By Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – It’s one of the most lasting images from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
A buzzer-beating, two-handed dunk by muscular forward Lorenzo Charles gives heavy underdog North Carolina State a stunning national championship win in 1983 versus powerhouse Houston, who was led by stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, known as “Phi Slamma Jamma.”
In the highlight video that still remains among all-time collegiate favorites, Charles grabbed Dereck Whittenburg’s 30-foot desperation shot with time running down and dunked it to give the Wolfpack a 54-52 last-second win over the Cougars.
The video of his basket in that game is replayed every March during NCAA tournament time, ending with footage of N.C. State coach Jim Valvano spilling onto the court, scrambling for someone to hug – almost in disbelief. Coach “Jimmy V” died in 1993 after a very public fight with cancer.
It was N.C. State’s second national title, and Charles’ heroics gave him a place in school history.
Charles was killed recently when an empty bus he was driving for Elite Coach crashed along Interstate 40 in Raleigh, N.C., according to company general manager Brad Jackson. The news of Charles’ tragic death on June 27 has devastated many, including former teammates and colleagues of the 47-year-old.
Charles was remembered for that basket Tuesday, along with his imposing presence on the court and gentle demeanor away from it.
Whittenburg was despondent when discussing his teammate and friend with The Associated Press.
“It’s just an awful day,” Whittenburg said. “An awful, awful day.”
“I lost a very good friend in Lorenzo,” said another former N.C. State teammate, Spud Webb. “He always had a big smile and a big laugh that I will always remember. He was a gentle giant.”
N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow called Charles “a Wolfpack hero.”
“The Wolfpack family mourns today as we remember his athletic accomplishments, his excellent character and his winning dunk in the 1983 national championship game,” Yow said.
After Charles’ playing career ended in the late 1990s, he began driving buses and limos for Elite Coach, a limousine and bus company based in nearby Apex, and its clients included Duke’s lacrosse team and the North Carolina softball team.
Details began to emerge Tuesday about the one-vehicle crash that took Charles’ life. Video shows the windshield broken out with tree limbs sticking through the frame.
The rear wheels of the bus were on an embankment, leaving the right front tire elevated from the road.
According to authorities, in a 911 call a frantic woman said a coach bus came off the exit ramp, down a hill and onto Interstate 40, before eventually coming to rest on the embankment. The unidentified eyewitness later noted that someone got on the bus and appeared to be giving CPR.
N.C. State retired Charles’ No. 43 jersey in 2008, the 25th anniversary of the championship. He finished his college career two years later with 1,535 total points – 15th on the school’s scoring list. And his .575 shooting percentage in 1985 remains a school record for seniors. He played one season in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks in 1985-86, and played internationally and in the Continental Basketball Association until 1999.
Locally, Dominique Wilkins, his former pro teammate and now the Hawks’ vice president of basketball operations, released a statement saying Charles “left an indelible impact in sports lore that will never be forgotten.
“He will be forever remembered for his accomplishments,” Wilkins said. “The Atlanta Hawks family would like to extend heartfelt condolences to the Charles family.”
Myers says after his playing career ended in the late 1990s, Charles began driving buses and limos because “he loved driving and traveling around the country.”