftime lead. The second half opened with Houston outscoring the Pack 17-2, whereabouts you figured order had been restored. But no.

Guy V. Lewis ordered his running Cougars into a delay of their own — Lewis called it the Loco-Motion, and it was truly loco — and the Pack crept back. Dereck Whittenburg, Sidney Lowe and sub Terry Gannon sailed in long jumpers. (No 3-pointers in the NCAA tournament back then, either.) Houston missed free throws. Somehow it was tied with the clock running down, whereupon the irrepressible Houston sub Benny Anders deflected a Thurl Bailey pass that could have become the winning dunk at the other end.

But no. Whittenburg ran the ball down near midcourt and, with nothing else to do, heaved it goalward. And then everything seemed to slow down and speed up at the same time.

One man jumped for it, and that one man wasn’t the guy who had dominated the Final Four. Hakeem Olajuwon, who took 40 rebounds over those two games in The Pit, watched benignly as someone rose to collect Whittenburg’s air ball and stuff it in the hoop.

Sitting there, I thought, “Who? Who was it?” Finally somebody else along press row shouted, “Charles!” And then I was down on the court, looking for someone to interview in the way Jim Valvano had run around looking for someone to hug, and I glanced up and saw Cozell McQueen, the Pack center, standing on the basket — his head was some 17 feet above the court — smiling and waving. And I thought, “I guess they really did win.”

(My dislocation, I should report, wasn’t an isolated case. If you’ve seen the CBS clip of the dunk — and you have a million times — you’ll note that play-by-play man Gary Bender describes Whittenburg’s cast thusly: “Oh, it’s a long way …” Then he falls silent, leaving commentator Billy Packer to shout: “They won it! On the dunk!”)

A forgotten footnote is that State, without seniors Lowe and Whittenburg and Bailey, would meet Houston, still with Olajuwon, in the Hall of Fame game in November 1983 and win again. Charles had 23 points and 13 rebounds that day in Springfield, Mass. From then on you thought of him not just as the lucky dunker but as a really good player. I saw him dominate Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum in 1985, and not long afterward he would come to Alexander Memorial Coliseum and outduel the first great team of the Bobby Cremins era.

Then he got drafted by the Hawks. If I ever went up to him and said, “You know, I was there in Albuquerque,” I don’t recall it. He was a quiet guy on a loud team, and by then the other Pack product — Spud Webb — was the rookie who was the rage. (The 5-foot-7 Spud dunked in his first NBA game.)

When news of his death arrived Monday night, my first thought was of Albuquerque, but I’m glad to say I had a few other memories of Lorenzo Charles. I only wish he’d stayed a Hawk longer. The guy could really play.

By Mark Bradley

72 comments Add your comment

Buck Commander

June 28th, 2011
10:28 am

Nobodys here today.

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Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
10:29 am

I’m here, BC. And you’re kudo’ed.


June 28th, 2011
10:34 am

mark, well done.

Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
10:35 am

Thanks, jts.


June 28th, 2011
10:36 am

Mark, great column and great memories of Lorenzo Charles. Good insight as well into the forward position of the Hawks. You are right, with that lineup, he was really behind he eight ball from the beginning in the NBA.

Still can’t forget the memory of that dunk. Just a classic dramatic moment! That is why we watch sports (and hope that we are always on winning sides of such moments).

RIP Lorenzo

Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
10:37 am

Thanks, BBrown.


June 28th, 2011
10:42 am

Nice write-up, Mark. Here’s a video clip of the dunk & call by Bender/Packer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puQvU4PBzhI

Paul H

June 28th, 2011
10:44 am

Cool memory of Charles, Mark. Thanks for sharing. His life was cut way too short.


June 28th, 2011
10:47 am

Mark I am old enough to remember that semifinal game. I haven’t seen a basketball game that incredible since. Have you?

RIP Lorenzo.

Jacket Backer

June 28th, 2011
10:47 am

RIP Lorenzo. Certainly a game and shot I’ll never forget.

Randall "Pink" Floyd

June 28th, 2011
10:49 am

I grew up in Raleigh and remember that March like it was yesterday. State doesn’t even make it to the dance without winning the ACC tourney. No shot clock, no 3-pointers, and, there might not have even been bonus free-throws. Every foul over 7 was 1 and 1. Which is exactly how State won just about every game. They’d fall behind and foul their way back to victory. Valvano was a decent coach. Reynolds Coliseum was unique but, in reality, a dump. They played on a rubber floor. Lorenzo Charles was a player – as good as anyone in the conference during his time despite being undersized as a forward. Nice story, MB>


June 28th, 2011
10:49 am

I was living in Raleigh, NC, in 1983. The Wolfpack’s run to the National Championship that season captivated me like few sporting achievements before or since. This is sad to hear and a very respectful, thoughtful writeup. Thanks, Mark.


June 28th, 2011
10:50 am

No shot clock, no 3-point line, and no great games since those were installed. All the artificial, manufactured hype for present day “March Madness,” notwithstanding, this article only reinforces my belief that college basketball is a dying sport.

[...] in bus crashUSA TodayEx-North Carolina State hero Lorenzo Charles dies in crashCNNOlogy -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -Boston Heraldall 790 news [...]

Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
10:58 am

Have not, Bill.

Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
11:00 am

I actually saw State play the Louisville team that lost to Houston. Just before Christmas 1982. Louisville won a tight game at Freedom Hall.

David Granger

June 28th, 2011
11:03 am

Mark, Lorenzo was also the one player who was most available to visit local schools in the area and visit with the kids. He was supposed to visit my junior high class for fifteen minutes one day, and ended up staying through the whole class period and even ate lunch with us.
That may have been because he was a rookie, and…as you point out…he was behind several others forwards and didn’t play a lot. But whenever he did play, he was effective. Didn’t always amass the statistics, but did a lot of little unsung things…blocking out, setting picks, hitting the floor for loose balls…that help a team win close games. The numbers didn’t always do him justice in reflecting his actual contribution to the team. Sad to see he’s dead at the age of 47. That’s another number that doesn’t do him justice.


June 28th, 2011
11:03 am

Really nice story, Mark. Puts alot of things in perspective.

Question: How in the world did the NBA have so many rounds in the draft back then? There were fewer pro teams and, I’d wager, less across the board talent.

Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
11:06 am

Seven rounds in the draft back then, Jamaaliver. Only 23 teams.

Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
11:07 am

And 1985 was the first draft lottery. Knicks won. Took Ewing.

[...] reflects on buzzer beaterSportingNews.comFormer NC State Basketball Star Lorenzo Charles DiesOlogyLorenzo Charles made more than just one basket, you knowAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)CNN -USA Today -Boston Heraldall 791 news [...]

[...] reflects on buzzer beaterSportingNews.comFormer NC State Basketball Star Lorenzo Charles DiesOlogyLorenzo Charles made more than just one basket, you knowAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)CNN -USA Today -Boston Heraldall 791 news [...]

All I'm Saying Is....

June 28th, 2011
11:18 am

Great stuff, Bradley. One of your best posts.

Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
11:19 am

Thanks, All.

Sandy Springs = Speed Trap, USA

June 28th, 2011
11:27 am

What a shame. Bless his family and loved ones.

I hope Coach Jimmy V welcomed Lorenzo with a big hug and smile.


June 28th, 2011
11:28 am

I was a senior at state that year. What most people don’t know is that midway thru the season State was playing UVA in Raleigh. Dereck Whittenburg had 27 points at halftime against them. I remember thinking as good as they were playing that State had the players to take it all the way and I even told me roomates at the time and they thought we’d make the tournament but everyone in the ACC thought UVA would win it all. In the second half of the UVA game Whittenburg went up for a jumper and came down on Othell Wilson’s foot and broke his (Dereck’s) foot. State proceeded to lose most of their games after that. However, it forced the bench players to pick up their game and by the time the ACC tournament rolled around Dereck was back and State was firing on all cylinders. The rest was history. I believe State would not have made it as far as they did if Whittenburg hadn’t broken his foot. Terry Gannon, Ernie Myers, George McClain all picked up the slack which forced everyone else on the Pack to play smarter. I always wondered why as good as Lorenzo was that he wasn’t traded to another NBA team and found more success. R.I.P. Lorenzo. You made 1983 one of my best years ever.


June 28th, 2011
11:40 am

Mark – I’ve only known Lorenzo a few years; not as a basketball player, but as a great guy (I had to google his famous dunk). I enjoyed your article he was so much more than that 1983 dunk!

John Galt

June 28th, 2011
11:41 am

A sub-plot of that 1983 tourney was the run that UGA made, the year AFTER Wilkins left early. It was right before, or after, the gridiron Gawgs went 11-1 and beat Taxas in the Cotton Bowl right after Herschell Walker left for the USFL.

Great seasons by Dawg teams who had just lost the greatest players in the history of their school have ever had. I have often cited those Dawg teams as examples of what a TEAM can do if they aren’t relying on a single star player.


June 28th, 2011
11:48 am

I watched and recorded (VHS of course) the 83 Championship game and didn’t believe it the next day. Prayers for strength and comfort to the Charles famiy. Good one MB


June 28th, 2011
11:53 am

Hell of an article Mark. Need to make sure the folks who give out awards in the newspaper business get to see it. Might have a winner here. Certainly one of your best. Kudos to you.

Cobb Dawg

June 28th, 2011
11:57 am

Nice column, MB.

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June 28th, 2011
12:03 pm

Lovely article. Don’t know sports, but I was at UNC when NC State won the NCAA in ‘83 and I wanted to read about the gentleman Charles. Thanks


June 28th, 2011
12:09 pm

great memory-God be with you, Lo’…….(only bad thing was it started all that end of game fouling…..)


June 28th, 2011
12:15 pm

NCSU83 I remember Whittenberg’s injury. I was at peace College. As the editor of the college newspaper we put an article in there when State won since it was a local event that effected our students (and because I was a huge State fan.) I even interviewed Thurl Baily. Just knocked on his apartment door and he let us in to do the interview.

Mark, excellent article. Excellent!

At last...

June 28th, 2011
12:27 pm

…Jimmy V has found the person with whom he can share a hug…

Thanks. Mark, for taking me down memory lane… I went to college and grad school in the state of NC, in the early 70’s, so I am a defacto TarHeelWolfpackBlueDevilWildcatDemonDeacon Fan, and that victory, along with David Thompson, Monte Towe, Steve Spence, and Tom Burleson’s National Championship victory, stands out as classic as anything ever seen by tobacco road afficionados…


June 28th, 2011
12:33 pm

RIP Lorenzo – but the most famous shot in CBB history is the Grant Hill-to-Laettner full-court shot from the free throw line.


June 28th, 2011
12:42 pm

I live in Raleigh and drove past the wreck on I-40 yesterday. At the time I didn’t know who was on the bus, but it was obvious that the accident was very serious from the damage. May he rest in peace….


June 28th, 2011
12:53 pm

If the right team had drafted him, he likely would not have been driving a bus at the age of 47…


June 28th, 2011
12:56 pm

I am Tar Heel born and bred. But I was pulling for State in the tourney as hard as if it had been the Heels. I always like the late Jim Valvano. I’m not a hater.


June 28th, 2011
1:09 pm

Watched N.C. State beat Houston in Eugene, where I was a senior at the University of Oregon. Could not believe it. Probably the most exciting last minutes in college basketball. Jim Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug.

Sorry, G...

June 28th, 2011
1:20 pm

Enter your comments here

Sorry, GoooDawgs...

June 28th, 2011
1:26 pm

…but although the Laettner shot was great (and it was not from the foul line, but from about 40 feet – or ten feet PAST half court on the basket side of halfcourt), it is NOT the most famous shot in CBB history, heck, it was NOT even a championship game -

But, nice try, and thanks for the memory…it was really no better than Keith Smart’s shot to win it for IU (that did win a NC), or Danny Ainge’s fullcourt dribble and drive against ND, another non championship moment… yes, the Charles moment just MAY be the best of them all…

Mark Bradley

June 28th, 2011
1:35 pm

The Laettner shot won the 1992 East Regional and was from the foul circle. (It was a two-pointer, not a trey.)

Another Laettner shot — the leaner off the side out-of-bounds call by Krzyzewski — had won the 1990 East Regional.


June 28th, 2011
1:38 pm

Although I grew up in Dunwoody, I left Atlanta to attend school at NC State and have been here in Raleigh ever since then. I was a junior at State in 1983, and that was the most magical 3 or so weeks that any college person could ever ask to have. I can still remember where I was (North Hall, room 201, on the lower bunk bed with about 15 other people in the room) when he made the winning basket against Houston. NC State has lost a legend. RIP ‘Lorilla’.

Just Me

June 28th, 2011
1:43 pm

He MADE Jimmy V’s life change on that shot. Jimmy running around on the court trying to find somebody to hug is Classic.

[...] Excerpt from: NBA Blog on: Charles drafted by wrong NBA team [...]

Fan of the Game

June 28th, 2011
1:53 pm

Lorenzo Charles did what his Coach preached, don’t give up , don’t ever give up and he rebounded the pass and made the most famous bucket in NC State history. Coach Jimmy V and Lorenzo Charles were two of the really good guys in sports.

Rick B.

June 28th, 2011
2:08 pm

Brooklyn Tech’s Finest!

Rest in PEACE., LC!