It has been almost 40 years since Sidney Lowe and N.C. State took that wild ride to an improbable national championship.
It has been almost 12 years since Lowe coached his last basketball game with the Wolfpack — and it was not a happy parting.
But there he was Wednesday, back in PNC Arena, back in his red blazer, back hearing the cheers as NCSU honored the 1983 NCAA champs during the Wake Forest game.
“It feels great. It’s been a long time,” Lowe said, smiling. “To get back here and see these guys and see familiar faces, to feel the love from the university, it’s great. It’s great to feel loved, to feel the love from our fans.”
The ‘83 team, coached by the late Jim Valvano, will always be beloved by State fans, by college basketball fans. With Lowe at point guard, the Wolfpack beat ‘em all — North Carolina with Michael Jordan, Virginia with Ralph Sampson, Houston with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon — in first winning an ACC championship, then the national championship.
As one columnist wrote in 1983, “N.C. State doesn’t have any All-Americas, just all of America.” That’s the way it felt that spring as the Pack’s story unfolded and disbelievers became believers.
“This group has a special bond,” Lowe said. “We accomplished something together as a team and it’s going to carry on forever.
“People still talk about it 40 years later. I go to games in the NBA and someone wants my autograph and I’ll think they want it because I’m in the NBA and they’ll say, ‘That was a great thing in 1983.’ It impacted so many people, not just in North Carolina but everywhere.”
Lowe returned to N.C. State in 2006 as something of an accidental head coach. Former athletic director Lee Fowler, after first trying to hire such head coaches as Rick Barnes, John Calipari and John Beilein, turned to Lowe, then an assistant coach in the NBA.
The Pack reached the ACC tournament final in 2007, Lowe’s first season, winning 20 games and going to the third round of the NIT. So much seemed possible. But the Pack could not reach the NCAA tournament, and Lowe stepped down after five seasons, accepting a buyout in March 2011 as Debbie Yow, then the AD, looked to make a change after a 15-16 season.
The years passed. Lowe was back in the NBA, again an assistant coach. The Wolfpack program moved on under coaches Mark Gottfried, and Kevin Keatts.
Now 63, Lowe is an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers under head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Until Wednesday, he said, he had not been back to a Wolfpack game at PNC Arena.
“My schedule in the NBA didn’t allow me to get back,” Lowe said.
But athletic director Boo Corrigan coordinated it all, Lowe said, in allowing the ‘83 team to return. The NBA was taking its All-Star Game break, giving Lowe and Thurl Bailey, a former NBA player and now broadcast analyst for the Utah Jazz, the chance to get back. Former guard Terry Gannon, who has a busy schedule as a sportscaster with NBC and the Golf Channel, was able to return again.
They all were recognized Wednesday at halftime, and Lowe’s reception from Wolfpack fans was loud, warm.
“It was great to have Sidney Lowe back, it really was,” Keatts said after the Pack’s 90-74 win. “Sidney has been really good to me. Obviously an outstanding player here. His experience as a head coach didn’t go as well as he would have liked, but for him to come back and celebrate with his teammates, that says a lot about him.”
All of the living members of the ‘83 team returned for the Wake Forest game, several taking time to drop by a practice at NCSU and meet this year’s Wolfpack team, which is putting together quite a story of its own.
The ‘83 team again mourned the loss of its coach, the inimitable Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993. Also lost have been Lorenzo Charles, who had “Destiny’s Dunk” to beat Houston in the NCAA championship game, former player Quinton Leonard and assistant coach Ed McLean.
Lowe said the ‘83 Pack has a text chain they use to stay in touch. They’ll also hold Zoom calls, he said, “So we can see each other’s faces.”
But for one shining moment Wednesday, they were back together on a basketball court, again hearing the cheers, feeling the love.
This story was originally published February 23, 2023, 9:52 AM.
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