A Personal Reminiscence About the Shot (Swish?) Heard Round the World — Or, At Least It Seemed That Way in Chapel Hill on the Night of 29 March 1982

Jordan's Memorable Jumper to Beat Georgetown, 63-62

I know some folks are complaining that Michael Jordan’s induction speech at the Naismith Hall of Fame Friday night turned petty and vindictive.  I even heard some Carolina fans talking about it at Ed McKay’s bookstore here in Greensboro on Saturday — and being very disparaging of MJ.  And maybe they’re right — he is pretty darn arrogant.

But whenever I think of Jordan it is always with a fondness for one of my most vivid sports memories, something I think must come to the minds of many Carolina fans when they hear his name, and especially if they were lucky enough to be in Chapel Hill and join in the celebrations the night the University of North Carolina won the NCAA basketball championship in 1982.

Jordan, of course, was the star freshman on one of the Tar Heel’s greatest teams, that of the 1981-82 season, which also included Sam Perkins, Jimmy Black, and the incomparable James Worthy.  They lost only two games that year en route to the championship, and I’ve always felt that team epitomized the unselfishness of the Dean Smith system with their defensive excellence and workman-like offense.

At any rate, after the ‘Heels whipped Houston in the first round of the Final Four on Saturday, March 27th, I made up my mind nothing was going to keep me from being in Chapel Hill for the national finals against Georgetown on the following Monday night.  Though the game was to be played at the Superdome in New Orleans, I wanted to be present for the anticipated celebrations on Franklin Street (in the event the ‘Heels won), and I was not to be disappointed. 

I was a graduate student at Appalachian in Boone at the time, and I really knew only one person in Chapel Hill — an undergraduate roommate whom I figured (with a fair degree of certainty) would be hanging out at The Cave, one of the town’s oldest and best known taverns, to watch the game.

So, I just hopped in my car and drove down the mountain, arriving in Chapel Hill unannounced about an hour or so before game time, and sure enough I wasn’t at the bar for long before my old roomie Tom and his buddy John showed up. 

Tom was no doubt a little miffed to see me (to think, he would have to watch Carolina vie for a national championship in company with this dull Appalachian boy!), but the joyfulness and excitement of the occasion soon mollified him, the beers flowed, and by game time we were all in the best of spirits.

Needless to say, it was one of the most exciting games I ever watched.  The teams traded the lead back and forth throughout, neither able to gain an upper hand; you just knew the outcome would come down to the final moments.  And there were lots of spectacular plays by Worthy, Jordan, and Georgetown’s star center, Pat Ewing.

Then Jordan, a mere freshman, rose to the occasion with the most important shot ever for Carolina basketball — at least, in my opinion.  Georgetown was ahead 62-61, and with :17 seconds left MJ drained a beautiful jumper from about 15 feet

Catching his defenders flat-footed with his quickness, and with his graceful form and God-given ability to seemingly float in air when he leapt vertically, Jordan simply towers over everyone as he prepares to release the shot in the immortal moment captured above.

Trailing now by one point, 63-62, Georgetown immediately made the inbounds play and pushed the ball up court without a timeout.  Then, at :07 seconds, a now obscure Georgetown guard named Fred Brown threw the ball right to Carolina’s James Worthy.  The game was essentially over and the Tar Heels, for the first time since 1957, were national champs! 

Though Chapel Hill was a long way from New Orleans’ Superdome, I think that as Worthy stole that pass and tried to dribble out the clock there must have been something like an earthquake as thousands and thousands of people across the State of North Carolina suddenly jumped for joy.

The Cave erupted in a chaos of shouts and leaping, totally unchoreographed of course, but nonetheless to my mind kind like some sort of primitive dance; in the melee, I remember a fellow gave me a high-five with such force that he nearly broke my hand — it was still a little numb later that night.

The game still wasn’t over.  Worthy was fouled, missed his shots and there was a full-court desperation toss by Georgetown that came down harmlessly into Sam Perkins’ waiting arms at the buzzer.

Everybody now spilled out of the bar into Franklin Street, and it wasn’t long before the main avenue through Chapel Hill was completely packed with a dense crowd — as it always is when Carolina celebrates championships. 

But, instead of merely joining in the crowd as it milled about, the four of us, Tom, John, another friend named Billy, and I, all for some reason decided to sit down (cross-legged) in the middle of Franklin Street — and there we sat for some time, all the while with a crowd packed like so many sardines pushing against us and around us.

Occasionally a sorority girl would say, “Oh, you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up!”, or “You’ll be crushed, you’ll be crushed!”  But more often than not they just smiled and smeared Carolina blue paint on our faces and our clothes.  I still have my old army coat which I wore that night — a favorite coat from my college days — with blue paint smears on it.

We finally got up for some reason and made our way off Franklin Street, John and I becoming separated from Tom and Billy.  I crashed at John’s house; his mother, I recall, made him give me his bed, while John took the couch. 

As I made my way back to Boone on I-40 the next morning, passers-by would see the blue paint on my face and coat through the windshield and honk and yell — they knew where I had been last night! 

And so, when I think of Michael Jordan, who went on to become probably the greatest player in NBA history, it’s not really all those highlights and championships he had as a pro that I think of, and I’m certainly not going to bother myself with what he said at his Hall of Fame induction.

No, I will think of my journey to Chapel Hill to watch him make that great shot, ending a twenty-five year drought for the ‘Heels and giving Dean Smith his first championship — and the incredible love-fest which played out afterwards on Franklin Street. 

That he gave us Tar Heel fans that was quite enough — and just think, what if he had missed?!

Anyway, if you’d like to relive your own memories of MJ, Greensboro Public Library has got plenty of books you might enjoy (though, as you might guess, since Jordan’s been retired for a few years now, some of them are a little dated).  Try some of these:  Driven from Within by Michael Jordan with Tinker Hatfield; When Nothing Else Matters:  Michael Jordan’s Last Comeback by Michael Leahy; One Last Shot:  The Story of Michael Jordan’s Comeback by Mitchell Krugel; Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made by David Halberstam; For the Love of the Game:  My Story by Michael Jordan (oversize); Rookie:  When Michael Jordan Came to the Minor Leagues by Jim Patton; Second Coming:  The Strange Odyssey of Michael Jordan — from Courtside to Home Plate and Back Again by Sam Smith; Airborne:  The Triumph and Struggle of Michael Jordan by Jesse Kornbluth; Jordan:  The Man, His Words, His Life by Mitchell Krugel; and Hang Time:  Days and Dreams with Michael Jordan by Bob Greene.

And the library has also got lots of books on Carolina basketball, such as:  The 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith by David Chadwick; Blue Blood: Duke-Carolina, Inside the Most Storied Rivalry in College Hoops by Art Chansky; The Best Game Ever:  How Frank McGuire’s ‘57 Tar Heels Beat Wilt and Revolutionized College Basketball by Adam Lucas; Blue Heaven:  A History of UNC Basketball (videorecording); The Carolina Corporation:  Inside Dean Smith and the Tar Heels by Steve Holstrom; A Coach’s Life by Dean Smith with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins; Dean Smith:  A Biography by Thad Mumau; The Dean Smith Story:  More Than a Coach by Thad Mumau; Dean’s Domain:  The Inside Story of Dean Smith and His C0llege Basketball Empire by Art Chansky; The Dean’s List:  A Celebration of Tar Heel Basketball and Dean Smith (juvenile) by Art Chansky, with a foreword by Michael Jordan; Going Home Again:  Roy Williams, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and a Season to Remember by Adam Lucas; North Carolina, 2005 NCAA Champions by The News & Observer; One to Remember:  The 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels NCAA Championship Team Then and Now by David Daly; The Road to Blue Heaven:  An Insider’s Diary of North Carolina’s 2007 Basketball Season by Wes Miller; Tar Heel:  North Carolina Basketball by Ken Rappoport; Tar Heel Madness:  Great Eras in North Carolina Basketball by Wilton Sharpe; To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever:  A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry by Will Blythe; University of North Carolina Men’s Basketball Games:  A Complete Record, Fall 1953 through Spring 2006 by Michael E. O’Hara; The Winning Tradition:  A Pictorial History of Carolina Basketball; and Three Paths to Glory:  A Season on the Hardwood with Duke, N.C. State, and North Carolina by Barry Jacobs.

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