As the bus rolled toward the Louisiana Superdome, University of North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan gazed out the window and visualized what he hoped would transpire in that night's NCAA Championship game against Georgetown.
Jordan, in his mind, sees the clock ticking down to 0:06 ... 0:05 ... he sees himself moving without the ball and getting into position to receive a pass ... He visualizes what kind of defense Georgetown may be running ... "I bet they'll throw their 1-3-1 at us," Jordan thinks to himself ...
All kinds of images flash through his mind. He sees his legendary coach, Dean Smith, sitting on the sidelines. Jordan thinks about all the criticism Smith has faced, having never won a national championship in his 21 years at Chapel Hill, having lost three times in the NCAA Championship, including the previous season against Indiana, and three other times in the national semifinals.
Jordan desperately wants to be the one to deliver that national title to Smith, to North Carolina ... The imaginary clock in his head ticks down to 0:04 ... 0:03 ...
The bus comes to a halt in the back of the Louisiana Superdome. Jordan shakes himself from his daydream. Reality strikes. Game time is a few hours away.
March 29, 1982. There are 32 seconds left. Georgetown leads, 62-61. North Carolina calls timeout.
UNC coach Dean Smith is crouching in front of his starting unit -- Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty and Jimmy Black. Calmly, Smith tells his players, "We're going with the two-zone offense."
The first option on the play is to look briefly inside for a lob pass to Worthy. If that's not there, set up Jordan, the freshman, for a jump shot. Black, the Tar Heels' floor leader, would attempt to draw the defense to his side then pass it cross-court to Jordan for an open jumper.
Doherty, the UNC sophomore, hangs his head during the timeout, thinking about his turnover and missed free throw on a 1-and-1 situation moments earlier that had enabled Georgetown to regain the lead on Eric Floyd's ensuing 12-foot jumper with 57 seconds left.
"During the timeout, I looked at the coach and thought, 'This is as close as he's come. I could have lost it for him,'" Doherty would tell the media afterwards.
The teams break from their respective huddles and walk back onto the court, surrounded by 61,612 fans screaming at the top of their lungs. The Tar Heels inbound the ball. Black, on the right side of the key, looks inside for Worthy, then quickly swings a pass to Jordan on the left side, 16 feet from the cylinder.
Without a moment of hesitation, Jordan, who had taken the ball right at Patrick Ewing and beaten the Hoyas' 7-foot center on a driving layup on UNC's previous possession, squares up, just like he envisioned in his dream on the bus ride. The clock, however, shows 16 seconds left, not exactly the way MJ saw it in his mind.
The clock hits 0:15 as Jordan's perfectly arching shot descends from the heavens and lands squarely in the middle of the cylinder. The voice in Jordan's head screams "Yes!" as he back peddles toward center court.
But the game is not over. The championship is not secure.
Georgetown rushes the ball upcourt, trailing by one point. "We could have called timeout and set up a play, but I wouldn't have known what kind of defense Dean was going to use," John Thompson would say afterwards. "So I would have been wasting my time setting up a play. We were in a good position by not calling timeout and leaving them to guess what we were going to do."
Thompson orders his team to spread the court out, giving the Hoyas more room to operate. Fred Brown, at the top of the key, momentarily sees teammate Eric Floyd veering on his right; but Floyd moves away and Brown instead passes the ball right to Worthy, who streaks down the court as the seconds tick away.
Worthy is caught from behind and fouled with two seconds left. Doherty begins crying, still thinking about how he nearly cost Smith and UNC a championship, but realizing now that the championship belongs to UNC -- almost, at least. There's hysteria on the UNC bench. Except for Smith. He's screaming, "Calm down. It's not over!"
Thompson uses his last timeout, then watches Worthy uncharacteristically miss both foul shots. Doherty cannot believe his eyes.
After Worthy's miss, Ed Spriggs rebounds for Georgetown and flips the ball quickly to Floyd, who heaves a 50-foot bomb as the clock expires.
"When he released it," Carolina assistant coach Bill Guthridge would say later, "I thought, 'Oh no, it's going in.'"
But Floyd's shot has no chance and, as mayhem breaks out around him, Smith runs for Thompson and bear hugs his close friend. Black, the UNC senior who called a team meeting to discuss winning a championship for Smith a few weeks earlier, falls to his knees, closes his eyes, and holds his head in his palms.
Try as he might to repress it, Smith allows a smidgen of emotion to break through. There is a couple of wisps of tears in his eyes as he hugs assistant Roy Williams.
For the most part, Smith stays in character. When his players save him one final snip of the net Smith refuses it. "Find Jimmy, let him do it," he said, referring to his only senior starter. Why? "Because I may have another chance and he won't," Smith would say.