One of my first painful sports memories was watching Phi Slamma Jamma lose on a last second shot to NC State in the 1983 NCAA championship game. I still remember the bewildered looks on Clyde, Hakeem, and Reid's faces as Jimmy V ran around the Pit in Albuquerque looking for someone to hug. Apparently I am not alone in my remembrance as ESPN's 30 for 30 took on this epic game with "Survive and Advance".
"Survive and Advance" covers two story lines simultaneously during it's 120 minute run, the first being the Cinderella story of the NC State Wolfpack and their unlikely journey to the Final Four and the 1983 title. The second is the story of Jimmy Valvano's battle with cancer. The latter story line is a tear jerker. By now we all remember Jimmy Valvano more for his life after basketball, the ESPY speech, the V foundation, etc. "Survive and Advance" not only looks at these moments but also fills in the blanks by chronicling his coaching ascendance.
As to the 1983 NC State squad, I had no idea how many lives that team had. After losing Derek Whittenberg for a substantial part of the season, the Pack had to win the ACC tournament. The ACC was the greatest conference in the country with Jordan, Perkins, Sampson, Daugherty, Bias, Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, and on and on. The Wolfpack had 9 lives, each time a game was "over" and the Pack was about to be dismissed and banished to the NIT, the squad pulls out another win. And so the story goes, through the NCAA tourney, right up to the Final.
I'd love to see a 30 for 30 on Phi Slamma Jamma. I remember the Louisville semi-final, the pace, the athleticism, the dunking. It was incredible. So was the skill level of the college game at that time. Players stayed four years, they were household names, in many ways if you played for Houston or Virginia or North Carolina or Louisville the talent and depth was on par with anything the NBA had to offer. Something else you notice is the time warp the game is trapped in, no shot clock, no three point shot. Teams with a five point lead could sit on that lead for four or five minutes ensuring victory. Kids there used to be an offense called the 4 corners that Dean Smith used to strangle games into submission. Look it up, and remember that teams would run this offense for 5 minute stretches. Like keep away but with less action.
NC State dodged bullets in part because Valvano went against the grain in his approach and in part because no one could make a free throw. Game after game, round after round opponents missed free throws opening the door for fate and the Wolfpack to creep through.
Over all it's a great time capsule for the greatest era of college basketball and the game that launched the NCAA tournament into must see TV.
A few more points...
- I would have like to have known more about Lorenzo Charles. I mean he made the shot and yet other than covering his death, we learn very little about him.
- Dereck Whittenburg is an executive producer of Survive and Advance. Interesting.
- Whittenburg also had the majority of camera time and seems to be pretty convinced of his own greatness. That got a bit tiresome. He apparently kicked Michael Jordan's ass, and he'd like to tell you about it. A LOT.
- Thurl Bailey on the other hand seemed to be a genuinely nice guy who has some great perspective on both the title run and his coach.
- I forgot that Valvano's tenure at NC State did not end well. NCAA infractions and what not.
- The highlights of the Louisville/Houston game were full of highlight reel dunks that ESPN would have had no idea how to whittle down to a top 10.