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Mike Lopresti | | March 30, 2022

These are the Superdome's greatest Final Four moments — and there have been plenty

The top 10 storylines in New Orleans for this Final Four, ranked by Andy Katz

NEW ORLEANS — Something truly memorable could happen here this weekend in the Caesars Superdome. It has before. Many times.

This is where Dean Smith won his two national championships. Where Jim Boeheim and John Calipari won their first — and so far only — titles. And Bob Knight won his last.

This is where Michael Jordan took a jump shot from the wing and Keith Smart put up a last-gasp attempt from the baseline and Chris Webber called a timeout and Fred Brown threw a pass and Roy Williams said a bad word. They all became part of Final Four lore.

This is where John Thompson said hello to the Final Four, and the Michigan Fab Five said goodbye. And where Anthony Davis was named Most Outstanding Player in maybe the most unconventional way ever.

Before there was Saturday’s intrastate Armageddon of Duke-North Carolina, there was Louisville against Kentucky in the Final Four. That happened here, too.

In other words, the Superdome has been no ordinary stop for this event. A lot of basketball history has been made inside that 27-story high giant. Not just seven the Super Bowls that included Tom Brady’s first championship.

From the moment the stadium was built in 1975 — nearly on top of an abandoned cemetery — the NCAA looked at the Superdome and saw massive Final Four crowds in its future. The place is so large that to walk around it is more than .6 of a mile.


Then came 1982. The attendance for the championship game the year before in Philadelphia had been 18,276. For North Carolina vs. Georgetown in the Superdome, it was 61,612. Tomorrow had arrived.

Thompson was in his first Final Four with Georgetown, Smith in his seventh with North Carolina. Each came with a vaunted freshman — Michael Jordan for the Tar Heels and Patrick Ewing for the Hoyas. The two teams partnered with the dome they were using for a landmark event.

The game began with Ewing — ordered by Thompson to immediately establish his defensive presence — goaltending on North Carolina’s first four baskets. It was eventually decided by Jordan’s 16-footer with 15 seconds to go, probably the coming-out moment of his legend. It ended with Brown frantically trying to set up a last play for Georgetown, thinking he saw an open teammate — and passing the ball directly to North Carolina’s James Worthy.

The 63-62 final was a keeper for the Final Four memory vault. Jordan went on to, well, you know. Brown sat in his locker afterward and bravely answered question after question after question from the media, and finally declared, “I can’t let this affect my life.”


The Final Four was back in 1987, with Indiana vs. UNLV in the semifinals. The Rebels played a terrific game. Freddie Banks went 10-for-19 in 3-pointers, a Final Four record that still stands 35 years later. UNLV had 23 assists on 35 field goals — 18 of the assists by Mark Wade, another still-active record — committed only nine turnovers, scored 93 points ... and lost. Indiana shot 61.7 percent with 33 points from Steve Alford and survived 97-93, a true classic that sometimes gets overshadowed from that year by one shot two days later.

That was taken by Smart on the baseline with Indiana’s last chance in the hands of a guy who was born up the road in Baton Rouge and had once worked in the upper levels of the Superdome as a Boy Scout usher. When the ball went in with four seconds left, the Hoosiers had a 74-73 victory and Knight’s third national championship in 12 years. Also his last. The shot would stay with Smart forever. "I couldn’t dream this," he said that night, "and wake up the next morning and believe it."


Next was 1993, with several compelling storylines gathering in New Orleans. Smith was back with North Carolina. Michigan was here with five sophomore starters who had also made the Final Four as freshmen. The world knew them as the Fab Five. Attending, too, were the Kentucky Wildcats, eager to fully wash away the bad memories from March of the year before, when Christian Laettner had so famously broken their hearts. And lastly Kansas, with Williams quickly establishing his credentials.

It was a positively incandescent foursome of heavy tradition — remind you of a certain quartet now gathering in Louisiana? — and something memorable had to happen. It did.

On Saturday, Michigan rallied past Kentucky to win 81-78 in overtime, leaving the Wildcats with the anguish of having their March stopped two years in a row in OT. Meanwhile, Smith beat his former assistant Williams, reversing what had happened when they met in the 1991 Final Four.

That left North Carolina and Michigan, and the Tar Heels clinging to a 73-71 lead in the final seconds of the championship game. Webber had scored 23 points, after 27 against Kentucky. If the Wolverines could somehow win the championship, he almost certainly would be named Most Outstanding Player. Something very different was about to open.

After rebounding a missed free throw with 20 seconds left, Webber turned to get the ball up the floor and obviously traveled. No call. So, he kept dribbling to find an open lane and make a play to save the day, ended up in a corner amid trapping Tar Heels and did the only thing he could think of to do. He called timeout.

Except the Wolverines didn’t have any left. Technical foul, last hopes gone.

It ended 77-71, and the Fab Five began to melt away to the NBA after that. In some ways, Smith’s second championship was an echo of his first against Georgetown, with an opponent’s infamous blunder in the last seconds. He would retire four years later with those two made-in-New Orleans titles. “I think Coach Smith might move here,” North Carolina center Eric Montross said the championship night in 1993.


Next, 2003. Kansas and Syracuse were in the championship game with parallel plots. Story A was Jim Boeheim’s bid to finally get a championship. Story B was the high likelihood this was Williams’ last game with the Jayhawks. It was widely speculated that he was leaving for his alma mater, North Carolina.

Like the three Superdome championship games before, this one went the distance. Kansas was down 81-78 when Michael Lee tried to put up a three-pointer from the corner to tie and force overtime. Suddenly Hakim Warrick was flying out with his 747-like wingspan to block the shot. Boeheim had his title that had had chased for so long. "I’m the same coach I was a few minutes ago," he said about the idea of his legacy being validated in some way.

Interviewed outside his locker room Williams was asked on live TV about his future. "I could give a (bleep) about North Carolina right now, I’ve got 13 kids in that locker room that I love," he answered. That bleep bounced around the nation. Later, he would be a tad more restrained. "Coach Smith will be disappointed in my blankety-blank," he said of his mentor Dean Smith. "But he understands." Eight days later, Williams was gone to Chapel Hill.


On semifinal Saturday in 2012, there were Louisville and Rick Pitino on one bench, Kentucky and John Calipari on the other. While the fan bases went bananas, the players tried not to. "It’s just the next game," Kentucky’s Darius Miller said. "Our main goal is to win a championship, not beat a certain team."

But they did beat a certain team 69-61. "To tell you the truth I haven’t always liked some of the Kentucky teams, I’m not going to lie to you," Pitino said. "But I really like this team a lot because of their attitude and the way they play.

"I’ll certainly be rooting for them hard to bring the trophy back to Kentucky."

Two days later, that’s what the Wildcats did, beating Kansas 67-59. Davis took 10 shots and missed nine, scoring only six points. So, how’d he end up the Most Outstanding Player? Try 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists, three steals and a partridge in a pear tree. A shining example of how a player can impact a game without many points.

Davis was scoreless at halftime. Later, there was this exchange at the Kentucky post-game press conference:

Calipari: "Before he left the (halftime) locker room I said, 'Listen to me, don’t you now go out there and try to score. You’re the best player in the building, so don’t worry.'

"I think he went out and shot the first three balls."

Davis: "I was open."

Calipari: "I know why you were open. You were 1-for-10. They were leaving you open."

Never a dull Final Four moment in the Superdome. Not this weekend, either, it would seem.

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