NC State

Wolfpack champs of ’83 making long-overdue trip to White House

NC State’s Jim Valvano celebrates after the Wolfpack defeated Houston to win the national championship on April 5, 1983. He was the only member of the team to go to Washington to meet President Ronald Reagan. That will change Monday, May 9, 2016, when surviving members of the team meet President Barack Obama.
NC State’s Jim Valvano celebrates after the Wolfpack defeated Houston to win the national championship on April 5, 1983. He was the only member of the team to go to Washington to meet President Ronald Reagan. That will change Monday, May 9, 2016, when surviving members of the team meet President Barack Obama. 1983 News and Observer File Photo

It took 33 years, but for N.C. State it may be worth the wait.

Barack Obama, basketball fan, Columbia University Class of 1983, will make it a special day for the Wolfpack, the class of college basketball in ’83.

President Barack Obama will welcome the Pack to the White House on Monday to celebrate N.C. State’s 1983 national championship team. After the Pack’s stirring run to the ’83 NCAA title, only Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano went to Washington to personally meet with President Ronald Reagan.

The other team members gathered at Raleigh’s WRAL station to be recognized and congratulated by the president via satellite. Seniors Dereck Whittenburg, Sidney Lowe and Thurl Bailey each spoke to the president during the televised ceremony from a station studio.

Valvano later returned for a second White House visit, taking Whittenburg and Lowe with him that time.

“That was nice but we always wanted to get the team to the White House,” Whittenburg said this past week.

Obama, being a former Chicago resident and Illinois senator, being a loyal Chicago Bears fan, saw fit to belatedly invite another championship team that didn’t get a White House visit – the 1985 Chicago Bears, winners of Super Bowl XX. A January 1986 ceremony at the White House was canceled because of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, but Obama finally brought the Bears to Washington in October 2011.

Whittenburg, an associate athletic director at N.C. State, said he was at a Wounded Warriors event last year when he met former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. The two talked about the Bears visit, of how meaningful it was for the players after the passing of many years.

“He said it was great,” Whittenburg said. “That helped get the ball rolling.”

Bailey, who played nine of his 12 NBA seasons with the Utah Jazz and lives in Utah, wrote a letter to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who in turn wrote to Obama urging he bring the team to Washington.

Thanks to Bailey’s efforts, the ball was really rolling and Bailey was soon calling his former teammates and coaches to deliver the news – pack your bags for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The team will be without their inspirational coach. Valvano, who left N.C. State in 1990, died of cancer in 1993.

Lorenzo Charles, whose last-gasp dunk beat Houston in the championship game, and former assistant coach Ed McLean both died in 2011, and former walk-on Quinton Leonard died in 2006.

Leonard’s 14-year-old son, Quinton Leonard IV of Palmyra, Pa., was invited to be with the Pack.

“We’ll miss Coach, miss Lorenzo and the members of our team no longer with us, and we will proudly represent them,” Whittenburg said. “It should be a great day for our team. After all these years, it should be the icing on the cake.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

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