Under circumstances too lengthy to explain in this column, but contained in my book, I gave up an opportunity to attend the Final Four and instead came to Utah to begin my stay in Provo for my law school years. The Final Four games also coincided with the church's April general conference.
On Saturday, April 2, 1983, I missed most of NC State’s semifinal game against Georgia while attending general conference broadcasts. But in between the Saturday afternoon session and priesthood session, I caught the end of the game and saw the Wolfpack close out Georgia with a 67-60 victory. I had been in Utah only a few days and things were already going very well for me.
The victory earned Thurl, Sid, Dereck, Lorenzo and the rest of the Cardiac Pack a date with destiny on Monday night against the high-flying University of Houston Cougars, featuring Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler — and captained by current BYU head basketball coach Dave Rose. I could hardly wait for Monday evening’s game to come.
That weekend, I encountered John McHenry, a returned missionary from the North Carolina Raleigh Mission. I got to know him the few months between my baptism and his return home. He invited me to watch the game with him at the apartment of some friends, and I accepted.
On Monday evening, April 4, 1983, I found myself watching NC State play for the championship in a city and environment, and under circumstances, I would have never imagined, even a few weeks earlier while still in Puerto Rico. Yet the reality of my incredible situation did not surprise me, especially after the fantastic voyage I had been on the past 32 months since I had joined the LDS Church.
In a sense, that night was a date with destiny for me as well as for Thurl, Sid, Dereck and especially Lorenzo, who dropped in Dereck’s long and badly-missed shot a micro-second before the game's final buzzer sounded.
Similar to Coach Valvano’s running around the court looking for someone to hug, for a brief moment I didn’t know exactly what to do among the group of strangers I was with, all of whom were Caucasian males. When that moment passed, I instinctively began hugging John, which broke my bashfulness. I then began to jump around and scream without regard for anyone or anything. I was so happy — with a deep and intrinsic joy that went beyond just having my alma mater win a championship.
My pure bliss came from the realization that where I was and what I was doing — and feeling — stemmed from my choices to attend NC State, to let the Mormon missionaries into my apartment and to delay law school to serve a mission. In essence, I was at that place, at that time, in that situation and under those circumstances because I had made the right choices at the right time.
To bring this story full circle, I recently had the opportunity to attend a two-week course at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. That trip gave me the chance to visit Raleigh on the last Saturday of July. While there, I visited with my first bishop, Kermit Nichols, before making my way to Lorenzo Charles’ final resting place at the Oakwood Cemetery in downtown Raleigh.
I paid my respects to Lorenzo and Coach Valvano, whose gravesite is only a few yards from Lorenzo’s. The close proximity of their graves caused me to remember and smile about something I had heard following Lorenzo's death.
“I guess Jimmy V finally found someone to hug.”
My brief visit to Oakwood Cemetery was a moving experience which reconnected me, spiritually and emotionally, with the grandest and best Fourth of my life — April 4, 1983.
I will never forget that night of nights for me, or how it powerfully and perfectly reconfirmed to me that with God, there are no coincidences.
Attorney Keith N. Hamilton, an adjunct professor at BYU law school and former chair of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, served as an LDS bishop in San Francisco. He is author of "Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon."
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