ESPN documentary chronicles NC State's 1983 championship run

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2013 

— There were a couple of moments at Reynolds Coliseum on Monday night when Jim Valvano, his image projected large across a movie screen, hummed the tune of the N.C. State fight song. A crowd of several hundred clapped along a little bit, and yelled “go State” in unison, just like when Valvano coached games here.

ESPN on Monday at Reynolds hosted an advanced screening of the latest in its “30-for-30” documentary series. “Survive and Advance,” which is about more than just the run the 1983 Wolfpack made, premiers on the network at 9 p.m. Sunday.

For most of the film, most who came to Reynolds sat in silence, watching. But cheers came when the Wolfpack beat North Carolina in the 1983 ACC tournament, and when Lorenzo Charles made that last-second dunk, just like he always does, to beat Houston in the national championship game.

“It just brought tears to my eyes,” said Ernie Myers, who was one of several members of the ’83 team who came to the screening. “In Reynolds, it brought back so much. Just being in this place. We left a lot of blood, sweat and tears on these floors. …

“So to see it here in front of a lot of Wolfpack faithful … it’s just unbelievable for me.”

Pam Valvano Strasser, former wife of the late coach, sat in the front row. Cozell McQueen came back. So did Alvin Battle and George McClain and Tommy DiNardo – members, all, of that famed team. Myers was a freshman then, when he filled in for Dereck Whittenburg, who suffered a broken foot in a game at Reynolds against Virginia.

Approaching the 30th anniversary of the championship, it was Whittenburg’s idea to make the documentary. He contacted Jonathan Hock, a New York City-based director who also directed “The Best that Never Was” – the “30-for-30” that chronicled the story of one-time can’t-miss football prospect Marcus Dupree.

“It was important to me because of the impact and what the story tells people,” Whittenburg said of why doing the documentary mattered to him. “We always talk about dreams and vision, but sometimes people don’t think they can come true.”

Valvano and his team proved that they can, though. Hock – who knew Whittenburg from when he coached at Fordham – wanted to do the film as soon as Whittenburg pitched the idea. The two were planning a meeting about it early on when Charles died in a bus accident on Interstate 40 in June 2011.

The film opens with Whittenburg in a hotel room, ironing his pants and getting dressed to attend Charles’ funeral.

“We’ll be linked together forever,” Whittenburg says of Charles at the funeral. It was Charles who turned Whittenburg’s airball into that game-winning dunk against Houston.

The film isn’t just about N.C. State’s late-season run, but also about the players’ relationships now, and how tragedy has shaped them. At one point, Whittenburg talks of telling his teammates they need to spend more time together – how if they don’t, they’ll only be coming together for their funerals. The film also details Valvano’s turmoil-filled final days at N.C. State, and the end of coaching career.

Valvano’s fight against cancer is another central theme, with the film alternating scenes depicting N.C. State’s run in ’83 and Valvano fighting for his life 10 years later. He died in April 1993, but not before founding the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research.

“We tried to sort of conflate the experience of Jimmy V fighting cancer with fighting for survival in the basketball sense during the final nine-game run through the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament,” Hock said. “… To go through that march of nine games, nine unbelievable games, knowing that the coach is doomed.

“And the guy who’s going to make the winning basket is doomed. It does change it. But the things that he used to keep them believing were the very same things he used to keep fighting cancer. And of course, that’s his great victory.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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