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It always strikes a chord in our emotions when sports stars die, especially when they die before their time.

Lorenzo Charles was 47. He was, of course, the player on the famed Cardiac Pack team who slammed home the winning dunk that brought glory and the NCAA championship to N.C. State in 1983.

It’s been called the most famous basket in college basketball history.

Charles died Monday when the bus he was driving crashed on Interstate 40 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was the only person aboard.

Tire tracks indicate that the bus veered off the highway, went down a hill and crashed into a stand of trees. According to one report, a witness tried to save Charles with CPR.

The Wolfpack family is taking the news hard. “It’s just too hard to accept – he was too young,” said teammate Derek Whittenburg.

Lorenzo Charles’ famous dunk wins

the 1983 NCAA championship. / N.C. State photo

Even though I’m a Carolina graduate, I always had a grudging respect for State. Winning is sweeter by far when you face a worthy opponent.

And the Pack’s 1983 run was legendary. (Though allow me to note that the year before, the Tar Heels clinched the NCAA title.)

The Wolfpack finished the regular season 8-6 in the ACC and 17-10 overall. Then they turned around and won the ACC tournament. That was amazing enough.

To win the NCAA championship was a miracle. No other team with 10 losses has ever won the title.

In seven of their last nine wins the Cardiac Pack was behind in the last minute. Charles scored the final points in three of those nine victories.

In his senior year, Charles won first-team All-ACC and All-America honors. Yet he never let his achievements or his most famous play go to his head. Said Whittenburg: “That’s just what a humble guy he is. He was just a quiet, easy-going guy who loved to have fun and was great to be around.”

Lorenzo Charles was one of the athletes who thrilled so many fans of ACC basketball in those days. His death is a loss that came too soon.

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