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enly passing to a man from the wrong team
in the final seconds.
Brown sat quietly in his locker room in
the Superdome that night and politely answered every one of the thousand questions,
sighing one time that, "When I threw it, I
wished I had a rubber band so I could get it
There was Indiana and Isiah Thomas
beating North Carolina in 1981 in a strange,
uncertain atmosphere of Philadelphia, only
hours after President Reagan had been shot.
There was Michigan in 1989, with an assistant named Steve Fisher, who woke up
one day just before the championship to
find himself the head coach.
Just a few weeks later, Rumeal Robinson's free throws with three seconds left in overtime gave Fisher
and the Wolverines an 80-79 title
game victory over Seton Hall.
"I'm the happiest man alive
right now," Fisher said that night
in the Seattle Kingdome.
There was Lewis, the soul of
frustration, clutching to his towel,
clutching to his hopes, leading a
Houston march into the Final Four
three-straight years but never getting the championship.
Minutes after his 1983 Cougars
were doomed by the Charles dunk,
he looked out at the world with sad
eyes and said, "I feel awful."
You want dynasties? It had dynasties.
Maybe not the UCLA brand. In
the modern world, with so many
good teams and so many good
players, John Wooden's achievements are now Fantasy land.
But North Carolina and Georgetown each went 25-9 in the championship over the decade, powers
as perennial as the tulip.
Louisville was 23-6, Indiana 18-
7, Duke 18-7, Villanova 17-7. The
faces changed, but the names at the
top almost always stayed the same.
"Consistency of our program,"
Louisville's Crum said one day,
"is what makes me proudest."
Indeed, Louisville might have
been the most relentless power of
them all, not only having four
teams in the Final Four, but seven
in the final 16.
You want growing interest? Most
of all, the 1980s had growing interest. No, not growing. That is too
The numbers said it all, as far as the eyes
The nation's love affair with the sport
was certified with a check in 1989, namely
the one for $1 billion CBS paid to retain
broadcast rights for the championship.
It became routine to pack domes with
40,000 or more fans for the Final Four, and
have to turn away 100,000 more requests.
If there was not a game on your television
on any given night during the winter, it
probably meant your set was broken.
Championship receipts were a combined
$180 million for the first 47 years, and $224
million for the last four years of the decade.
Average attendance for the championship
game was 17,916 in the 1970s, and 31,248
for the 1980s.
Virginia center Ralph Sampson was voted Associated
Player of the Year three times during the 1980s.
Championship television revenue was $23
million for the 1970s, and $282 million for
There were 120 new arenas built in the
1980s. Division I basketball drew four million more fans last season than it did in
1980. Thirty-seven schools averaged at least
10,000 fans per home game last year.
Three games had paid crowds of more
What fed the public appetite? Television,
for sure. So did the expanded tournament,
and the noon-to-midnight drama it often
And then, there were those two itsy-bitsy
rule changes. They put up a shot clock, they
painted a stripe for three-point shots, and
revolution was at hand in college basketball.
Scoring hit a 30-year low in
1982. The rulesmakers retired tc
the lab, tinkered with their test
tubes, and came out in 1986 with
the 45-second shot clock. Stalls
went the way of the Edsel.
That sped things up a bit. But
not quite enough. In 1987, the
three-point shot was added.
No one dreamed the effect it
would have, the rallys it would give
birth to, the leads it would erase,
the coaches' heart palpitations i!
would cause. The little man was
back in the game. No lead was invulnerable, nobody could be comfortable.
By 1989, one of every five shots
was a three-pointer. The public
must have liked it. Division I attendance went up 1.3 million ir
The three-point shot, in fact,
could stand as a symbol for college
basketball in the 1980s. With its
ability to surprise, to shock, to
elate, to excite, it was the embodiment of the game that brought so
many to the domes, brought so
many to the television sets.
Back in 1980, college basketball
was thought to be pretty popular, a
game maybe near its peak. How
could we have ever guessed what
the decade ahead had in store,
from the personalities of the coaches to the heroics of the players to
the fervor of the fans? And where
o it stops, nobody knows.
£ They play the game inside, and
s that is the only reason there is a
3 ceiling on how high college basket-
m ball can go in the 1990s. $