Putting a “value” on the Gate City

Interior of Greensboro Coliseum before the March 4, 1977 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament semifinal game between UNC and NC State.

Interior of Greensboro Coliseum before the March 4, 1977 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament semifinal game between UNC and NC State.

There has been an ample amount of media ink and airtime since Syracuse University Head Basketball Coach Jim Boeheim made his comments about Greensboro and the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament back on March 8.  Following his team’s loss to Miami in the quarterfinals, Boeheim went before the media and bashed the “Gate City” as the ACC Tournament site, saying: “. . . There’s no value in playing Greensboro, none. It’s there because the league’s been there and the office is there, and they have 150 people that the ACC needs. That’s why it’s there. It should not be there.”

As one would expect in this day and age, Greensboro city officials—including Mayor Nancy Vaughn—came back in force on Twitter tweeting, “We kindly disagree. But I guess you can lose in the 1st round anywhere. At lease it’s a quick ride home.”  In a later statement Mayor Vaughn added: “Unfortunately for Syracuse they didn’t stay around long enough to experience the Greensboro value.”

It seems history might be on the Gate City’s side.  Greensboro has hosted the ACC Tournament twenty-eight times going back to 1967 and has hosted the NCAA Tournament first and second round games twelve times going back to 1976. And two weeks after the Greensboro Coliseum hosted the 1974 ACC event, they hosted the thirty-sixth annual NCAA semifinals and championship game. So as the UNC Tar Heels head to Phoenix for the 79th annual NCAA Final Four, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard looks back at that 1974 tournament that put Greensboro in the national spotlight on March 23rd and 25th, 1974.

NC State cheerleaders displaying a banner that reads"You are in Wolfpack Country" before the start of the NC Stave versus UCLA 1974 NCAA Mens' Basketball National Semifinal at the Greensboro Coliseum, on March 23.

NC State cheerleaders displaying a banner that reads”You are in Wolfpack Country” before the start of the NC Stave versus UCLA 1974 NCAA Mens’ Basketball National Semifinal at the Greensboro Coliseum, on March 23.

It wasn’t called the “Final Four” in 1974—that term would first appear a year later—but in mid-March, four regional-winning teams came into the Greensboro Coliseum to compete in the thirty-sixth annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.  The road to Greensboro started on March 9 with twenty-five teams looking to upset defending NCAA champion, UCLA.  Two weeks later the list was down to four teams headed to the Gate City to do battle: UCLA from the West Region, North Carolina State from the East, Marquette from the Mideast, and Kansas from the Midwest.

NBC-TV Sports was in the house with legendary broadcaster Curt Gowdy calling the game.  At the media table was the Coliseum’s announcer Johnny Phelps, a sports anchor at Greensboro’s WFMY-TV.  Hugh Morton, typically on the floor for basketball games, photographed from the stands.

A moment before tip-off of the 1974 NCAA National Semifinal basketball game at Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC. North Carolina State University played the University of California at Los Angeles, March 23, 1974.

A moment before tip-off of the 1974 NCAA National Semifinal basketball game at Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC. North Carolina State University played the University of California at Los Angeles, March 23, 1974.

Head Coach John Wooden’s UCLA squad had won nine of the last ten NCAA tournament championships and opened play against Norm Sloan’s NC State Wolfpack, a team the Bruins had beaten earlier in the season by eighteen points, snapping a twenty-nine-game winning streak for the ‘Pack.  State was accustomed to winning in the Greensboro Coliseum, having won the ACC Tournament a couple of weeks earlier with a 103-to-100 overtime victory over “Lefty” Driesell’s Maryland Terps.  Hugh Morton and Smith Barrier, in their 1981 book, The ACC Basketball Tournament Classic, called the 1974 ACC final the “Greatest Game Ever.”  I believe most of the 15,451 screaming fans in attendance would have agreed.

The NCAA semifinal game between State and UCLA turned out to be a classic as well. It was a two-overtime affair with State, led by All-American David Thompson, finally winning 80 to 77. UCLA lost a five-point lead near the end of regulation play and a seven-point lead in the second overtime.  The game is number thirteen on the USA Today “Greatest 63 games in NCAA Tournament history.”  UCLA’s All-American Bill Walton, who scored twenty-nine points and grabbed eighteen rebounds in the semifinal game, calls it, the most disappointing loss of his entire basketball career.

UCLA All America center Bill Walton shoots over the outstretched arm of NC State's Tommy Burleson, as NC State's Moe Rivers (#10) focuses on Walton. In the foreground, NC State's David Thompson tries to out position UCLA's Dave Meyers. Hugh Morton's game-action photographs focused on the two seven-foot centers, this being his best shot.

UCLA All America center Bill Walton shoots over the outstretched arm of NC State’s Tommy Burleson, as NC State’s Moe Rivers (#10) focuses on Walton. In the foreground, NC State’s David Thompson tries to out position UCLA’s Dave Meyers. Hugh Morton’s game-action photographs focused on the two seven-foot centers, this being his best shot.

The second semifinal game pitted Kansas, coached by Ted Owens, against Al McGuire’s Marquette Warriors (they’re called the “Golden Eagles” today.)  Marquette came away a winner 64 to 51, thus setting up the championship game between the Wolfpack and the Warriors. Most fans would say that State and UCLA played the championship game on March 23, but two days later, State met Marquette for the real championship.  The contest was close in the first half, but State pulled away in the second.  The Wolfpack led by nineteen at one point, finishing with a twelve-point win, 76 to 64.

UCLA won the “Third Place” game, 78 to 61, as Bill Walton closed out his college career. In a 1987 interview with then basketball broadcaster Billy Packer, Walton said of the lost to State: “We were incredibly disappointed. You just don’t have the opportunity to win championships that often and when you do and lose, it changes your life.”

NC State finished the ’73-’74 season as national champion for the first time with a 30-and-1 record.  They became only the fifth school in history to win the national championship playing in its home state—in Greensboro, NC—slightly more than seventy-five miles from its home court in Raleigh.

And, oh yes, Greensboro is scheduled to host the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament again in 2020.  Coach Boeheim, who said he would likely retire following the 2017- 2018 season, has now signed a contract extension beyond the end of that season.  So it looks like he might once again have the opportunity to enjoy—or endure—yet another ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro—a city he said he loves, backtracking the day after his March 8 postgame remarks.

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