Until recently, Chaminade University was best known, if it was known at all, as the little NAIA school in Honolulu that gave NCAA Division I powers a chance to burnish their suntans, egos and won-lost records on quick trips away from the mainland winter. But that reputation changed forever on the night of Dec. 23, 1982, when Chaminade, a 25-year-old school with an enrollment of 900, beat No. 1-ranked Virginia, a 163-year-old institution with 16,400 students, 77-72. It was probably the biggest upset ever in college basketball—on a par with tiny Centre College's 6-0 football defeat of Harvard in 1921.
One of the most amazing things about the upset is that for a long while after it occurred, very few people knew it had happened. It was past midnight on the West Coast and 3:15 a.m. in the East when the Associated Press moved the story—too late for most newspapers to get it into their Dec. 24 editions. Later that afternoon, a journalist who had covered the game called Ken Denlinger of The Washington Post to discuss "the greatest upset in college basketball history." But Denlinger, one of many who hadn't heard, thought the caller was referring to another unexpected outcome the night before. " Maryland beating UCLA surprised me, too," Denlinger said, "but I wouldn't go that far."
If there was shock around the country, it was no greater than that felt by Chaminade Coach Merv Lopes, who said after the game, "I must be dreaming. It's amazing what human beings can accomplish."
There was some justice in the fact that Virginia was the first national power to fall victim to the Silverswords. (A silver-sword is a cactuslike plant found only in volcanic craters in Hawaii.) The Cavaliers had been a bit gluttonous in feasting on Chaminade, having beaten the Swords twice in the previous three seasons, by 16 and 25 points, and no doubt figured on more of the same this time.
"This year we didn't even bother to prepare specially for them," said Chaminade Forward Richard Haenisch, who grew up in West Germany and didn't touch a basketball until moving to Hawaii when he was in 10th grade. "The last two times we put a guy up on a chair in practice to play the role of [Ralph] Sampson. This time we were so down, we just said the heck with it."
Chaminade was down because of a disappointing loss two days earlier. Only the week before, the Swords had pulled another upset, their first win ever over the University of Hawaii. The defeat of the Division I Rainbows not only gave Chaminade the island bragging rights but also propelled it into the fourth spot in the NAIA national rankings. The Swords' record then was 9-1, with their only loss having come 75-62 to LSU. Problem was, Chaminade forgot to show up for its next game, against Wayland Baptist, a Texas Panhandle school with a 5-9 record, and lost 64-61.
Looking on that night were some members of the Virginia team, which had hit town for a few days of R&R following the Suntory Ball in Tokyo. So much for any concern the Cavaliers might have harbored about their next opponent.
More prominent in their thoughts seemed to be Spats, a disco in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, where the team was staying. There they mingled with, among others, their female counterparts from Southern California, the top-ranked women's team in the U.S., which was in Hawaii for a fun-and-sun tournament of its own. One Cavalier player was even overheard to say, "I don't want to go back to Charlottesville."
He probably felt differently at halftime two evenings later, when Chaminade and Virginia were tied 43-all. Order appeared to have been restored soon thereafter, when, with 11:14 to play, Guard Ricky Stokes scored a basket from the right baseline to give Virginia its biggest lead of the game, 56-49. The Swords fought back with seven straight points to tie matters again before Sampson, who scored just 12 points, sank a turnaround from the right baseline. Then came the play of the game. Maybe the year.
On Chaminade's next possession, Guard Tim Dunham, the leading Silver-sword scorer, was seemingly lost in traffic to the left of the key. Suddenly he took off to his left, head down, on an arching path to the basket, similar to a post pattern in football. With precise timing, Mark Rodrigues, positioned at the top of the key, lofted a perfect lob directly above the basket without ever making eye contact with Dunham. Up soared the 6'2" Dunham, high above the 7'4" Sampson and into basketball heaven for the alley-oop of a lifetime.