On March 29, 1982, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels win the NCAA men’s basketball championship with a 63-62 defeat of the Georgetown University Hoyas. It was the first title for Carolina coach Dean Smith, who would retire in 1997 as the most successful coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history with 879 career wins. (Bobby Knight broke the record in 2006.)
Dean Smith coached UNC for 36 seasons, during which he led the Tar Heels to the tournament 25 times, and to the Final Four 10 times. In his first 21 seasons, however, Smith’s teams failed to win championships, losing three times in the NCAA semifinals and three times in the finals, including losses in both 1977 and 1981. Critics called him stubborn and old-fashioned, and blamed the losses on his use of the so-called four corners offense, in which the team spread the floor and passed the ball around without attacking the basket, in the hopes of protecting a lead.
In the 1982 NCAA final, Smith’s coaching counterpart was John Thompson Jr., a close friend who had taken a moribund program at Georgetown and turned it into a national powerhouse. Thompson had been the first African-American assistant coach in U.S. Olympic history when he assisted Smith at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, at which the U.S. team won the gold medal. In 1982, Thompson’s Hoyas were led by outstanding freshman center Patrick Ewing. Ewing’s overzealous defense in the first half led to 10 Carolina points, as he blocked five shots that were called for goaltending. The Tar Heels held steady, led by the Most Outstanding Player for the tournament, senior forward James Worthy, and his fellow forward “Sleepy” Sam Perkins. Freshman guard Michael Jordan–who would go on to win College Player of the Year as a junior and then dominate the NBA to the tune of six titles with the Chicago Bulls–led the team in rebounding with nine boards.
The Hoyas kept the game close. With 5:50 left to play, Carolina spread the floor into their four corners offense, forcing Georgetown to foul. The Hoyas took possession and scored, taking a 62-61 lead into the final minute. With 15 seconds on the clock, down by one, Jordan hit a 16-foot jumper from the left baseline to give the Tar Heels the lead, 63-62. The Hoyas brought the ball up the court and set their offense, but sophomore point guard Fred Brown threw the ball to Carolina’s James Worthy, mistaking him for Georgetown teammate Eric Smith. Worthy dribbled out the clock, and a stoic Dean Smith stood surrounded by his celebrating players, as Thompson consoled Brown. Smith, who graduated 97 percent of his players while at Carolina, would win his second and final championship with UNC in 1993.
Two years later, Patrick Ewing and Fred Brown led Georgetown to its own NCAA championship with a victory over the University of Houston, 84-75. When it was over, cameras flashed as senior point guard Fred Brown, who had thrown away the Hoyas’ chance to win in 1982, was wrapped up in a triumphant embrace by his coach, John Thompson.