When a future edition of Trivial Pursuit asks what factor finally decided the nuclear slamathon between Akeem Abdul Olajuwon of Nigeria/Houston and Patrick Ewing of Jamaica/Georgetown in the year of our Face, 1984, it would be wise to answer:support. Because while Olajuwon barely gave or received any in the NCAA final Monday night in Seattle, Ewing benefited from the help of such a variety of athletes that it was difficult to keep track of who was doing what on his marvelous Georgetown team. Whoops, here comes the duck again. Did someone say the Hoya magic word—team?
"Sit down so I can see," Houston coach Guy V. Lewis shouted at his assistants toward the end of the 84-75 win that gave Georgetown 34 victories this season (the most since Kentucky's 36 in 1947-48), along with the Hoyas' first national championship. But would better visibility for Guy V. have helped?
Forget Georgetown coach John Thompson and academic coordinator Mary Fenlon: the first black coach to win the title and the first woman "assistant" to grace a championship bench. Forget, if you will, even Ewing and the familiar collective attitude that has made the Hoyas into the Boys of Simmer. Was that 6'9"freshman Michael Graham, the leering lefthander, practically tearing down the rims? Or Bill Martin? Was that 6'7" freshman Reggie Williams floating in and out of the Houston halfcourt traps as fast as you can say David Wingate? Or was that David Wingate? Was that 6'1" Michael (Not That One) Jackson breakdancing around and virtually under the taller Cougars? Or Horace Broadnax?As the 7-foot juniors Ewing (10 points, nine rebounds and four blocks) and Olajuwon (15, nine and one) fought to a foul-plagued standstill—specifically, Olajuwon did a lot of standing still, looking for the ball and grumbling when his teammates didn't give it to him—it was the crucial 50 collective minutes of work by freshman subs Graham and Williams, who between them had 33 points and 12 rebounds, that probably spelled the difference. Then again Martin and Wingate combined for 22 points in 48 minutes. Who was who? Phi Slamma Jamma may still be wondering.
The simple truth is Georgetown won the championship with as deep and versatile a collection of players as the NCAA tournament has ever known. And the Hoyas have just begun.Go ahead and expand the 1985 field to 4,000 teams and play till July. In its two games in Seattle, Georgetown had 57 baskets, and the scorers of 54 of those are coming back next year. "I play against a lot of good players,"Ewing said when asked to evaluate his longtime-no-see rival, Olajuwon, "especially in practice."
April 9, 1984
Houston opened the championship game as if it was taking target practice, the Cougars nailing seven shots in a row to lead 14-6. But Georgetown was in a zone and feeling the absence of its emotional defensive leader, senior guard Gene Smith, who was out with a strained arch suffered in the Hoyas' 53-40 semifinal blowout of Kentucky. As Houston's Reid Gettys would say later, "Perimeter shots aren't exactly our Sunday punch." Or Monday. Smith never did play, but Georgetown switched to man-to-man pressure with Wingate on the Cougars' Michael Young, who had hit three straight baskets. Young promptly delivered two air balls, and the Hoyas scored 18 of the next 22 points. During that stretch, while Ewing and Olajuwon, in Ewing's words, "felt each other out," a frustrated Young exploded downcourt intent on squashing a dunk upon Ewing, who stood his ground as Young crash-landed on the Hoya's solar plexus. Young was whistled forcharging, and he missed the dunk besides. Olajuwon, who was open under the basket, chastised his teammate as they ran off the floor for a time-out.
Alas, as Georgetown took a 40-30 halftime lead; as Olajuwon picked up his third and fourth fouls in the last 49 seconds of the first half and first 23 of the second; as the Cougars resorted to an offense consisting solely of guard Alvin Franklin's triple-pumping, off-balance vaudeville jumpers in the lane; the pattern held. The Hoyas sent wave upon wave of players into the fray, all of whom were bent on helping one another, while Houston was forced to play catch-up with a catch-as-catch-can style. "They play team ball, the way it's supposed to be played," Akeem the Steam would say. "We play selfish. I was open and my teammates said they missed me. But how many times can they miss me?"
"This was a battle of the benches. How can the man [Lewis] forget the athletes he has on the bench?" said Benny Anders, who got 10 minutes of action after DNP-ing in the semis. In all, the Houston subs saw 29½ minutes of light; the Hoya bench played for 74½.
"When Akeem's on the inside, he can't see what's going on with all those guys around him," said Young, who missed 13 of his last 18 shots.
"I told Akeem we were trying to get him the ball," Lewis said. "Damn! He still does't know the game. Benny? We don't pay attention to that."
Just one big happy family.
The dazzling Franklin, who finished with a game-leading 21 points and nine assists, could hardly be faulted as he scored 14 points after Olajuwon's fourth foul to cut the Georgetown lead to 57-54 with 10:29 to go. At that point Houston forward Rickie Winslow emerged from the missing persons bureau—he had scored 44 points in the tournament up to the final, in which he was shut out from the field—to block a Williams shot, but Williams grabbed the ball and laid it in. Then Franklin whipped a pass to Young in the corner, but Gettys was called for an illegal screen, a cue for Franklin to yell at Gettys. The Cougar comeback was aborted.
During the next seven minutes Williams nearly took over the game—"He shoots, drives,creates, passes it inside. He looked like George Gervin out there," said former Hoya star Sleepy Floyd, now of the NBA Warriors, who surely was sleeping if he ever saw Gervin pass. Stationed in the middle of the Houston trap,Williams coolly directed the action, passing off for nifty buckets when he wasn't weaving to the baseline and gunning for some of his 19 points. "We didn't want to hesitate and shoot no fadeaways," Williams said. "We wanted to take it right at Akeem." So they did, and Olajuwon had to backoff in fear of fouling out. Ewing: a turnaround. Williams: a drive along the base. Graham: layup. Graham: uh-oh, slam! At 2:22, when Reg-gie, Reg-gie tied up, tied up Olajuwon as the big man turned to shoot the basket that could have decreased Georgetown's 74-68 lead to four points, the alternate possession rule gave the ball to the Hoyas. It was all over but the whining.
"We played just good enough to get beat," said Olajuwon, whose shoulders were heaving as he wept at the buzzer. Out on the court, Thompson, his admitted"obsession" for the national championship rewarded, embraced his old pro teammate, Bill Russell. "Kiss me," Thompson whispered in Russell's ear. So Russ did.
By the time Georgetown's self-proclaimed warriors had stormed the final barricade, they were ready to call this other Washington home. The road from D.C. to C. Attle had kept the Hoyas traveling for three weeks—the full run of the tournament—and they spent a vast majority of that time, when they weren't hitting their books,enjoying the delights of the Evergreen State. Pullman. Spokane. Hideouts in between. Last week Georgetown's headquarters was across Lake Washington in Bellevue. Maybe. The Hoyas were rumored to have been sighted in Everett and Bellingham and at a downtown Seattle McDonald's and to be practicing at Snohomish High.
Thompson joked about all this, saying he would hold a "lottery" for those who wished to guess Georgetown's whereabouts. He wore a button saying GEORGETOWN WHERE ARE YOU? But when the Hoyas requested four vans rather than the customary team bus,the host committee's executive director, Bob Walsh, said he didn't know whereto deliver the vehicles. "Maybe they want us to drive them down some dark alley and leave the keys inside," said Walsh.
The latest explanation of Georgetown's isolationist policies was rendered by Georgetown sports information director Zachary Smith. "Think of the beautiful singer Josephine Baker taking the stage in Paris with her rose," he said. "She passed the rose around the audience and everyone sniffed it, and the rose would end up drooping, wilted, perhaps damaged. Coach Thompson wants to keep his players fresh."
Waaaaaaait a minute! If the Rosoyas' devastation of the 1984 Final Four did nothing else, it erased this pretentious Georgetown mystique. About the only thing that sets the Hoyas apart from other teams is their apparently insatiable hunger for defense,which they play with unprecedented effectiveness. In the regular season Georgetown limited opponents to 39.7% field-goal shooting. Before Seattle the Hoyas had surpassed that by holding the opposition to 36.4% in three tournament games. At the Final Four, Georgetown held the competition, if you want to call it that, to 40.4%. The figure for the whole season, 39.5%, is an NCAA record.
The scary thing about the Hoyas' 53-40 embarrassment of Kentucky in the semifinals was that this wasn't Seton Hall but Joe B. Hall that Georgetown hung out to dry. Hall,the keeper of the flame; Kentucky, the celebrated Cats with all their tradition and sophistication and lofty expectations—the loftiest of which was, as Wildcat senior Sam Bowie proclaimed in January, "to be the greatest team ever assembled." Well, what's that make Hawaii-Hilo? At least the Hulahoopers scored 42 points on Georgetown in its opening game of the season.
In the second half of last Saturday's semi, Bowie and Melvin Turpin came cheaper by the dozen. Kentucky's Twin Sours shot 0 for 12 over those final horrifying 20 minutes as the Wildcats "made"—you may have heard this on the late night accident reports—3 for 33 (9.1%) as a team, 11 points in all. That's the whole team, now. Kentucky's starters went scoreless from the field, 0 for 21.Even in Kentucky they shoot thoroughbreds, don't they?
Hall blamed the inaccuracies—facetiously, one hopes—on "some electronical [sic] devices sending out sound waves around that basket, an extrel [sic] cerrestrial [sic]phenomenon [ah, got it this time]. I tell ya," said Joe B. (for Bewildered?), "I don't care what your style is. Three for 33 won't do it for ya."
Among the realities that did it to Kentucky was Thompson's halftime personnel switch of Graham onto the 6'11" Turpin and Ewing onto the 7'1" Bowie, who doesn't drive to the bucket much anymore and was less likely to challenge the foul-troubled Ewing. Earlier the defensive assignments had been the other way around, and Thompson's switcheroo was a critical element in turning the Hoyas' 22-29 deficit at intermission into a stunning runaway. Not only did the change free Ewing for overall lane responsibility, but it also put the fear of the gods, or fear for his own life, or something, into the suddenly confidence-broken Turpin.
Mammoth (240 pounds) Melvin was merely Kentucky's best-ever career shooter (59.5%), but Graham, a mere stripling at 210, drove him fairly crackers with his splay-elbowed protecting of the ball after rebounds as well as some well-conceived glares. "I have my game face on all the time," said the fearsome Hoya freshman, who also takes the floor equipped with his game(shaved) head. "The haircut?" said Crack 'Em, who had eight points, six rebounds, three blocks and double-figure woofing. "It's not punk rock. Not for intimidation. No earrings. I've played like this since high school."
Just as important as the Ewing-Graham switch was the second-half work done out front by the unyielding Gene Smith. What Smith did was batten down the hatches on Kentucky playmaker Dicky Beal so effectively that the Wildcat offense never achieved any pattern or rhythm or reason.
Imagine this.With Kentucky leading 15-8, Ewing, having participated in some serious 'bowing with Bowie, sat down with three fouls and 8:52 left in the first half. Soon Bowie and Graham nearly came to blows, after which the enraged Kentuckian went on a small tear. The Wildcats led 27-15 at 3:06. Now imagine this. Over the next 13 minutes Kentucky didn't score a field goal.
During the second-half avalanche. Smith and Jackson, who would finish with a game-leading 12 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, swept aside the Kentucky guards like so much debris. While the Wildcats missed their first 11 shots of the half,Georgetown scored 12 points, Ewing converting a tip rebound for the lead, at 30-29, and Graham scoring on a baseline drive, after which he and Ewing celebrated with a midair pas dc haut cinq.
Finally, Kentucky sub Winston Bennett scored at 10:05 to cut the Georgetown lead to 34-31, but the Wildcats again missed their next 11 shots—II, come 11 down in the boys' gym—while five different Hoyas combined for 11 more points.
Once Bowie looked up at the clock and said to himself, "Didn't we have 29 at the half? Have I been falling asleep or not paying attention?"
Before a second sub, James Blackmon, could net another rare Kentucky jumper with 3:56 remaining, the proud Wildcats had gone one (basket) for 19 (minutes). They shot24.5% for the game and were outrebounded 43-33. Some members of the Kentucky band, symbolic of the front-running mentality prevalent in Big Blue land,yelled at Hall, "You're out of here, Joe!"
In the other semifinal Houston nearly missed its wakeup call. Just in time, the Sons of Jamma ditched their Walkmans, shades and bizarre quotes—Lewis, whose teams haveplayed in the Astrodome, Carrier Dome, Superdome and Gosh-knows-what-all-elseDome, said the Kingdome "is just about the nicest dome I've ever seen."Then they survived a Virginia team that, with 11 defeats, a certified magician,a nightclub musician and a Smurf look-alike, was thought not to belong in the Final Four.
But did N.C.State belong last year? Virginia had played miserably in losing to Houston in the regular season, but coach Terry Holland knows from sad experience during his Ralph Sampson years how to frustrate a big-man attack with defense andpatience. The Cavs had been winning ugly in the tournament. Now when Houston gave them the game on a platter, they lost ugly.
Sure enough,after the Cougars led by 10 points in the first half, they fell behind in the second. Then after Houston regained the lead, by six points with as little as 2:37 to go, Houston's minds Olajuwandered. Result: Phi Slamma Dummy.
With the Coogs clinging to a 43-41 lead inside of two minutes. Young got tied up in the corner. Then he missed the front end of a one-and-one. After Franklin was stripped by Othell Wilson, who scored a tying layup at 31 seconds, a Houston walking violation handed the ball—and maybe the game—to Wilson once more. With 15 seconds left, Wilson maneuvered into the forecourt—"Where's Lorenzo Charles?" somebody screamed—but this time Houston clogged the passing lanes and Wilson's feed toward a wide-open Olden Polynice was deflected away by Olajuwon.
Akeem, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds, five blocks and eight turnovers on the afternoon, later said that during overtime "I was scared." Virginia took the lead, but Rick Carlisle, the Cavs' 24-year-old piano player, threw up a rock—Carlisle finished 3 for 14; play Melancholy Baby. Rick—and Winslow rebound-jammed an Olajuwon miss for the winning basket in the Cougars' 49-47 victory.
Except for the outcome, the game was in stark contrast to the Cougars' stirring semifinal triumph over Louisville in 1983—a fact made more evident by the compelling sight of Anders lolling on the end of the Houston bench. Lolling is the word.Last April, Anders roared off the pine to "take it to the rack" and become an instant "dunkastar." On Saturday a vintage Anders would've been the perfect antidote to Houston's lethargy. But, Anders complained. Lewis wouldn't play him because "I wore the wrong brand of sneakers." So Anders, who had arrived in Seattle duded out in a tuxedo with smashing pink bow tie and cummerbund, moped and yawned and, hands in pockets, counted the house while pretending to listen in on the Houston huddles.
Saturday's child all dressed up with no place to jam. Though Anders did play those scant minutes on Monday—"I could've scored at will," he said—the Houston team was all jammed up with no place to breathe. In the '83 championship game, Olajuwon,Anders and the other Jammians were in control until a rainbow fell into someone else's hands. This time the Hoyas rained defensive aggression, camaraderie and a dedication to team play all over Houston. For one enchanted weekend in Seattle, the men of Georgetown needed only a few sniffs of the national championship to come up fresh as a bouquet of Parisian roses.