Lorenzo’s Legacy

July10/ 2011

In 1983, in the blink of an eye, Lorenzo Charles became an immortal in the pantheon of NC State sports heroes.  Twenty-eight years later, in the blink of an eye, Lorenzo Charles became a traffic fatality.

Lorenzo’s Legacy was carved out in the intervening 28 years.  A legacy illustrating the harsh reality of Big Time College Sports.  A graphic illustration you may not find anywhere …. but here.


“Lo” was the NC State basketball player who caught Derek Wittenberg’s errant Hail Mary and stuffed it to beat Phi Slamma Jamma in 1983.  One of the most dramatic moments in NCAA history; igniting the meteoric saga of Jimmy V … leading to where that led.

Lorenzo Charles was “driving a bus” when he died two weeks ago.  Specific cause of the bus crash is unknown, likely an innocuous driver distraction with a cell-phone.   There were no passengers or other parties involved in the tragic crash on a Raleigh-area Interstate.

During the first eight years of The 80s I was a corporate nomad far removed from Ground Zero of the backyard brawl of the State v Carolina rivalry.  My knowledge of local sports personalities limited to national media stories.  It was a by-gone era with no board monkeys and only one ESPN channel.  Certainly I saw the 1983 classic between State & Houston ….. “Cinderella’s slipper fits” …. “Looking for somebody to hug” etc etc.

Arriving in Raleigh in 1988, my first “Lo & Co” story came from a life-long Wolfpacker.  “Co” was Lorenzo’s teammate Cozell McQueen forever linked with “Lo” because “Lo & Co” is a catchy phrase.  “Lo & Co” stories are not flattering to either player’s intellect or to Wolfpack basketball in general.  Most, one assumes, were apocryphal.

“Lo & Co” stories were joined in the late 80s by “Wash & Shack” stories which were simply name changes of the subjects …. as in “little moron” and “polak” and “dumb & dumber” jokes.  Wolfpackers told these jokes as often as rival fans.  Chris Washburn’s infamous 470 SAT score was first told to me by a Wolfpacker along with countless versions of the Shackleford “I’m Amphibious” legend.

“Lo & Co” and “Wash & Shack” became central figures in the Jimmy V Scandal of the late 80s.  The popular myth regarding that mess is –  it was over one pair of tennis shoes.  That is as flat-out wrong as –  the current UNC scandal is over a paragraph in a term paper and a few parking tickets.   Both myths are pure board monkey BS.

Jim Valvano was forced to resign over “inadequate oversight of his players’ academic progress” and …. “persistence in recruiting students deemed to be academic exceptions”.

Lorenzo, Cozell, Chris and Charles were acute examples of such “exceptions”.  It did not help his case that Valvano himself often made fun of his players “lack of academic prowess”.

When his eligibility expired at NC State, Charles had a brief stint in the NBA then a decade of globetrotting in assorted foreign leagues.  Lo earned a decent living dribbling around the world but not for the monster salaries we now associate with pro athletes.  When his basketball skills dulled with age in his early 30s, Lorenzo was  –  up the occupational creek without a paddle or an education. 

Rival fan bottom-feeders, predictably, are snorting that “a Wolfpack BB Legend ended up driving a bus.”  Yuck, yuck.   Yes, Lorenzo Charles, forever etched in NC State sports history, ended his life as – a bus driver.

Lo gravitated back to Raleigh and took a job driving a bus for a local charter service.  There is every indication he did a very fine job including regular assignments chauffering local college teams to games.

Those who knew him say Lorenzo Charles was “a big friendly teddy bear with a ready smile and an upbeat positive approach to Life”.  That is a fine epitaph for any man.

I have known many hapless corporate drones with dead eyes and cardboard souls who possess none of those attributes.  The masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

When last anyone heard  UNC BB Legend Larry Miller  was bloated and bitter on a barstool in Western Pennsylvania having hocked all his medals and awards and estranged himself from “The Carolina Family”.  Duke BB Legend – Art Heyman   fell off everyone’s radar decades ago after trying to make a go with a Hairclub For Men scam in Durham.  ….. And what’s the latest  “LT did WHAT?”  from –  Lawrence Taylor.  YIKES & Double Yikes !!!

Sports fans have notoriously selective memories ….. VERY VERY selective.

Jimmy V, NC State and Lo and Co and Wash and Shack each paid a price for paths chosen 25 years ago.  They rode their God-given athletic skills as far as they could.  When that tank registered “Empty” they were left with darn few options.  I haven’t a clue where Cozell McQueen is these days ….. but Lorenzo The Bus Driver fared better than either Washburn or Shackleford.

The use’em up and discard’em reality of Big Time College FB and BskB is as brutally harsh today as it was in the 80s.  Maybe more so.

Every Big Time College Sports program touts their current and former NFL / NBA alumni; but don’t say much about “the others” ….. who through injury or limited talent fell short of making a pro roster much less stardom.

The “we don’t talk about them” portion represents 95+% of the student athletes (wink, wink) who come thru their programs ….. Q:  What happens to “them”?   A: They become butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, insurance salesmen …. and bus drivers?

No one is guaranteed success but the average college student usually knows a day of reckoning is coming.  All the athlete hears is that ESPN bumper music over and over and over …..

“Academic coordinators” carefully construct “eligibility majors” for student-athletes assuring (1) minimal intellectual strain,  (2) minimal distraction from practices and strength training…. and (3) minimal marketable skills beyond the field or court.  Who cares?  Stay eligible and stay healthy …. or fade away as a “whatever happened to _______” trivia question.

Final Four MVP – UConn’s Kimba Walker proudly touted a few weeks after UConn’s latest net-cutting that he has READ ONE BOOK in his entire life – an obscure biography of some angry black man.   UConn Coach Jim Calhoun – notorious NCAA felon – was probably shocked that Kimba had read even one.  HuskyNation could care less.

Every high school blue-chipper envisions himself as a Sportscenter highlight forever.  Every smooth-talking “recruiting coordinator” feeds that vision even if the recruiter knows the kid is, at best, a career back-up / special teamer.

“Here kid, try on my Super Bowl ring.  Come to We’reBetterThan U and you will have one yourself in a few years (if pigs learn to fly).  Just sign your X right by this X.”

“….. a big friendly teddy bear with a ready smile and an upbeat positive approach to Life”.   Lorenzo Charles was luckier than most.


Scandal Myths & Facts:  The UNC Trustee that posed the infamous query – “Coach Davis, is all this affecting recruiting?”  was Barbara Rosser-Hyde from Memphis.  Barbara (UNC ’83) is married to Pitt Hyde – Founder of AutoZone – and a partner in the Memphis Grizzlies. …. Barbara has no doubt done oodles of charitable works.  None of which will be as memorable as her classically clueless concern.

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