NC State’s ’83 title team makes long-overdue trip to White House

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The 1983 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game is one of the most famous games in NCAA tournament history and has arguably the tourney’s greatest ending ever. There was the buzzer-beating dunk by center Lorenzo Charles. There was the indelible image of coach Jim Valvano running around, looking for someone to hug.

But it wasn’t until Monday, 33 years later, that the team got to visit the president at the White House. It was a meeting long overdue.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden greeted the team and their families in the East Room. Obama, who apologized for not wearing red, was presented with a red Wolfpack jersey.

The invite was secured by forward Thurl Bailey, who led NC State with 15 points in the title game and who had written to Obama.

“As a college basketball fan yourself, I’m sure you can recall the significance of not only what that championship meant to our team, but also the message it embodied to the world that, with strong determination, the underdog can achieve great success,” Bailey wrote in his letter to the president.

As a follow-up, Bailey, who had been drafted by the Utah Jazz in the 1983 NBA draft and spent the majority of his 12-year career there, reached out to Utah senator Orrin Hatch. Hatch, who was present at the ceremony on Monday, wrote to Obama in January, saying, according to the NC State athletics website, “Meeting you at the White House would be an unforgettable experience for these athletes.”

Obama issued the invitation in April.

NC State basically had to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in 1983 to ensure a bid to the NCAA tournament, in which the Wolfpack received a No. 6 seed. From there, NC State, coached by the inspirational Valvano, scored a historic upset against a Ralph-Sampson-led No. 1 Virginia team to reach the Final Four.

The Wolfpack when on to win the national championship 54-52 over No. 1 seed Houston — another powerhouse that included Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler — thanks to that Charles dunk at the buzzer.

But after the win, the Wolfpack didn’t travel to Washington, D.C. The reason, guard Terry Gannon said Monday, was that NC State’s athletic director at the time was “a little frugal.”

“He wouldn’t pay for our bus fare or our hotels,” Gannon said. “We then had a TV station that stepped up and offered to pay. The NCAA said it was a violation, and we stayed home.”

Sadly, not everyone from the team was present Monday. Charles was killed in a bus crash in 2011. Valvano, who gave a courageous speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards about never giving up, died of cancer just weeks later.

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