Charles' memory lives on
By Joedy McCreary
RALEIGH — Lorenzo Charles was remembered Saturday for more than a last-second dunk that remains one of the NCAA tournament’s signature moments.
Charles’ funeral was held five days after the hero of North Carolina State’s title-winning upset of Houston in 1983 was killed in a single-vehicle bus wreck.
“It’s a tough time for family, teammates, fans and friends, but it’s also a time to celebrate and reflect on a wonderful man’s life,” teammate Dereck Whittenburg said.
Charles caught Whittenburg’s 30-foot heave and dunked it at the buzzer to give underdog N.C. State its second national championship. Late coach Jim Valvano scurried onto the court during the wild celebration in Albuquerque, N.M., searching for anyone to hug and creating an unforgettable highlight that is replayed every March.
“For the past 28 years, Lorenzo and I have been linked together in one championship moment,” Whittenburg said, “and we’ll be linked forever.”
Charles was also remembered for his imposing presence on the court and a different sort of demeanor off it.
“Lorenzo was always a strong guy, a big, powerful guy,” teammate and best friend Cozell McQueen said. “But at the same time, he was a gentle guy.”
Whittenburg recalled making fast-food runs with Charles when they were still in school. His niece Ericka Charles said she once asked her uncle, who embraced his second career as a charter bus and limousine driver, who his most famous passenger was.
“He said, ‘I drove Lorenzo Charles,’” she said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
Charles scored 1,535 total points — 15th on the N.C. State scoring list — and his .575 shooting percentage in 1985 remains a school record for seniors. He played one season in the NBA, averaging 3.4 points in 36 games with the Atlanta Hawks in 1985-86, then played internationally and in the Continental Basketball Association until 1999, before he started his second career as a driver.
“More than anything else, I know that Lorenzo meant much more to his family, his teammates and to us at the university than being a basketball player,” N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said during the ceremony. “Those of you who today knew him best knew firsthand of his kindness, his affection and … his smile.”
Charles was killed Monday when the Elite Coach charter bus he was driving crashed along Interstate 40 in Raleigh. No passengers were aboard, and police don’t know what caused the wreck.
Along the meandering, two-lane road that led to the church where Charles’ funeral was held, someone placed a portable basketball hoop in his front yard and affixed a ball on the rim with a poster on the backboard that read: “Thanks Lo 43.”