Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29, 1982: A legend is born

NEW ORLEANS - It was the national championship game that had everything. There was the shot that launched a legendary career. And there was the heartbreaking turnover of the ages. Two extremes, two huge swings of emotion, in one 10-second span.

First, it was North Carolina's turn. Trailing by one with 30 seconds left, the Tar Heels inbounded the ball and looked to find an opening for the winning basket. With Georgetown in a 1-3-1 zone and the great freshman Patrick Ewing manning the middle, North Carolina knew they'd need a jump shot to win. So they passed around the wing a few times, taking time off the clock, before a young freshman found an opening in the zone.

Future NBA all-star James Worthy passed the ball to the young freshman - a skinny kid by the name of Michael Jordan - and Jordan calmly sank the jumper that put North Carolina ahead, 63-62. North Carolina's bench was celebrating.

But it wasn't over. Georgetown still had 10 seconds and a timeout to use to try to score the winning basket. Guard Fred Brown had the ball for Georgetown, no doubt looking to get the ball in to either Ewing or Sleepy Floyd, who had given the Hoyas the lead just before Jordan's shot. But, with time running out, Brown inexplicably passed the ball right to North Carolina's Worthy, and the Tar Heels were able to run out the clock after the turnover.

After the game, despite attempts by his coach to comfort him, Brown was devastated. He later said that he made the bad pass in part because Georgetown had been practicing in white jerseys all week, but were wearing blue for the national championship game.

Fortunately for Brown, the man who made the winning shot for North Carolina ended up becoming the greatest basketball player of all time. Losing a game on a shot that launched a legend helped put Brown's turnover on the back burner a little bit. People still remember his bad pass, but not as much as they remember Jordan's clutch shot.

Another thing that's not remembered about the game is that despite the winning shot, Jordan wasn't the biggest star for North Carolina that day. That honor went to Worthy, who, aside from being in the right place to catch Brown's errant pass, scored a game-high 28 points. Ewing also starred, scoring 23 points with 10 rebounds. In all, five players who played in the 1982 National Championship game went on to have distinguished NBA careers.

It was a game with 15 lead changes, one where neither team ever led by more than a handful of points. But it's best remembered for its final basket, its final lead change, where a freshman guard hit the shot that launched a legend.

No comments:

Post a Comment