1983 was a big year in my life! It was the year I got married! Literally days before that happend though we bought a house. As a term of the sale the owner wanted to stay in the house a couple of weeks after we legally obtained ownership. That agreement we made with him literally put us in a time bind. When we found houses that we liked we would have my dad check them out. My dad built three houses so he looked at things that we didn’t. He wasn’t concerned with the color of carpet or the paint on the walls like we were. He looked at the structure and other items we probably would have missed. We found a house that we liked and had dad look it over. Dad gave the house a passing grade as the things he looked for were in order! Though we liked the neighborhood and the outside, the things that caught our eye inside were completely out of order. The walls were a very filthy yellowy color, not the nice white color they should have been. There were dirty fingerprints all over the place. It was an interior designers nightmare as the carpet was an ugly pukey green color and the kitchen walls were the ugliest pea green I had ever seen. The countertops were also a very distasteful green and the stove was such a greasy mess it needed a major cleaning to make it close to usable. The kitchen floor had a green unattractive pattern and color to it. What was this obsession to green this person had? Not only green but such an ugly pea green. Along with it’s putrid color the carpet was also damaged. The carpet in the bedroom was torn up near the door as a big dog was shut in and tried to tunnel his way out. There was hair everywhere as the drains were filled beyond belief. We heard from the neighbors later that the house was treated like a frat house. The owner and many of his friends made it their home. The house was a host for many parties and the occupants were not concerned with how the place looked.
The owner was a chain smoker and if a smoker could smoke more than a chain smoker that would describe him. He literally always had a cigarette in his mouth and the place reeked with smoke smell. Not only him but the evidence suggests that everyone living there were heavy chain smokers. Apparently the owner and friends smoked so much it got to be a pain to get rid of their cigarette butts. They literally dropped them on the floor and kicked them under the stove, refrigerator or anywhere out of sight. When the stove drawer was opened exposing the floor beneath hundreds of cigarette butts were found.
By the time the previous owner had moved out I had very little time to make a livable home out of the mess we bought. I called my dear friend Gary and he was so willing to put things on hold in his own life and help! My dillemma was that I was getting married on Saturday and we would be leaving on our honeymoon. Beginning that Monday Gary and I decided that we would paint. Painting three bedrooms and a living room was our mission and we only had four nights since the Friday night was the wedding dinner. We both worked so it was around six pm before we could get started. We worked long into the night each night. Gary and I both loved sports and the fact that the National Championship of the NCAA basketball tournament was played on Monday night added to his sacrifice. I happened to have a TV in the house already. It was a second hand color TV that had the rabbit ears for it’s antenna. CBS and NBC were the only channels it received and luckily the game was on CBS. Houston was playing North Carolina State that year in the finals. Houston was the overwhelming favorite to win and neither of us thought it would be much of a game. Houston had two players that would eventually be NBA Hall of Famers and they were given the nickname Psi Slamma Jamma for their many dunks they had every game. We took a quick break from our painting wondering how the game was going. It was a couple of hours after tip off and we figured it was either close to over or over. We stood there as the set warmed up and eventually we saw a picture. Totally expecting a blowout in Houstons favor we were shocked to see the score was tied. North Carolina State had the ball with forty seven seconds left and they started throwing it all over the court and almost had it stolen a couple of times.
Jim Valvano was the coach at North Carolina State. At the beginning of the season he had a dream. It was the dream of winning the National Championship. Every year the National Champion cuts down the net as a celebration of their victory. After one of his first practices that season Jim figured his team needed to live the dream he was living. They needed to see and feel his vision. He brought a pair of scissors and each player was hoisted up and cut down a strand of the net. The last strand was cut down by Jim himself on the back of one of his taller players. They hooted and hollered just like it had actually happened and ran off to the locker room in a jubilent triumphant celebration!
The road to the championship game was filled with pot holes for that 1983 North Carolina State team. Dereck Whittenburg their star player who they relied on for his scoring ability and leadership got hurt. It happened in January when Dereck went up for a shot and landed on the foot of an opposing player. The results of this unfortunate event was a broken bone in his foot. At the time of his injury North Carolina State had a record of twelve wins and only one defeat. They were ranked in the top twenty five teams in the nation. After his injury the team struggled and they ended up in fourth place in their conference. It was thought that they would need a tournament win in the upcoming conference tournament to get into the NCAA tournament. Miracuously that is exactly what they did. With Whittenburg coming back sooner than expected, State pulled off a couple of stunning upsets including Virginia (led by 7 ft 4 Ralph Sampson) in the title game. It was their first win against Virginia after suffering two losses to them in the regular season.
If anyone doubted that they were a team of destiny, faith was renewed in their first round game of the NCAA Tournament against Pepperdine. Trailing by six with twenty four seconds left in overtime NC State put on a miraculous rally and won the game 69-67. A tactic that Coach Valvano liked to use was fouling at the end of games. Luckily the other teams cooperated by missing free throws giving North Carolina State a chance. With the added chances State became known as the cardiac kids for their thrilling wins. Another thrilling win occurred in the next game as Thurl Bailey, their 6’11 skinny center tipped in a missed shot at the buzzer to lift State to a 71-70 win and a trip to the sweet sixteen. “We had one of the greatest coaches and motivators who ever lived”, Bailey said, “and we had prepared for what ended up happening.” “Destiny means a lot of things have to line up for you”, he continued, “and then you have to do your part too.”
Surprisingly “The Cardiac Kids” had a non cardiac game against Utah to reach the “elite eight”. They won by 19 points in one of their best performances of the season! Standing in their way for a trip to the final four was their nemisis Virginia. When Othel Wilson of Virginia missed a last second shot at the buzzer”an airball”, State won another thriller 63-62 and were headed to the Final Four! They won by seven points over Georgia and watched on the hotel TV as Houston dismantled Louisville in a game in which they lived up to their dunking name with 14 dunks! The kids from North Carolina State looked at each other wondering how they could compete with this dunking machine of a team. In the press conference before the big matchup Coach Valvano jokingly said that they would just hold the ball the whole game for the last shot. Before the game Valvano told his team that there is no way we are going to hold the ball with millions of people watching.
It was 1993 and a ten year reunion was held for the 1983 team. All of the former players were there. It was not known if coach Jim Valvano could come. The reason for doubt was that the great coach was dying. He had incurable bone cancer and he had trouble walking or mustering up much energy. Suddenly there was a commotion in the crowd and through the crowd escorted on each side Valvano appeared. He looked very frail as the bone cancer had taken it’s toll on his body, but he was there! The players wondered if this might be the last time they would ever see him. They were lined up and each one spent a minute with him as he gave them a big hug. That was Valvano’s way. He was all about giving hugs to people that he loved and this team was one he loved dearly. As he met each one including Whittenburg with each dynamic hug he whispered something in their ear. Last in the line was Thurl Bailey the 6 foot 11 inch center on the team. Thurl pulled out a chair and Valvano climbed wearily up on it. As their heads were now around the same height coach Valvano was able to whisper in his ear the words that he had for all of the others “I love you.” Remembering the moment twenty years later as if it were yesterday Thurl Bailey through tearful eyes said “he told me that he loved me!”
The Houston press was non stop. North Carolina State was moving the ball and seemingly throwing it to all of the wrong places. Two or three times it was almost stolen as their passes were hurried as it seemed Houston players were everywhere. The ball ended up in the hands of Thurl Bailey in the left corner. Thurl had an open look but he hadn’t made a shot since the first half. He looked for Whittenburg because Whittenburg was hot. He found him near the half court line. With Houstons athletic defense in persuit he threw a very dangerous across court pass in the direction of Whittenburg. A defender from Houston tried in vain to reach it and actually deflected the ball after it had reached the jumping Whittenburg’s hands knocking it to the floor. Whittenburg grabbed the ball and took a driible and with only a few seconds left he launched the shot. He was thirty five feet from the basket and everyone including Gary and I were holding our breath as it made it’s way for the basket. Just as it appeared the ball was going to fall short of the mark a player in red Lorenzo Charles jumped up, caught the ball, and in one motion dunked it in the basket!
The impossible dream was now complete! It came so quickly that Gary and I couldn’t believe our eyes! How ironic that the great dunking machine team was did in by a dose of their own medicine! Volvano ran onto the court looking for someone to hug. Amazingly he couldn’t seem to find anyone. When he finally found Whittenburg he happened to be hugging someone else. Volvano laughed at the unusual situation in a speech years later. Whittenburg completed the unfinished story in an interview in 2013. “Where were you?’ the coach asked Whittenburg. “I have been looking all over for you to give you a hug.” “I’m going to give you a big hug right now”, Whittenburg stated to his coach as the two came together in a triumphant embrace.
Ironically both Jim Valvano and Lorenzo Charles are gone now. Valvano lost his battle with bone cancer at the age of 47. Before he left he started “The V Foundation” to raise money for the fight against cancer. The V Foundation has raised over 100 million dollars for research to find a cure! Lorenzo Charles was also 47 when a bus he was driving crashed and overturned on a busy highway. How short their lives were, but oh the memories they left us with. Volvano having the dream and Charles completing it!
Gary and I had a dream too! Gary didn’t have to tell me he loved me because I knew by his actions those four nights that he did! We were fighting the clock like North Carolina State did, so we had to turn the TV off and start back on our own miracle. 1983 taught me a powerful lesson about miracles. Miracles can happen if there is plenty of love in the mix. Just as Whittenburg needed assistance from Charles for his shot, Gary and my family gave us assistance for our miracle also. Though our miracle wasn’t publicized as North Carolina State’s was, through the loving help of Gary the inside of the house began to match the outside in appearance. Miraculously as Thursday nights work ended so ended the need to paint. The place had such a different amazing bright look to it! I couldn’t take my eyes off of how clean and beautiful it looked! Adding to Gary’s help was my mom and sister who came in and cleaned and my mother in law who hung curtains and helped us hang wall paper. My friend Keith came over and repaired the damaged carpet and at last our little home miracle was complete!
It has been thirty years since that North Carolina State miracle. Tomorrow will be Easter Sunday when we remember the greatest miracle of all. Just as the miracle of thirty years ago with North Carolina State is remembered like it was yesterday for the players involved, the legacy of the resurrection lives on now for over two thousand years! Our lives are like my house, nice looking on the outside but a mess inside. Our house didn’t stay that way and it doesn’t have to stay that way in our lives either! Miracles happen every day even though we don’t always hear about them. They start because Jesus died and was resurrected. When we repent of our sins and accept him as our Savior our sins are forgiven and we join God’s team. There are no guarantees as to how hard our road to victory will be. Like the North Carolina State team our path is sure to have many pot holes. The beautiful part of the story is that we now have a loving coach who will be with us and lead us to the ultimate triumph!