North Carolina State University’s success in the 1983 NCAA Basketball Championship is unquestionably one of the greatest sports stories of all time.
NC State had failed to win the title in nine years, and were written off in the basketball betting to end their barren run that season.
However, under the guidance of legendary coach Jim Valvano, the Wolfpack defied the odds to secure a last-gasp victory over Houston in the final.
Their efforts were subsequently celebrated in a film entitled Never Give Up: The Jimmy V Story, made three years after the coach’s untimely death from cancer.
Thurl Bailey was one of the stars of NC State’s success, playing a crucial role as the team secured an unlikely 54-52 victory in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
While Bailey understandably looks back on the championship success with fondness, his memories extend way beyond the boundaries of the final game.
“It’s some of the things that led up to that championship with our team,” he said. “Guys that grew up in a hurry, a couple of key players that were injured, like Dereck Whittenburg.
“A coach that came in who didn’t even recruit a lot of us, and told us that he was going to win a national championship, and we thought he was crazy as we looked at our team, and he never stopped believing.
“Jim Valvano was able to get us to understand and believe that we could achieve something great.”
The dramatic nature of NC State’s victory could not have been scripted, with the Cougars strongly fancied to race to a comfortable victory.
The Wolfpack shocked their higher ranked opponents to take a 33-25 lead in the first half, but the Cougars battled back strongly after the break.
Much like the excitement generated by watching NBA streams in the modern era, the final minute of the game ultimately proved to be the deciding factor.
The scores were tied at 52 with 44 seconds remaining with NC State holding the ball for a final attempt at a basket.
After resisting a turnover attempt, Whittenburg launched a desperate attempt to score from 30 feet that looked set to fall agonisingly short of the rim.
Lorenzo Charles had other ideas, catching the ball and dunking it for a 54–52 victory with just two seconds on the clock.
His score sparked pandemonium on and off the court. Images of Valvano running across the court after the game made national headlines.
NC State’s unlikely run to the title perfectly highlighted the often unpredictable nature of March Madness, and left an indelible mark on Bailey.
He acknowledges that the championship success was merely the cherry on top of a cake that had been carefully baked by Valvano over a significant period of time.
“That kind of story doesn’t happen, especially in sports, all the time,” he added.
“I think it’s a great kind of a microcosm of life – that there’s so much we can do together when we have belief in each other, and we have someone that believes in us.”