A look back at the first time SLAM got in the door at the Final Four.
MONDAY, APRIL 4
11:20 am—Having the Hall of Fame announce its new inductees on the morning of the big game? A great idea. Seeing Hubie Brown inducted alongside Boeheim, Calhoun, Sue Gunter and a Brazilian woman no one has heard of? Pretty cool. Having the event introduced by the NBA’s Russ Granik and having no NBA players—not even Bernard King or Dominique Wilkins—inducted? Terrible.
2:20 pm—Six hours from tip and Illinois RVs are arriving in the parking lot across from the Dome. This team has created a big-time college football atmosphere the likes of which college hoops rarely sees. I’m guessing no college basketball team has ever sold as much merchandise in one season as this team has.
5 pm—A glorious 80-degree afternoon is spent at Sundecker’s Bar in the Landing, watching baseball on an outdoor TV and listening to the Illini fans do their “I-L-L…” chant every five minutes. Not a bad Monday.
7:20 pm—Walk past former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and his fam as I head into the Dome an hour before tip. People appear to know they’re about to see something historic.
8 pm—Bruce Weber is wearing an orange sports coat. Awesome.
8:15 pm—Michael Jordan and Dean Smith are in the building. Jason Capel, sporting an afro and cool MJ t-shirt, is here, too.
8:35 pm—Minutes into the game, and I can’t help but think of Bill Self, who would never have lead Illinois this far. A half-hour later, the coach who started that whole ’03 carousel, Roy Williams, walks off the court at halftime, happy with his squad’s 40-27 lead.
9:35 pm—James Augustine has four fouls in about six minutes. The man known to teammates as “Tiger Woods” is no star, but it’s a shame the refs won’t let him play.
9:48 pm—Augustine’s opposite number, Sean May, is a star, repeatedly scoring buckets inside. The unflappable May is Ante-ing Up like the MOP he’ll be named shortly.
10:10 pm—After Illinois has scored 10 straight to tie the game at 67, Felton makes what has to be the shot of the weekend, a ballsy 23-footer over two defenders.
10:27 pm—Gutsy Illinois ties it one more time, but it’s not to be, as Head commits the first and only IL turnover of the second half, then misses an open 3. The talented and tough-enough Heels have earned the championship for ol’ Roy. Streamers fall from the ceiling.
10:38 pm—Ladders are placed underneath each basket, and the Heels climb onto a platform at center court. The UNC fans, showing no signs of leaving, chant “One more year! One more year!” at Felton, Marv, May and Rashad McCants.
10:55 pm—The nets cut and the trophy presented, the UNC players return to the platform and sit, arms around one another, to watch “One Shining Moment” on the big screen. This is huge for me—I was afraid I’d miss it for the first time since it debuted in front of my 12-year-old eyes in ’87. Alas, it’s as good as ever.
11:00 pm—The scoreboard is reduced to one simple message: “See you in Indianapolis.” I hope so.
all photos courtesy of Getty Images