Many Sweet Memories Of March

I love this time of year. March Madness. Just saying the two words together gets me going.

I’m currently on a plane, flying to Bellingham, Wash., for the NCAA Regionals. Over the years, I’ve been to NCAA Division I and Division II regionals and national championship competition from Hawaii to California to Kansas, North Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts – and a few other states in between. What a thrilling journey it has been!

This year, the NCAA is celebrating 75 years of March Madness by inviting college basketball fans to pick our favorite all-time NCAA tournament starting five, favorite all-time tournament team, and most memorable March Madness moment. The winners of the worldwide balloting will be announced at the Final Four in Atlanta next month.

I have to tell you, I wrestled with my votes.

I wanted to pick Jerry West and Oscar Robertson and James Worthy and Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in my top five, but despite their incredible talents, you might call them my second team. I know that may seem hard to believe, but you have to consider the tournament credentials of those I picked.

I went with two centers, Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and Bill Walton. No other teams in NCAA history were as dominant as those UCLA teams, and no big men played more brilliantly in the NCAA Finals. Duke forward Christian Laettner, who appeared in more tourney games and who had the most wins, has to be listed in my starting five. So does Magic Johnson, who led his Michigan State team over Bird’s Indiana State team to the title in the most-watched college basketball game in history. The fifth member of my starting five might be a surprise to some, but UCLA guard Gail Goodrich led his team to back-to-back championships in the years before Lew Alcindor arrived in Westwood, and scored 42 points in as clutch of a title game performance that has ever been seen.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my all-time team comes from those UCLA glory days. I remember watching every game on late-night TV, as college basketball was rarely shown live. Dick Enberg was just a young broadcaster then, and called the games that were delay-broadcast.

The team I selected was my personal favorite, Alcindor’s junior season of 1967-’68, when the Bruins went 29-1 – featuring his teammates Mike Warren, Lucius Allen, Lynn Shackelford and Kenny Heitz – and avenged its only loss by ripping Houston and Elvin Hayes 101-69 in the semi-finals and then North Carolina 78-55 in the title game.

As for my favorite moment, there were so many to choose from: Texas Western’s historic win over Kentucky; Magic vs. Bird; Butler nearly sinking Duke; plus incredible individual heroics from Laettner, Jordan, Tyus Edney, Bryce Drew, Danny Ainge and others. Oh, what memories.

But I went with one that I still can’t believe I saw. It happened in 1983 when Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State team upset heavily favored Houston on a last-second misfire that ended up being a Lorenzo Charles dunk. There was no way anyone could have predicted what happened, and it happened so fast, Valvano ran around the court looking for someone to hug.

It was at the same time both jaw-dropping and priceless. And, fittingly, it was true madness.

Have some madness fun yourself and cast your votes at