Thirty-two seconds left in a season, that much time left to decide a national championship. Trailing Georgetown, 62-61. Dean Smith, close but never this close in 21 years as a coach, called time.
In the huddle there was one voice: Smith's. Calm, as always. Crouching in front of his five seated players, Smith called for Carolina's two-zone offense. He wanted the Tar Heels to look briefly inside for a lob pass to James Worthy, then try to set up Michael Jordan for a jump shot.
Jordan--a freshman. And Smith was putting a national title in his hands. "Coach looked at me and said Jimmy (Black) would try to draw the defense to his side then throw it cross-court to me," Jordan said. "I was just hoping I would make it."
As he walked onto the court, surrounded by 61,612 fans, he briefly remembered the bus ride to the Superdome. "I remembered thinking about the game and how I would react if it came down to me to take a shot to win or lose the game," Jordan said, a shy smile disappearing as fast as it appeared. "I wondered what would happen."
What happened was just as Smith had instructed. Black on the right side of the key looked inside, then quickly swung a pass left to Jordan 16 feet from the basket. Without hesitation Jordan, who had taken the ball right at Patrick Ewing moments earlier, got the ball airborne.
With 15 seconds on the giant clocks, it went through the net cleanly.
"That kid doesn't even realize it yet, but he's part of history now," Carolina assistant Eddie Fogler said. "People will remember that shot 25 years from now."
Georgetown did not want time out, it wanted the court spread out, so the Hoyas came right down. Fred Brown reached the top of the key, thought he saw Eric Smith (it was Eric Floyd) cutting on his right. He picked up his dribble.
That was when James Worthy made his move. "I saw him pick up the ball at the top of the key," Worthy said. "He was going to throw it to someone on the wings. I thought he'd try to throw it over me or away from me. I was surprised that it was right in my chest."
Worthy caught the ball and ran downcourt until Eric Smith tackled him with two seconds remaining. Now, there was hysteria on the Carolina bench. Except for one man: Smith. He was screaming at people, "Calm down, calm down, the game isn't over!"
Georgetown Coach John Thompson used his last timeout, and then Worthy missed both foul shots. Ed Spriggs rebounded and flipped the ball desperately to Floyd, who could not even square up before heaving from 50 feet.
"When he released it," said Carolina assistant Bill Guthridge, who had a bad angle from behind, "I thought, 'Oh no, it's going in.' " But it had no chance and, as mayhem broke out around him, Smith ran for Thompson, bear-hugged him and climbed on tiptoe as if to kiss the man he has taught, who is a foot taller than he is.
Try as he might to repress it, Smith let just a tad of emotion break through. There were a couple of wisps of tears in his eyes as he hugged assistant Roy Williams, who was sobbing, and Fogler, who was fighting a losing battle against doing likewise.
One of Smith's first comments in the press room was about a story three years ago. It had said that the Smith system produced consistent excellence but not national championships. "That writer is very bright," Smith said, "but I've been waiting a long time to say that's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard."
For the most part, though, Smith stayed in character. When his players saved him one final snip of the net Smith refused it. "Find Jimmy, let him do it," he said, referring to his only senior starter.
"Because I may have another chance and he won't," Smith said.
But after waiting 21 years, wasn't that last snip his?
"No," Smith said. "When they hired me, I never expected to win this. They just told me to try to keep us good."