RALEIGH, N.C. – The way things had to be done that season, Pam Valvano never got to see the final five or six minutes of any of the incredible games that led to N.C. State’s even more incredible march to the 1983 NCAA basketball championship.
“I didn’t see Lorenzo’s shot,” Valvano, now Pam Strasser, said through her tears Monday night. “I’ve seen it what seems like a million times since (in video replays), but I didn’t see it that night in Albuquerque.”
Everyone else did.
Everyone, that is, who cared about college basketball. Lorenzo Charles’ baby dunk of Dereck Whittenburg’s Hail Mary airball will live on as long as college hoops matter. The ensuing scene of Pam’s late husband, Jim Valvano, running around the court of New Mexico’s “Pit” and the memorable celebration has became as much a part of NCAA lore as the tournament itself.
“Lo” is gone now.
He died in a bus accident Monday on Interstate 40 in western Raleigh, N.C. A bus he was driving crashed, a company official said Monday. Elite Coach general manager Brad Jackson said Charles, 47, worked for the company and was driving one of its buses on Interstate 40. There were no passengers on the bus.
The winning shot for the national title against overwhelming favorite Houston will never die. Charles understood as much and happily accepted that fact.
“It wasn’t who made the shot. What mattered is that it went in, and we won,” he said shortly before the start of the ’83-84 season. “I was just the right guy in the right place at the right time.”
Pam, with her small support circle of hand-wringers, was pacing the hallways of the Pit.
At some point during the 1983 postseason, it became her habit to leave her seat, pace the building and await the outcome of a string of nailbiters that defied logic. After a while, the routine had to be continued without fail or else there was a fear the magic spell would be broken.
When Charles’ shot went in and N.C. State had the 54-52 win, Pam could only guess.
“People came running out, screaming and yelling,” she recalled. “All I could do was ask ‘Who won? Who won? Please, who won?’ Then, of course, I found out.”
She stopped, choked up and said the words everyone was saying Monday night.
“I can’t believe Lorenzo is gone. He was so kind, so sweet, so nice.”
At 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds virtually void of body fat, Charles looked intimidating beyond words. He grew up on the streets of Brooklyn. He had a wonderful sense of humor but wore a game face that resembled a clenched fist.
“Lorenzo was this big bear of a guy, but he was the kindest soul you would ever be able to find,” Strasser said Monday. “He was one of those kind of people you knew you would never forget.”