Lorenzo Charles; won game for N.C. State in ’83 title game

Lorenzo Charles grabbed an errant shot and dunked the ball. Lorenzo Charles grabbed an errant shot and dunked the ball. (Associated Press)
By Tom Foreman Jr.
Associated Press / June 29, 2011

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Lorenzo Charles, the muscular forward whose last-second dunk gave underdog North Carolina State a stunning win in the 1983 national college championship game, was killed Monday when a bus he was driving crashed along a highway, a company official said.

Brad Jackson of Elite Coach said Mr. Charles, 47, was driving one of its buses on Interstate 40. No passengers were aboard.

In 1983, he grabbed Dereck Whittenburg’s 30-foot shot and dunked it at the buzzer to give the Wolfpack a 54-52 win over heavy favorite Houston and the team’s second national title. The victory sent coach Jim Valvano spilling onto the court, scrambling for someone to hug in what has become one of the lasting images of the NCAA tournament.

Whittenburg was despondent when discussing his friend.

“It’s just an awful day,’’ he said. “An awful, awful day.’’

Mr. Charles secured his spot in N.C. State lore in the final moments of that game in Albuquerque, capping off an improbable run to the championship. N.C. State entered the NCAA tournament with a 17-10 record, having beaten Virginia to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and an automatic berth into the national field. No one expected much.

“When [it] first happened, I figured I would have my 15 minutes of fame and that would be it. Here we are and it is still a conversational piece,’’ Mr. Charles had said on his N.C. State Web page. “For some reason people just single out that game and talk about it. Maybe because it was such a David and Goliath thing.’’

Mr. Charles finished his college career two years after the historic win with 1,535 points, 15th on the school’s scoring list.

In the 1983 run, he hit two free throws with 23 seconds left in the West Regional finals against the Cavaliers to give the Wolfpack a 63-62 win and the spot in the Final Four.

The semifinal win over Georgia sent them to the matchup with the Cougars, known as Phi Slamma Jamma and led by Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Valvano also became famous for his emotional burst onto the court, running around almost in disbelief. Valvano died in 1993.

N.C. State retired Mr. Charles’s No. 43 jersey in 2008.

Teammate Thurl Baileytold a North Carolina TV station: “I heard someone say . . . Jimmy V finally found somebody to hug.’’

Mr. Charles played one season for the Atlanta Hawks, averaging 3.4 points in 1985-86.