Lorenzo Charles, the North Carolina State basketball standout known for one of the biggest slam dunks in the history of the game, died yesterday at the age of 47. The bus he was driving crashed along I-40 near Raleigh, NC. Which is not what we ought to remember about him.

About that dunk...Charles didn't bring down a backboard, but he did stop a juggernaut.

There are a few events in life you get to say you saw in person. I got to see Charles' dunk -- his greatest basketball moment and perhaps the most memorable upset finish in the history of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

My late father was Sports Information Director at the University of New Mexico during much of the 1980's. As such, he was the host SID for one of the last NCAA Final Fours held in a real basketball arena -- 1983 in The Pit.

I got to work as a stats runner during that Final Four, and listening to the writers and broadcasters there to cover the event, it was a foregone conclusion that the winner of the Louisville-Houston game was going to beat the tar out the North Carolina State-Georgia game.

Houston beat Louisville in a game that was seemingly played above the rim. You want to talk dunks! Akeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, Clyde "The Glide" Drexler. The McCray brothers, Scooter and Rodney. Forget fundamentals, this was a high-flying, rim-rattling spectacle. Aesthetically speaking, Charles' dunk paled in comparison.

But not in importance.

NC State beat Georgia to set the championship game, and that's where they tore up the script.

The late Jim Valvano's NC State Wolfpack was the hit of the party in Albuquerque. Valvano won a dance contest at a local bar. He had fun and gave great quotes, knowing his team was playing David to the Cougars' Goliath.

Lo and behold, the Wolfpack beat Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma high-flying fraternity and its future Basketball Hall of Famers, Olajuwon and Drexler, who paired to finally win two titles for city of Houston -- in the NBA. Which may be appropriate, considering what's been said about how Cougars' coach Guy V. Lewis recruited.

I've been in Hofheinz Pavilion -- UH's smallish home court -- and I've often wondered, despite the wealth of basketball players in the area, how in the world the Cougars ever got the great talent those teams had.

Heard of UH on the national scene since?

It doesn't tarnish Phi Slamma Jamma's reputation as one of the greatest assemblages of talent in NCAA history. But at the end of the 1983 NCAA championship game that talent forgot to box out. Charles was left alone to dunk home Derreck Whittenburg's desperation heave for the 54-52 win.

Since moving to El Paso, there is another wrinkle to this story that makes it even more special to people here. Houston's loss in '83 and again the next year means Texas Western's 1966 national title is still the only NCAA men's championship won by a Texas team -- UTEP is the Lone Star in Texas hoops.

I never met Lorenzo Charles, but I'm blessed to say I saw him when.

Here's to you, Lo.


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