1983 | 'Those last few seconds were painful'

Thirty years later, Houston players still dealing with the dunk that changed their lives, too

ldecock@newsobserver.comNovember 21, 2012 

When Duke and Kentucky met in the Georgia Dome earlier this month, there were scores of Kentucky fans wearing T-shirts that read “I still hate Laettner.” Even the passage of 20 years couldn’t heal the wounds left by Christian Laettner’s last-second shot to beat the Wildcats in 1992.

At least Laettner’s shot went in. The shot that beat Houston in 1983 started with an air ball. The intervention of N.C. State forward Lorenzo Charles, who dunked Dereck Whittenburg’s miss, kept the Cougars from winning the national championship many thought the fraternity brothers of Phi Slama Jama had won with a Saturday night victory over Louisville.

“Those last few seconds were painful,” said Larry Micheaux, a starting senior forward on that team, “but life goes on.”

The unanswered questions about that game still linger in Houston: Why didn’t Akeem Olajuwon box out Charles? (He was on his way up the court after Benny Anders nearly stole the pass to Whittenburg.) Why did Houston coach Guy Lewis slow down the pace after a 17-2 run had given Houston a seven-point lead in the second half? (No answer.) Why couldn’t Alvin Franklin make a free throw when N.C. State fouled to get the ball back with 44 seconds to play? (No answer.) What if Anders had gotten his fingers on that pass? (His game-winning dunk would be in “One Shining Moment” instead of Charles’.)

Reid Gettys, an in-house litigator for ExxonMobil, was once summoned to the bench by the judge in the middle of a trial. “Mr. Gettys, why stall?” the judge asked him. Gettys protested that he was moving through his witness list as quickly as possible before it dawned on him: Why stall … against N.C. State?

“Here we are, 30 years later, and with no exaggeration, very few days go by without that game coming up,” said Gettys, a sophomore swingman who came off the bench to score four points against N.C. State.

The level of talent on that Houston team was obscene, but that was as close to a national title as the Cougars would get despite making three straight trips to the Final Four. And if there’s any lingering bitterness the Houston players carry with them now, it’s how that one loss deprived Lewis, now 90, of the credit he deserved. Lewis – who was the head coach at Houston for three decades, beat UCLA at the Houston Astrodome in 1968 in the “Game of the Century,” and went to five Final Fours – has never been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. Even Whittenberg has spoken out on Lewis’ behalf.

“He revolutionized college basketball,” Gettys said. “Guy Lewis was doing the four corners years before Dean Smith. He had the crazy idea that if you put a game in the middle of a large stadium, people would fill it. He had the crazy idea that if you put a game on TV in prime time, people would watch. He was as responsible for integrating basketball in the south as Don Haskins was.

“Guy Lewis won with slow white guys and athletic black guys and combinations of the two, and he coached through the most tumultuous period in our society. Yet somehow coach (Jim) Valvano became a hero and a mythological figure because of the pictures of him running across the court looking for someone to hug. Coach Lewis became the picture of incompetence because of that game. Talk about an injustice.”

Olajuwon (as Hakeem Olajuwon) and Drexler (as Clyde “The Glide” Drexler) would go on to Hall of Fame careers in the NBA. Michael Young played briefly in the NBA before joining the basketball staff at Houston, where he’s now director of basketball operations and his son Joseph is a sophomore guard on the team. Dave Rose is the head coach at Brigham Young, Franklin works in construction, Micheaux is a high-school teacher and Gettys is a lawyer and analyst for ESPN’s Big 12 broadcasts.

Of all the members of the 1983 team, Gettys may be the least bitter toward N.C. State now: He’s an old friend of current Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried. The two once played together on the Athletes in Action touring team (along with future Washington coach Lorenzo Romar) and crossed paths many times as broadcasters, so he’s finding it harder to root against the Wolfpack than he might otherwise.

“But don’t tell him to send me a T-shirt, not yet,” Gettys said. “Maybe in another 30 years.”

DeCock: Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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