June 21, 2011
In this business, you get an opportunity to work with a wide variety of celebrities. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds, though. Many celebs can be rather, um, high-maintenance, and can make it clear that what you’ve hired them to do is the very last thing they want to be doing at that moment.
And then there’s Lorenzo Charles.
Lorenzo is most famous for his last-second, game-winning dunk for North Carolina State in the 1983 NCAA Championship game. That dunk sent his coach, Jim Valvano, on that famous, arms-raised sprint across the court, and cemented Lorenzo as one of the most legendary players in NCAA basketball history.
We had a chance to work with Lorenzo back in 2004, when we hired him and former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley as spokespeople for an NCAA Final Four event we did with The Coca-Cola Company. Coke had hired us to create and promote a giant NCAA bracket that hung outside the Alamo Dome in San Antonio throughout March Madness. We brought the two NCCA Tournament legends to San Antonio to help unveil the giant bracket and conduct a media tour from the site of the Final Four.
When you met Lorenzo, you were immediately struck by two things: his smile and his powerful handshake. A brick of a man, he was an amazingly genuine guy, who was delighted to have the opportunity to relive a moment he cherished, but which clearly did not seem to define him. Then in his early 40’s, his professional basketball career, which included a season in the NBA and several overseas, was well behind him. He, like Hurley, had settled into life after basketball with grace and purpose. Charles had found a new profession, working as a limo driver in Raleigh, N.C. The guy who once belonged in the back of limos was now driving them. And he could not have seemed happier.
We spent a couple days with Hurley and Charles, banging through countless media interviews, making promotional appearances and killing a lot of time in between. Both were exceedingly classy and professional throughout a rather grueling schedule. Listening to Lorenzo talk about his moment of NCAA fame, you got the sense that more than 20 years later, he was still in awe of what he and his Wolfpack teammates had accomplished. Though he told the story of that winning bucket about 50 times during various media interviews and conversations with fans in San Antonio, he never told it without a broad smile on his face. It was the same smile he had when he talked about his life away from basketball.
Lorenzo Charles died Monday when a bus he was driving crashed near Raleigh. He was 47. Our deepest sympathies go out to the friends and family of the gentle giant who found fame as a basketball player, but left his most lasting impressions as a humble and decent man.