One Final Shining Moment

Monday, April 7, 2008

March Madness boils down to one last spasm of insanity tonight, and so much is at stake: office pools, online pools, friendly wagers . . . oh, and a claim to immortality for one group of kids. That leads us to our question this week: What was the most memorable men's basketball national championship game?

One1966: Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65

No surprise that the top vote-getter was a game with such a historic narrative, it inspired a recent major motion picture. Essentially, Texas Western's triumph wasn't just an eye-opening upset by a relative nobody over a traditional power, it was a blow for racial equality. In yet another example of how inherently idiotic racist thinking is, there was actually a time when it was widely considered a bad idea to have an all-black starting five, because there was a need for the composed leadership of at least one white player or some such utter nonsense. Then along came the Miners, whose coach, Don Haskins, had the revolutionary insight to simply play his best group and let the chips of racial composition fall where they may. Wildcats Coach Adolph Rupp, on the other hand, wasn't quite so enlightened. Sure, that lack of tolerance hadn't stopped Rupp from piling up hundreds of wins and four titles, but on March 19, 1966, the college basketball world came to realize that African Americans were no impediment whatsoever to ultimate success. Texas Western (later renamed the University of Texas-El Paso) didn't just beat all-white Kentucky, it beat Kentucky with a more patient, defensive approach than that favored by the smallish Wildcats, who preferred to run when they could. The win helped discredit Kentucky's model and greatly accelerated the process of racial integration in college hoops, especially in the South. Trivia alert: One of the stars of that 1966 Kentucky team was a certain Pat Riley, who only wishes his current Miami Heat could win as many as 19 games this year or lose as few as 66.

Two1979: Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64

Magic! Bird! It's the NBA on . . . actually, it was the NCAA championship game on NBC, and ratings were boffo. As he would do shortly thereafter in the pros, Johnson won title-round bragging rights, but Bird can always say he never went on to host a painfully bad late-night talk show.

Three1983: N.C. State 54, Houston 52

Houston (31-2) had Phi Slamma Jamma but it was Lorenzo Charles's dunk off of Dereck Whittenburg's last-second desperation heave that let the 10-loss Wolfpack spring the stunner, one that went a long way toward sealing the NCAA tourney's rep as must-see TV. Also going a long way was N.C. State coach Jim Valvano, who will always be remembered running through the post-game throng looking for someone, anyone, to hug.

Four1985: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64

It's a measure of how good defending champ Georgetown was that year that Villanova shot a ridiculous 78.6 percent from the field, including 9 of 10 in the second half, and barely won. That ought to provide Hoyas fans some comfort . . . Okay, maybe not. Their '85 team was perhaps the most intimidating crew of the past 30 years, and all that came of it was the legacy of being the Wicked Stepmother to 'Nova's Cinderella.

Five1993: North Carolina 77, Michigan 1993

This game isn't memorable because of anything Tar Heels-related, unless you're the one person in the country rocking an Eric Montross throwback jersey. It was the last hurrah for Michigan's Fab Five, in all their baggy-shorts glory (although those shorts look like Speedos compared to current styles), and Chris Webber in particular, who authored one of sports' all-time d'oh! moments when he called a timeout his team kinda sorta didn't have.

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