From "Tar Heel Monthly"
Twenty years ago next month, over 61,000 people in attendance and millions watching on television witnessed legend in the making. Simply put, on March 29th, 1982, the University of North Carolina basketball team won the NCAA Championship. But as the years have passed, we now know something more was happening. Not just a game won, a championship attained, a trophy raised, but a benchmark for the ages set. That game, that team, that season has lived on beyond its 40 minutes, its 24 members, its 32-2 record. If you add the numbers 1, 9, 8, and 2 together, 20 is the answer. And proven time and time again over these last 20 years, the 1982 season has been the answer to all that is right about college basketball in general, and Carolina Basketball in particular.
“That Final Four, there may never be a group of four teams assembled that were that good.” A strong, but true statement by Coach Bill Guthridge, chief assistant to Coach Dean Smith in 1982. Even with such a stellar cast – Louisville, Houston, Georgetown, and Carolina - try as you might, finding new angles on the legacy of that 1982 season and team can be difficult.
The focus of that team from the first day of practice centered entirely around winning the National Championship, due in part to losing in the 1981 title game. “I think what happened is over the 80-81 season when we went to the Finals and lost, there was a renewed commitment,” remembers senior point guard Jimmy Black. “Everyone felt that we would have a chance to win the whole thing and the team in particular focused on that challenge and that task.”
To get so close the previous year was just the right motivation to carry throughout the season. So intent on winning it all, the team would chant at the end of each practice, “One, Two, Three, Thirty!” The ‘thirty’ represented the date after the title game when the team would be National Champions. Even the combination on the door to the players’ lounge was coded to that day - a continuous, subtle reminder of what everyone was working towards. “You never know what that does,” Coach Smith says, “but it gets them thinking long range goals. We always have that.”
What is not so subtle now, is how that UNC roster of coaches and players reads like a Who’s Who of collegiate and professional basketball. Worthy, Perkins, Jordan. Smith, Guthridge, Fogler, Williams. All household names, synonymous with success on the hardwood. Look even farther down the bench and the trend continues. Matt Doherty, the role player, now in his familiar role as head coach at Carolina. With Doherty’s AP Coach of the Year award last season, unbelievably, five national coaches of the year were sitting on that ’82 bench! Add to that list sixth man Buzz Peterson, now considered one of the best young coaches in the country. Young? Wasn’t that Championship 20 years ago?
And no discussion of the 1982 season would be complete without including point guard Jimmy Black. Senior leader, coach on the floor, rock steady defender and ball handler. Ask any member of his team, and they will tell you, “Without Jimmy Black, we don’t cut down the nets in New Orleans.” That’s a Matt Doherty quote, but it could be James, Sam, Michael, Coach Smith, or any other member of the team. “Boss” as he was called, was just that – in charge. “When you win there’s glory for everyone,” Guthridge says. “We couldn’t have done it without Jimmy Black.”
“For a team to be good you have to have people that aren’t trying to get their points,” Coach Dean Smith recalls while sitting in his basement office in the building that bears his name. “If Jimmy and Matt were thinking points we never would have been a great team. We would have been a good team, but wouldn’t have been a championship team. They knew their roles, and played them well, everybody did.”
In fact, it was the senior Black that called a team-only meeting the day after Virginia decisively beat Carolina in Charlottesville. Players and managers, crammed into the small Granville Towers room, rededicated themselves to each other and the season that afternoon. The commitment and camaraderie were real – the team would not lose again. “I don’t know how integral I was,” Black says. “We all played well together, we enjoyed each other, we communicated well. I still go back to the total team effort.”
But even with that team effort, the stars do grab the spotlight, and the supporting cast gets whatever is left over. And that was the joy of this team - that everyone did know their role and accepted it. “We weren’t a real deep team,” Smith says. The starting five all played the majority of the 40 minutes, with Peterson and Jim Braddock serving as first off the bench reserves. Senior Chris Brust would spell Perkins and Worthy. In fact, one of the backstorys of the Championship game centers on “Brusty.” He played 4 minutes, scored one point. The Tar Heels defeated the Georgetown Hoyas by one point. “If I hadn’t made that foul shot, we’d still be playing,” Brust says. See what I mean about knowing your role? And he even got his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated that week!
Other reserves went on to grab the spotlight in other ways, as well. Center John Brownlee, stuck behind Perkins and incoming freshman Brad Daugherty, eventually transferred to Texas where he became Southwest Conference Player of the Year. Guard Lynwood Robinson transferred to Appalachian State, leading them in scoring his junior and senior years. That’s how good this team was – players getting no game time actually excelled at other programs! “That was a team where we really relied on the starters,” Guthridge says. “But certainly all members of that team deserve some credit because they worked everyday in practice and contributed when they had to.”
Other contributors included centers Warren Martin and Timo Makkonen, and senior co-captain Jeb Barlow. Barlow enjoys telling the story of Coach Smith apologizing to him after the Championship game for not getting him any playing time. “It’s just so typical of Coach Smith,” Barlow remembers. “I didn’t get an opportunity to play in that game. We were in the lockerroom after the game, my dad’s in there and we’re all celebrating, hooping and hollering. Coach Smith comes over to me immediately after he gets into the room, before he talks to anybody else. He pulls me to the side and apologizes for not getting me in the game. Basically, he was sorry that I didn’t get a chance to play in my last college game. I said, ‘Coach, we just won the National Championship! I could care less if I got in the game or not!’”
Another little known story regarding a player who did not get in the game was forward Cecil Exum, one of the most popular members on the team. Following his graduation, he moved to Australia to play professional basketball. Despite being from a small North Carolina town and considered shy and quiet while on the team, Exum went on to be labeled the “Michael Jordan of Australian Basketball” while he played, at times not even able to walk down the street without seeing himself on a billboard or being mobbed for autographs. Even in the land Down Under, the Tar Heels and their Championship carried a lot of weight. “People know, because I make sure that they know,” Exum explains. “Being popular in the States is very different than here - Australians love everything about being American. I guess overseas players are really ambassadors of their sport and the university that they attended.”
Ambassador. Oh yes, if there ever was an ambassador for the ’82 Championship and Carolina Basketball, Mike Jordan owns that title. Everyone now knows him, of course, as Michael. But the UNC media guide that year did list him as Mike. Maybe then-Sports Information Director Rick Brewer knew that Jordan would sign with Nike a few years later and was pleased with how the two words seemed to rhyme despite the shoe company’s two syllables. He did sign his college application ‘Michael’, the name that caught on towards mid-season. Eventually, the Gatorade “Be Like Mike” campaign would resurrect those four letters, but the memory ingrained in all Carolina fans will be that photograph of Michael Jordan, clock time, :17 over his shoulder. Simply known as “The Shot”, the most famous shot in Carolina history.
Al Steele, a Daily Tar Heel photographer in 1982, was one of only a few to capture that image. He remembers his shot of “The Shot”: “I had actually moved into another area to shoot the end of the game, trying to be able to get the floor and the bench. I probably wasn’t supposed to be there, but sometimes it’s just luck to get a shot like that, one that ends up being so well known. But I didn’t know what I had when I took the picture. It means a lot to have taken that picture. People will be talking about that shot, and I’ll tell them that I took it, and they can’t believe it.”
Despite Steele’s photographic evidence, if you ask Coaches Smith and Guthridge, they believe “The Shot” actually occurred at the 3:26 mark. Oh, Jordan still took it, but it was a layup, not a jumper. “Well it was a great shot,” Guthridge says recalling Michael’s game winner, “but one of the best shots of the game was a driving layup a few minutes earlier when he laid it almost off the top of the backboard to get it over Ewing.” Smith concurs: “I thought it was a great drive, and then I saw Patrick come in and it flashed through my mind that it was going to be blocked. That was a sensational shot.”
So sensational, the right-handed Jordan still can’t believe he scored with his left hand. “I don't know why I threw a left handed layup,” he recalls. “I hate using my left hand. My left hand is the weakest part of my game. But I used it that one particular time. Couldn't believe it. It turned it (the game) around. Threw a shot that was totally unbelievable, almost hit the top of the backboard and went in, over Ewing.”
It was a turning point of the game, putting Carolina up 61-58. But the Heels would not score again until the defining point happened over 3 minutes later. With 17 seconds left, one final shot helped define one career(Smith), and start another with the swish of the net. “It was pre-destined,” Jordan says. “It was destiny. Ever since I made that shot, everything has just fallen in to place for me. If that shot hadn’t gone in I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
Despite the team’s rock star-like status, All-America Sam Perkins did not mind the lack of headlines and glory associated with his role on the team. Soft spoken and quiet, “Silent Sam” was more than happy to let Worthy and Jordan squint at the camera lights. But what “Big Smooth”, as he would later be nicknamed, did in the semi-finals against Houston is maybe more astonishing in the fact that fans hardly remember it when discussing the ‘82 Championship. “I remember what a great game Sam Perkins had in the semi-finals against Akeem(now Hakeem) Olajuwon,” Guthridge reflects. “If Sam doesn’t play that way against Houston, there’s a chance we wouldn’t have gotten to the championship game.” Perkins, himself, has gone on record saying he almost forgets that game when asked about the ‘82 Final Four!
But memories have not let us forget what happened after that Saturday night, when another star would shine two days later. Monday night was of course the ‘big game’, so who else should put the team on his back other than “Big Game James”? Without a doubt, junior James Worthy was the star of this UNC team. Sure, Perkins was All-America, but so was Worthy. Jordan had “The Shot” around 11:00pm that night, but “Stick”(Worthy’s nickname to the players) had the 28 points and the Most Outstanding Player trophy from the NCAA Championship just after the eleven o’clock hour.
On another television network about the same time, Chariots of Fire was winning an Oscar for Best Motion Picture, while Worthy was cutting down the nets in New Orleans - the only net he really wanted, he had been telling anyone that would listen. You can almost hear that theme song from Chariots accompanying a Worthy highlight reel from the Championship game. Makes you almost want to take the 1982 Best Actor Oscar away from Henry Fonda(for On Golden Pond) and give it to Worthy for best performance by a leading man!
Now, ironically enough, you can catch Chariots Of Fire and the 1982 NCAA Championship game on ESPN Classic. The movie is considered one of the great sports movies of all time, the game, one of the great Championships of all time. That’s what 20 years will do – turn you into a classic, not that there was any doubt of the legacy that game would attain.
And yes, even 20 years later, the 1982 classic has been modernized. A quick check on the eBay auction site lists several Upper Deck trading cards containing a small piece of the Carmichael Auditorium floor, Jordan’s blue jersey, and the text “20th Anniversary 1982 NCAA Title” going for over $400.00! That media guide that lists “Mike Jordan” regularly sells for over $100.00. Memorabilia from Dean Smith, Worthy, and Perkins are all hot sellers in today’s market. That’s what legendary status will do for you. “I think so,” Guthridge agrees. “They were a great team, made up of great individuals, and coached by the greatest coach. It was a dream season, especially when you look back on it and think of the players that were on that team and the way the season went. It was an unbelievable year.”
To properly reflect on that unbelievable year, take a look at the team picture(which, by the way is a hot piece of memorabilia as well). Twenty-four members: 4 coaches, 15 players, 4 managers, 1 trainer. Twenty years later, there are two direct connections to the 1982 team on the 2002 team – Matt Doherty and trainer Marc Davis. Davis, or “Skate” as all Carolina players call him, has been in all 20 UNC team pictures since 1982. He, if anyone, should know a little about this legendary stuff. “One thing I’ve always said is to win the National Championship you’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be healthy, you’ve got to have some luck,” Davis says. “And that team personified all those things. We were obviously very good, and I’m sure you could think of some instances where luck may have come into play.” And with no significant injury or health problems, that team did not keep Davis and his training room very busy. “That was one of the things pretty remarkable about that season is that medically, it was probably one of the easiest years we’ve ever had.”
And yes, Davis and the Tar Heels did win another NCAA Championship eleven years later in 1993. However this time the star power was on the other team in the guise of Michigan’s “Fab Five.” But George Lynch, Eric Montross, Derrick Phelps, Brian Reese, and Donald Williams played Coach Smith’s team-oriented style to perfection in defeating the Wolverines. “The ‘82 title team definitely had more talent,” Lynch, now a member of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets says. “The ‘93 team was inspired by determination, team work, and a lot of sacrifices. If you compare the two teams talent-wise, the ‘82 team had a lot more. Ninety-three was more about a desire to win. I can remember my four years at Carolina and two of my first three years Duke University had won the National Championship, so it was my duty as a senior at the University of North Carolina to win a championship before I left town.”
Yet, despite both teams achieving the ultimate accomplishment in collegiate basketball, the ‘93 squad has not seemed to attract the legendary status that the ‘82 team has reached. Even Lynch acknowledges this: “Yeah, any time you talk about a National Championship that game is always shown on television with Michael Jordan hitting the shot and talking about the guys that were on that team and how well they played and how many made it to the pros and had great NBA careers.”
The coaching staff even used a little ‘82 influence as motivation for the ‘93 team. They changed a picture from the 1982 Championship game that showed the scoreboard message, “Congratulations to North Carolina, 1982 NCAA Champions,” to read “1993 Champions”, placing the doctored picture in each player’s locker at the beginning of the season.
Comparing teams has always been taboo under Coaches Smith and Guthridge, and rightly so. They never have wanted to say one group was better than another despite the season’s outcome, even if that included winning a National Championship. “We never have one player as a favorite player or one team, as our favorite team,” Guthridge explains. “We’ve had a lot of other favorite teams and a lot of other very good teams that weren’t able to win the national championship. And it’s too bad that you have to, in some ways, to be remembered, you have to win a national championship. Because it’s just a one game playoff and anything can happen. In ‘84 if Jordan doesn’t get some bad calls we might have been National Champion, or ‘77 or ‘98. So you can’t belittle those teams. Had we been like the pros, a best of seven playoff, we’d had some more.”
Coach Smith agrees, although he does hint of the ‘82 season’s impact. “It was a special time certainly,” Smith says. “But I always didn’t want to judge a team based on…so much can be luck. On a previous game, you just get by, like the ‘77 team. All the teams have been special to me, but certainly to be the first one where I was head coach… It’s been significant in my life, but again, I don’t want to belittle all those other teams that sure came so close, but it was special.”
Coach Smith never even wore his Championship ring, for fear of favoring one team over the other. Instead, choosing to wear his Hall Of Fame ring, which he feels better represents all the teams he coached. In fact, few members of the ‘82 team wear their hardware. Doherty dusted his off when he became the Carolina coach last season to help inspire his new team. He now keeps it in a trophy case in his Smith Center office displayed with his other award rings. Jordan keeps his in a safe. Lynwood Robinson presented his mother the ring to thank her for all she had done for him. However the ring was lost when her house was destroyed by a tornado. Miraculously, the gold ring with the big number ‘1’ emblazoned on its face was found days later in a nearby yard.
Yes, that 1982 dream season’s impact and personal stories remain strong twenty years later. But one final story of that season may be the most telling of all, according to Cecil Exum. Just two days - two days! - after winning the National Championship - Wednesday March 31st, 1982 to be exact – an early morning visit seemed to put it all in perspective for the players. “During that time, I think the players had the utmost respect for our coaches,” Exum recalls. “And even after winning the ‘82 Championship it was business as usual. I can remember Coach Guthridge and Coach Williams showing up at the dorm to check to see if we were going to class the day after we got back from New Orleans. We were Champions and they still were doing their job. I don’t think any of the players had planned to go to class that day and they caught us out. Nothing gets past or got past those coaches!”
And for that we can all be extremely grateful. There would be no sleeping in for the team because that 1982 season, indeed, set the standard for Carolina Basketball. Coach Smith’s mantra - play hard, play smart, play together – helped create twenty years of memories, not just for the team members, but for the thousands of Tar Heels fans that continue to revel in the glory of that legendary season.
“It was a fun time I hope, not just for everyone closely involved, but for the whole student population,” Jimmy Black says. “I thought it was a chance for everyone to rally around each other and enjoy a wonderful time in our young adult lives.”
“I can’t believe it’s been twenty years,” Exum says. “That Championship and those memories are imprinted in my mind as if it happened yesterday.”