"And 1983, Houston- Louisville, the semis. When Houston had a pass intercepted, Guy Lewis got up and threw a towel right in front of me. 'Hank, I didn't mean it, I swear,' he said. I said, 'Coach, I don't mean this personally either, but that's a T' But what a dunking show! The guys on both teams were congratulating each other as they ran upcourt, saying, 'Helluva dunk, helluva dunk!' It was so devastating I ran right out of the way after being underneath the basket on the first one. I got out of there fast, right back in with the band."
It was Saturday evening, March 22, 1969, and Alcindor lay on his motel bed in Louisville, the three straight NCAA championships won, the three MVP awards received, the quest resolved. How many men, athletes or otherwise, ever achieve their full potential? "I'll just say it feels nice," he said. "Everything was up in my throat all week. I could see ahead to the end, but there was apprehension and fear. Fear of losing. I don't know why, but it was there. Before the other two, it didn't feel that way. But this one did. Wow, I was excited! We just had to bring this thing down in front again, where it belongs."
The annual convention of the National Association of Basketball Coaches is nearly as important a part of the Final Four as the games. Question: What is the easiest way to get one of the most coveted tickets in the universe? Answer: Join the NABC. Just convince the association you're a coach—even if you're not. An associate membership costs $15 a year and might entitle you to purchase a ticket to all Final Four games.
Nowadays exhibitions, displays, free meals—a cornucopia of basketball commerce—envelop the coaches' hotel headquarters. But in antiquity, a floor-finishing company known as Hillyard's supplied a lively hospitality room, a veritable den of crusty immortals, where Rupp and Henry Iba, for two, would debate strategy, yaw and growl and move chairs around the room as X's and O's while younger coaches packed around them 10-deep, enthralled. Much of the action now takes place in the lobby, where younger bucks swap recruiting information and other lies, seek out patsy schedules and knife each other for the open jobs.
One observer's Coaches' All-Lobby team: Pete Newell, former USF and Cal coach, now guru emeritus, the captain of the Dawn Patrol.
George Raveling, Iowa coach and basketball's Liz Smith of gossip. He beat every reporter in America to the John Wooden Retires scoop.
Joe Dean of Converse Rubber Company and "String Music" telecaster fame. Not really a coach, but don't tell him. Hires and fires and knows more coaches than the NCAA thought existed.
Abe Lemons, Oklahoma City coach, the delightful hoopsologist who once said of the Final Four: "It's just another UCLA bullfight. You gore the matador all night. In the end, he sticks it in you and the donkeys come on and drag you out."
Jim Valvano, before he went high-toned, not to mention off his rocker. "O.K., O.K., I was one of the guys who didn't even need a room," says V. "The best way to attract attention in a crowd of coaches is to stand up and say, 'I'm looking for two road games.' Gets them every time."
Final Four as recruiting tool? Between the 1981 semifinal games, Dartmouth coach Tim Cohane stood in the lobby of the Spectrum in Philadelphia, pumping quarters into a telephone and calling every prospect he knew. Holding up the receiver so the clamor of crowd noise could be heard at the other end, he bellowed something like, "With you, we could be here next year!" The following season, Dartmouth won 10 games. Cohane is now a stockbroker in New York.