Lorenzo Charles has recent snapshots of himself standing beside Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and James Earl Jones. The three knew Charles only as a tall, friendly limousine driver who ferried them around Raleigh, N.C. But for the next few weeks, you'll see more of Charles on television than those VIPs combined.
Rewind the videotape.
It's the 1983 NCAA final, and North Carolina State and Houston are tied. With seconds left, the Wolfpack's Dereck Whittenburg uncorks a 35-footer that misses everything. Under the basket, a 6-foot-7 sophomore deftly grabs the air ball as if it were a pass and jams it home at the buzzer. Coach Jim Valvano dashes onto the court, looking for hugs.
How many times has the game's hero seen it?
"A couple of hundred, I guess," said Charles, 42. "That's the stuff of dreams."
His story is just one of many that have emerged from the NCAA basketball tournament, which begins today. The tales continue to live on, even after the spotlight dimmed for those in the starring roles.
"Growing up, on the playground, you fantasize about hitting a game-winning shot at the buzzer," Charles said. "Of course, [the imaginary shot] was always a 30-foot jumper that swished, nothing like what I did against Houston. But, hey, a put-back is a put-back."
Before his dunk, Charles had scored two points in the championship game.
"During our last timeout, Coach V turned to me and said, `Lo, I wish you'd wake up,' " Charles said. "Afterward, as we hugged he said, `You did it! You did it!'
"I can still hear him say that through all of the noise."
Nowadays, Charles works as a chauffeur for a ground transportation company outside Raleigh. Few clients recognize him, nor does he brag about the past.
But how important is it to him?
Part of Charles' e-mail address is Buzzerbeater.
Famous free throws
His right hand made Bo Kimble a millionaire. His left one made him part of tournament lore.
In 1990, Kimble's high-scoring antics led little Loyola Marymount of California to the Elite Eight, farther than the Lions reckoned to go. A week earlier, they had buried Hank Gathers, the team's star forward who'd collapsed and died of a heart disorder during a game.
Lifelong friends, Gathers and Kimble had led the nation in scoring during their junior and senior years, respectively. Now, honoring his teammate's memory, Kimble shot his first three throw in three NCAA games left-handed. He made all three as players, coaches and viewers wept.
"I really didn't care if the ball went over the backboard ... because I was paying tribute to Hank," Kimble said at the time. "But America wanted it to go in -- and it was from the heart."
His career careened from there. The No. 1 draft pick of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kimble struggled in the pros. By 1993, the 6-4 guard was out of the NBA and playing for minor league teams and the Harlem Globetrotters. In 1995, Kimble faced a drunken-driving arrest.
Eventually the Philadelphia native pulled his life together, worked as a broadcaster for the 76ers and created the Bo Kimble Foundation, which rehabbed housing for low-income families. Today, Kimble works in real estate in California.
From the baseline
Keith Smart heard a replay of his most famous shot the other night. It happened as he sat on the bench in his job as assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors.
"We were playing in Charlotte when a fan recognized me and started a running dialogue of the end of the Indiana-Syracuse game [for the 1987 NCAA championship]," Smart said. "He was shouting, `There's Indiana's Keith Smart dribbling on the baseline ... he pulls up for a jumper ... it's GOOD! INDIANA WINS!' "
Telling the story, Smart stops and sighs, "That shot has a life of its own."
Then a 6-2 junior, Smart couldn't fathom the resonance of his achievement when -- with five seconds left -- he made a 17-footer, giving the Hoosiers a 74-73 victory over Syracuse. He had a disappointing senior year at Indiana, and his NBA career lasted two games.
But to basketball fans, Smart is locked in a time warp. Every day, he says, people tell him where they were and what they were doing the night his shot beat Syracuse.
He doesn't mind. A sports memorabilia shop in Indianapolis sells autographed pictures of Smart hitting that basket for $35 to $50 each. He gets a cut of the profits.
"It's like the shot is chasing me," said Smart, 41. "It has kept me on my toes, too. I've worried about reporters coming back 10 or 15 or 20 years after the game and saying that Keith Smart has fallen on hard times.
"You have to keep growing. Every year has to be better than the last. It paralyzes you a little bit. I know that if I'm involved in a fender bender, the papers won't report me as just any so-and-so. They'll say, `The accident was caused by Keith Smart, the guy who made the final shot.' "
Ask Tony Price the time this week and he's more than happy to flash his Final Four watch. It's the keepsake he earned in 1979 while playing for ... Penn?