College Hoops

2024 Final Four — NC State’s magical March and why we love the game

2024 Final Four -- NC State's magical March and why we love the game

A rusty commemorative soda can, a newspaper, a pocket schedule and a VHS tape with no machine to play it on.

That’s what my 1983 NC State Wolfpack collection is down to now. It used to be a museum. Boxes of T-shirts and caps, magazines and books, buttons and bumper stickers. All in red and white. All emblazoned with some combination of all-caps print: CARDIAC PACK, HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF, DESTINY’S DARLINGS and NCAA CHAMPIONS.

They were, and are, my favorite team. That one team that even now, I can effortlessly rattle off every single member of the roster, from March Madness eternals Dereck Whittenburg and Lorenzo Charles to Tommy DiNardo and Walt Densmore, who shared four points on seven shots taken all season long. A huge poster of the April 11, 1983, cover of Sports Illustrated — “Miracle Workers” — hung on my bedroom and is still in a tube somewhere in my basement. Whenever I have played basketball, from church youth leagues to college intramurals to old man, knee brace leagues, I have donned No. 41. Why? Because those are the digits worn by the center on that team and the center of that SI cover, Thurl Bailey. And whenever I have stepped to a free throw line with that number on my chest, I have always run through the same pre-shoot routine: right foot forward, left foot slightly back, five dribbles eyes down, lock it in, look up, shoot it like a fadeaway. Why? Because that’s how the freshman who saved the season, Ernie Myers, did it.

I didn’t attend NC State. But I grew up in Raleigh and went to elementary school basically across the street from campus, and I didn’t believe anything I would ever discover in my preteen life would manage to ignite my imagination and adrenaline like Star Wars and a stack of quarters at the arcade.

The 1983 Wolfpack did. However, unlike Han Solo and Pac-Man, these dudes were real. They lived in my town. They ate pizza at the same Italian joint as me. Most of them were still teenagers, not much older than me. And yet, they were superheroes. They still are. I met Bailey for the first time just three months ago, and in an instant, I was 12 again.

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