Sizing up the Forces that Stand between You and Your Financial Goals
Peach Basket Parables: North Carolina vs. Kansas,
1957 NCAA Championship Game
If Indiana has a rival for the right to claim itself as “most basketball-crazy state,” North Carolina would have to be in the mix. Three NCAA championship-caliber programs are located within thirty miles of each other in North Carolina: North Carolina State in Raleigh, with two titles; Duke University in Durham, with four trophies; and, of course, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, boasting five championships (all as of 2013). Since the NCAA Tournament started in 1939, these three schools have won about 15 percent, approximately one out of every seven, of the championships played. Students and local residents still bathe themselves in blue or red and camp overnight to score tickets to games.
It has not always been that way. UNC was voted national champion in 1924 before there was an actual NCAA Tournament, and it made one Final Four appearance in 1946. Basketball fever did not really grip the area completely until March 23, 1957, when the Tar Heels made their debut NCAA Championship Game appearance.
Led by Coach Frank McGuire, the Tar Heels finished the regular season undefeated and were ranked number one in the nation, but the odds were stacked against them in the title game. Only a day earlier, UNC survived a grueling, three-overtime semifinal game against Michigan State. In those days, there was no day of rest between semifinals and the title game, so the Tar Heels had to be fatigued going into the final. Their opponent, a 24 ̶ 2 Kansas team, had easily defeated San Francisco the day before, allowing them to rest their star players in the second half.
On top of all that, the location for the tournament final was Kansas City, a thousand miles from Chapel Hill but merely forty miles from the Kansas Jayhawks’ campus in Lawrence. By a cruel twist of fate, the NCAA Championship, which is always supposed to be played on a neutral court, had become a virtual home game for Kansas, with screaming Jayhawks fans flooding the arena and nary a speck of UNC’s powder blue.
Kansas also boasted a not-so-secret weapon in its ranks—a seven-foot-one sophomore center who had taken the game by storm during an era when seven-footers were extremely rare in pro basketball. He averaged thirty points and eighteen rebounds per game, blocked shots almost at will, and was deemed by the media as the most unstoppable player in the country. The goliath’s name was Wilt Chamberlain.
The cards might have been stacked in favor of Kansas, but McGuire had seen them play. He had taken notes, and he had a plan for his Tar Heels.
The coach’s strategy started with the opening tip. Spectators were befuddled when UNC’s Tommy Kearns, just five-foot-eleven, made his way to the center circle for the jump ball against Chamberlain. The rest of the considerably taller Tar Heels readied themselves in a zone defense.
From the first possession, the UNC zone suffocated Chamberlain. They triple-teamed him near the basket, doing all they could to deny him the ball and collapsing on him when he did get his hands on it. With one defender in front of him, one behind, and a third swooping in from the side, the frustrated Chamberlain was consistently forced to pass it outside or put up a difficult shot.
Of course, UNC’s Chamberlain-centric strategy left the other Kansas shooters wide open much of the time. But McGuire was willing to take the risk. All tournament long he had watched the Jayhawks struggle from outside. Unquestionably, Wilt the Stilt was Kansas’ bread and butter, and McGuire was going to make someone other than Chamberlain beat the Tar Heels. By halftime, his plan was paying off—Kansas shot only 27 percent from the field in the first half, and UNC led 29 ̶ 22 at the buzzer.
Kansas recovered in the second half, however. As UNC tried stalling to hold onto the lead, the Jayhawks forced turnovers and clawed their way back. The Tar Heels’ star Lennie Rosenbluth fouled out, and at the end of regulation, the game was tied at 46 ̶ 46.
In overtime, the Tar Heels continued to hound Chamberlain relentlessly, just as they had done for the forty minutes of regulation, but the game moved at a snail’s pace. Each team scored only one basket and then tried to run out the clock or hold the ball for the game-winning shot. The strategy didn’t work for either team, and the first overtime ended at 48 ̶ 48. The pace slowed even more in the second overtime with neither team scoring, and for the second time in two nights, the Tar Heels headed into triple overtime.
This time, UNC went on the attack, scoring two consecutive baskets, although the Jayhawks rallied back to take a one-point lead. With six seconds left in the third overtime, UNC’s Joe Quigg was fouled and went to the line for two free throws. He made both to put the Tar Heels back in front by one.
The final play of the game was typical of what had gone on all night. Kansas, still trusting in Chamberlain to save them, attempted a lob pass to the big man in the low post. The Tar Heels were ready for it. Quigg deflected the pass. Little Tommy Kearns (the guard who had gone up against Chamberlain for the opening jump ball) came up with the stolen ball and threw it high in the air to run out the clock. UNC had slain the giant to take home its first tournament championship.
It was the first and still only time the NCAA title game went into triple overtime. And it is hailed by many as one of the greatest games in college basketball history.
One especially noteworthy Kansas alumnus watching the game that night was a diehard fan of Jayhawks basketball, having played on the 1952 championship squad before becoming an assistant coach after graduation. The young man was reportedly devastated by Kansas’ heartbreaking loss to UNC, which is understandable if you know the competitive fire of Dean Smith, who was that Kansas alum. In an interesting twist of fate, Smith would later be hired by McGuire to be an assistant coach at UNC and go on to serve as head coach of the Tar Heels for thirty-six seasons. In that time, he won two NCAA championships and eventually ended his career as college basketball’s winningest Division I coach with 879 victories. He went down in history as one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time.
Chapter-Ending Three Pointer:
1. Prepare a realistic savings plan for the next five years.
2. List the three biggest concerns out of your control that will keep you from reaching your goals.
3. Consider and record your reaction to the financial crisis of 2008 ̶ 2009 as it affected your financial planning strategies.
© 2014 Chuck Thoele
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