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Lorenzo Charles, 1963-2011

We want to take a moment to put aside partisanship and extend condolences to the NC State basketball family and to Wolfpack Nation on the untimely death of the hero of the 1983 national championship team, Lorenzo Charles.

Charles died on Monday afternoon when the tour bus he was driving crashed on I-40 in west Raleigh. He was 47.

I confess a personal interest in this story because I was driving eastbound on I-40 this afternoon and saw the traffic jam but obviously did not know the cause, nor the famous driver involved. Oh, and because I was a huge State fan in 1983 when Charles dunked in Dereck Whittenburg’s desperation heave as time expired to give the Pack the national championship.

Charles, who led the Wolfpack in scoring in both 1984 and 1985, was part of one of the most glorious ages of ACC basketball. For fans under the age of about 40, it is hard to fully comprehend how spectacular the ACC was in the early-to-mid 80s. UNC and State won back-to-back NCAA titles, UVa and Maryland were national contenders just as Duke began its rise, and legendary coaches - and those who would become legendary - roamed the sidelines, with names like Smith, Driesell, Cremins, Krzyzewski, and Valvano. And holy cow, the players of that era - Worthy, Jordan, Perkins, Bias, Sampson, Bailey, Dawkins, and Bilas, just to name a few - of which Charles was among the best, especially as a senior.

Charles was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft but barely stayed long enough for a cup of coffee in the league; still he played professionally both in the US and overseas for nearly 15 years.

I had the chance to meet Charles on a couple of occasions when I was a college coach and always found him to be humble, especially given his role in NCSU and NCAA legend. Today’s tragedy is an untimely end for an unlikely hero. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends as well as our lupine brethren.

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11 comments to Lorenzo Charles, 1963-2011

  • Steve the State Fan

    Thanks, Doc - it is a very sad day indeed for us. What you said about him is consistent with everything I ever heard from folks who knew him - a quiet, humble gentleman. I appreciate you taking the time to post this - you and THF are class acts.

    One of my favorite memories of him was when he absolutely went off on Duke in Cameron in I think 1985. He was unstoppable that night, leaning in, creating contact and making old-fashioned 3 point plays. At that time, he had a way more chiseled physique than most college basketball players, and he used that strength to his advantage. Everyone remembers the famous dunk, but he was a very solid player in his junior and senior seasons, as you pointed out. RIP, Lo.

  • galheel

    I too would like to express my condolences to all those who will feel the loss of Lorenzo Charles.

  • Incredibly sad news.

    I am too young to remember “The Dunk” when it actually happened, but at the same time, as it is the opening image in CBS’ College basketball intro, I can’t think of a play I’ve seen more. Nothing embodies what is so great about the NCAA Tournament more than that play does. Sad to know that the two main contributors to that moment have left too soon.

  • yawper

    Even as a huge Carolina fan, I was rooting hard for NC State against Houston in 1983. I guess it was a different time. Very sad news.

  • Heel To The End

    me, too, yawper.
    it was one of the more amazing runs in any sport.
    and they had to beat us in the ACCt or it would never have happened.
    The Cardiac Pack lost a heartbeat yesterday. Awful.

  • chapelhillfan

    I was not quite 12 in ’83 when Charles made the dunk: “They won it, on the dunk!” (Bill Packer) I vividly remember it. I also have found memories of growing up in NC and being proud of back-to-back titles by in-state schools. I had not yet fully formed my hatred and venom toward State. Charles was a class-act though. Just note how little he celebrated the dunk, compared to players of today. His passing is a tragedy and a sad loss.

  • boulderHeel

    I remember many things associated with this year. My father died on Friday; UNC lost to State on Saturday, and then, NCState beat an excellent UVA team on Sunday. They had to win all three to get a bid. I then remember NUMEROUS overtimes to make it to the NCAA finals. I had given up and gone to bed on a couple of occasions just to pop back up before the room even went dark. What a year!
    My last memory? Getting up at 3 in the morning to drive to Raleigh to pick up my inebriated and fellow UNC freshmen suite-mates. Joy! Thanks Lo!

  • yawper

    Yeah State had to beat Pepperdine in (I think) double overtime just to get to the regionals that year. It was one of those CBS midnight games they would show back when they only showed a couple of first round games. And of course they would face Virginia again in the regional finals and ruin Sampson’s last shot at a title. And, we would have met them again in the Final Four had we not laid an egg against Georgia (what conference are they in, Sam?).

  • on the IC boards, someone mentioned that Lorenzo has been the driver for Diamond Heels for quite some time too. anyone else realize that? i guess he was somewhat of a Tar Heel as well, then.

  • ncsu1987

    Many thanks to Doc, THF and all the commenters for the kind words. I’ll show my age here, but I was a freshman in ’83 during the magical Spring run. During the previous semester, I shared a class with Lo, an introductory Philosophy class. Mr. Charles was in class every day, participated in the open discussions, and was every bit the gentleman even at that relatively young age. Ultimately he understood the significance of his legacy, his enduring contribution to the spectacle of March Madness. He just had the grace to take it in stride.

  • Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I’m too young to remember much about State sports prior to ’86 or so (I was 5 in ’83), so sadly all I really know of Lorenzo Charles is contained in the video clips and memorial pieces that have been written about his passing. By all accounts, he was every bit of what you’d want a student athlete to be.

    I highly recommend reading this piece by Kotaku’s Owen Good about Charles and his legacy: