Raleigh, N.C. — A former Wolfpack basketball standout who thrust the game-winning dunk into the hoop at the 1983 NCAA championship game was killed in a bus wreck on Interstate 40 in Raleigh Monday afternoon.
Lorenzo Emile Charles, 47, was pronounced dead at the scene. Tire tracks in the grass show that the bus careened off the interstate, hitting branches and sustaining heavy damage to its front end.
No other vehicles were involved in the wreck, which happened around 5 p.m. on I-40 West near the N.C. Highway 54 interchange, and no passengers were on the bus at the time.
The crash closed two lanes of traffic and the entrance ramp from Chapel Hill Road for several hours, Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
Charles made March Madness history when he clinched the title for North Carolina State University over the favored University of Houston Cougars right as the buzzer sounded more than two decades ago.
He had a brief career in the National Basketball Association with the Atlanta Hawks from 1985 to 1986 and then played professionally in Europe for about 12 years before retiring from basketball and settling back into the Raleigh area.
For the last 10 years, Charles was a driver for Elite Coach, a limo, charter bus and car service based in Apex. A spokesman for the company declined to be interviewed, but said the bus was headed to Durham to pick up passengers and that all of their drivers were required to pass a medical exam.
In an 2008 interview with WRAL News to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that famous NCAA title game, Charles called N.C. State his "Wolfpack family" and said that while he wasn't sure he could recreate his legendary dunk, he could definitely touch the rim.
"Yeah, I still got it," he joked.
Thurl Bailey, who played with Charles on the 1983 championship team, said, "I guess Jimmy V finally found somebody to hug."
Coach Jim Valvano, nicknamed Jimmy V, who died of cancer in 1993, famously ran up and down the sidelines after Charles's shot clinched the title looking for someone to hug.
"It's a shame that the man behind the shot isn't here with us anymore," Bailey said.
Current N.C. State head basketball coach Mark Gottfried said the university community was "stunned" and "devastated" to hear the news of Charles' death.
"He holds a special place in Wolfpack history and in the hearts of generations of fans," Gottfried said in a statement.
Dominique Wilkins, vice president of the Atlanta Hawks and Charles' former teammate, lauded the basketball great for the "indelible impact" he left on sports lore with his accomplishments at N.C. State.
"He was a great guy, who was loved by his teammates and taken away from us far too soon," Wilkins said in a statement.
Chris Corchiani, a former basketball player who joined the Wolfpack two years after Charles' departure, said the 1983 championship win drew him to the university.
"I remember watching the game like it was yesterday. That put N.C. State on the map for me as far as a player and a student athlete," Corchiani said.
He later played with Charles on a Triangle-area basketball team and stayed in contact with him over the years. Charles remained an avid Wolfpack fan throughout his life, Corchiani said.
"He affected a lot of people's lives, and a lot of people wouldn't be at this university if it wasn't for this '83 team. I'm one of those people," Corchiani said. "It's a very sad day for the whole university."
Corchiani said he'd never forget Charles' unique laugh.
"If you were around him and he laughed, it was a loud laugh. It was not a quiet laugh. It was Lorenzo's laugh," he said. "Everybody knew it, and it was his trademark."