Coach Jim Valvano celebrates with his North Carolina State team after the Wolfpack defeated the Houston Cougars 54-52 for the NCAA men's basketball championship on April 4, 1983.(Photo: Getty Images)CONNECT>TWEET>LINKEDINCOMMENTEMAILMORE
RALEIGH, N.C. – It's March, and upsets are coming. But this is a rare place to sense the possibilities of the NCAA Tournament, on a shady rise in Oakwood Cemetery, between two gravestones but 20 yards apart.
One of the gold standards of tournament lore turns 30 years old this spring; North Carolina State, a sixth-seed with 10 defeats, over No. 1 Houston for the national championship. You've seen the images for the basketball ages. Lorenzo Charles grabbing Dereck Whittenburg's desperation airball and slamming home the winner at the buzzer. Coach Jim Valvano, the patron saint of tournament belief, running madly around the court in unabashed joy.
In Oakwood Cemetery is the black gravestone for Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993, at 47. "Take time every day to laugh, to think, to cry,'' it reads.
Close by, as fate would it, is another gravestone with a North Carolina State Wolfpack logo. Charles, a bus crash victim in 2011. Also gone at 47.
"Two men that I'm probably connected to for the rest of my life,'' Whittenburg said over the phone.
Time has had its way with the North Carolina State fairy tale of '83.
"In some respects, it's almost as if he's still alive,'' Pam Valvano Strasser said of the husband she lost. "Because you see him (on replays) all the time.''
She told of a man who was always writing down on index cards things he wanted do. The last one she found in his coat pocket:
"Find a cure for cancer.' ''
A fantasy, their story was. North Carolina State stacked upset upon upset, made Valvano's cry of "survive and advance'' its creed, and became national darlings along the way.
The Wolfpack had to capture the ACC Tournament to even get a spot in the NCAA bracket – and won three games by a combined 11 points.>
The headstone of former N.C. State basketball player Lorenzo Charles is located just down the hill from that of his former coach Jim Valvano in the Historic Oakwood Cemetery. Valvano led Charles and his teammates to victory in the 1983 NCAA Tournament. (Photo: Liz Condo, USA TODAY Sports)
They trailed 11 seed Pepperdine by six points in the final minute of double overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament – but were saved when the player with the third-highest career free throw percentage in Pepperdine history missed two free throws.
They beat 3 seed UNLV by a point in the second round, and 1 seed Virginia by a point in the regional final.
"One bounce here or there and we're done,'' Whittenburg said. "This story brings back the David and Goliath story, how you can believe, and anybody can win, and you can overcome. It gave people hope. I don't know how many I heard from who were sick. People just gravitated to us.''
Meanwhile, Pam Valvano had developed her own ritual with a wolf pin with red eyes.
"It got to be superstition," she said. "If there were two minutes to go and we were close, I couldn't stay. I had to go out and walk the halls and rub the wolf.''
Then came the championship game. Both Valvano and Whittenburg had the flu. "Jim was as sick as a dog,'' Pam said. "We were in the hotel room all day long, and he had fever and everything else. I was thinking, 'How is he possibly going to pull this off?' "
Houston was so spectacular as to carry its own nickname – Phi Slamma Jamma. Nobody could seemingly slow down the Cougars, let alone beat them. But Valvano intended to try both.
North Carolina State dictated the pace, and a seven-point Houston lead vanished, helped by missed Cougar free throws. With the score 52-52, and 44 seconds left, Valvano designed the final strategy.
Guard Sidney Lowe was to eventually drive and either find a last-second shot or pass to Whittenburg. But Houston came out in a surprise 1-3-1 zone, and all the plans went kablooey.
Finally it was left to Whittenburg to put up a 30-foot prayer, though he has occasionally tried to sell the idea it was a pass. "After 30 years,'' he said, "that's my story and I'm sticking to it.''
Whatever it was, Charles grabbed it and made his team a champion, plus an eternal inspiration to underdogs. Millions watched it, but not Pam Valvano. Wary of tempting the gods, she had taken her pin and left.
"I've seen it a million times since,'' she said. "But when it actually happened, I was out walking in the hall.''
Thirty years later, Whittenburg has spent time in coaching and helped produce an ESPN documentary on 1983 that will air on Selection Sunday. "People around the world need to know what happened,'' he said.>
Pamela Valvano Strasser is the widow of former N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano. She is also chairwoman of the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Strasser remarried in 2003. (Photo: Liz Condo, USA TODAY Sports)
Pam Valvano nursed her husband through the darkest days of his cancer and still remembers how ill he was on March 4, 1993, the day he delivered his famous never-give-up speech at the ESPY Awards.
"He gets to the podium and then it's like you don't even know anything's wrong,'' she said. "The adrenaline starts, and that's what happened when he had the flu before the national championship game.''
She has since remarried, and endured the anguish of one of her daughters battling, and surviving, breast cancer. She has also remained active in the V Foundation, raising money to fight cancer, although it's hard if she calls the office and is put on hold because of the recording that automatically plays during the wait time. Jim's speech.
"Just think what was happened in 30 years,'' she said. "You still see him running across the court, $125 million dollars have been raised, and no, we don't have a cure, but we've had to have done things to make it better. How many people in the world can say they left a legacy like this?''
And just the other day, she pulled out the old pin to help North Carolina State get through another close victory.
"The '83 team taught us about dreams,'' Jim Valvano said shortly before died.
A new March beckons now, with someone else's dreams. You can almost hear their noise in the quiet of Oakwood Cemetery, next to two headstones.
Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/columnist/lopresti/2013/03/07/north-carolina-state-jim-valvano-lorenzo-charles/1962171/