Hoops, Hops, and Hopes: 1982 in Chapel Hill

A narrative nonfiction story by Steven Leventhal – coming soon.

photo by Hugh Morton. Used by permission.

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This is the story of a pivotal year in my life.

I had a front seat for one of the most iconic years in college basketball, the North Carolina Tar Heels’ quest for the 1982 NCAA championship. My college days were winding down when cocky freshman Michael Jordan arrived on the scene. Just as the euphoria over this milestone reached a crescendo, my world fell apart. Rejections, family crisis, and health issues made me rethink everything.

The events of HOOPS, HOPS, AND HOPES coincide with the arrival of freshman Michael Jordan during my senior year in Chapel Hill. Right from the start, ‘Mike’ as he was known then, showed the grit and determination to excel, which helped Carolina reach the pinnacle of college basketball.  The UNC Tar Heels lost only two games on their way to capturing the 1982 NCAA Championship.

For four years, I sat in the student section cheering at every highlight reel play and taunting opposing players, as if somehow our psychic energy could boost UNC’s chances. I may not have put on a uniform, but with three thousand other vociferous students, we became the sixth man, fiercely urging on our beloved Tar Heels game after game from amazing seats, only a few rows from courtside.

Lost in the drama of the fabulous 32-2 season culminating in the school’s first NCAA championship in 25 years was a controversy regarding the proposed Student Activities Center, now known as the Dean Dome.

My unwavering support for the Tar Heels was put to the ultimate test when North Carolina’s administration stood by idly as the all-powerful booster club made some monumental decisions affecting the student seating section in the proposed new 22,000-seat stadium. I could see that future generations of UNC students would never have the opportunity that I had to be close to the action and be an intimidating presence to visiting teams. 

I organized a school protest to stop the Rams Club from relegating the students to the upper echelon of the new arena.  The controversy reverberated around campus and came to the attention of Dean Smith. The legendary coach summoned me to his office for a nerve-wracking face-to-face meeting. If a 7-foot, two-hundred fifty-pound All-American athlete was intimidated by the Hall of Fame coach–I was flat-out scared shitless. Nonetheless, this larger-than-life persona sat patiently while I explained our position. Then he made a startling pronouncement.

My coming-of-age story plays out during the 1981-82 school year, as Jordan rose from obscurity to prominence through hard work and dedication, and coincided with my growth and willingness to step into the limelight. Hesitant at first, I accepted a leadership role, which eventually changed my life and derailed my plans to become a doctor, ultimately leading to a career in sports broadcasting and feature writing, where my path would cross with Jordan again in 1996.

Jordan established his legacy at UNC with his game-winning shot against Georgetown with 17 seconds left on the clock. He cemented that superstar status with his performance over the next two seasons before turning pro.

The narrative is equal parts Animal House, Hoosiers, and The Paper Chase. Intertwined with one of the most iconic years in college hoops are fraternity antics, romantic pursuits, and a futile first attempt to get into medical school. I rely on my sports journalism and storytelling skills to recast memorable basketball games, as well as revisit football, women’s soccer, and even lacrosse. 

Much of the action alternates between the fraternity house, the campus sports venues, and Franklin Street, the main drag in Chapel Hill, home to the restaurants, bars, and movie theaters frequented by students.

I also weave in pop culture of the early 1980s, from Luke and Laura’s headline-grabbing wedding on General Hospital to MTV’s debut, along with references to Hills Street Blues, Dallas, and Falcon Crest. Big news stories are included, such as the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the crash of an Air Florida plane in snowy DC, John Belushi’s shocking death, and the frightening Tylenol poisonings. 

To enjoy the story, you do not have to be a North Carolina fan or even a Michael Jordan fan. This is intended for anyone who roots for the underdog or wants to relive the college experience.

photo used by permission of the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hugh Morton Collection.

But this isn’t just about MJ, or Dean Smith, or James Worthy. UNC won three championships in 1982, as the women’s soccer team and men’s lacrosse program were emerging as national powerhouses. In addition, the UNC football team was ranked number three in the country, until star tailback Kelvin Bryant went down with a foot injury. We lost to eventual national champion Clemson by two points.

Thanks to Inside Carolina.com for running an excerpt. https://247sports.com/college/north-carolina/Article/Book-Excerpt-Nineteen-Eighty-Two-1982-UNC-Basketball-Chapel-Hill-184122066/

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My freelance articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Inside Carolina Magazine and on the 24/7 Sports blog site. In 1998, I created a novel system for newspapers to embed sports interview audio on their websites. Our company worked with every major newspaper chain in the US, including Gannett, Knight-Ridder, the New York Times, the Tribune Companies, Denver Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Advanced Media, and more. We also provided audio for the New York Islanders. I helped create one of the very first sports blogs on the Internet in 2007. In 2012, I launched Acid Flashback Radio, which can be heard by listeners in 120 countries around the world, and I parleyed that experience into the creation and design of the InternetFM streaming radio app.

My extensive knowledge of music and sports are featured prominently this memorable return to the year 1982.