Twenty-five years ago today, Pittsburgh's Jerome Lane threw down what's arguably college basketball's most famous dunk -- outside of the one that gave NC State a national championship five years prior.
Many of you reading this are like me: have no memory of the play because you were too young/not born. I was just 6 years old when Lane took a pass from point guard Sean Miller (yeah, the same fella now coaching out in Arizona; I love this fact) and bopped off an invisible trampoline into college basketball immortality. So the play has an interesting legacy for me. It's more mythical, as most things in sports are when you discover video of immutable moments that came before you.
The play itself is phantasmagorical. It is violent and hilarious and still arresting to watch because of how fast it unfolds. The breakaway that leads to Lane's liftoff -- and how easily Lane could've been looked off, because Miller had Demetreus Gore striding in front and to his left -- has to break just so for Lane to have the right angle, propulsion and momentum to rain shards on the seven players in the vicinity of the shrapnel.
This is also a fun question to ask hoops fans: Ask your buddies if they can name the team that Lane's famous moment came against. To my surprise, many don't remember. (It's Providence.) And the real forgotten aspect of the play is this: That broken backboard became the yin to Lane's yang, the two married in an all-time moment and therefore omitting aptly named Carlton Screen from infamy. Head up top, and watch it again. The young man gets absolutely humiliated on the play. He is a beetle blocking a buffalo. Lane literally moves Screen about 10 total feet from takeoff to post-dunk.
The New York Times' story on the anniversary spotlights the aftermath of the scene well.
A few fans raced onto the court to snatch shards to keep as mementos. Pitt's longtime head of maintenance, Leo Czarnecki, collected some pieces and later posted them onto wooden placards underneath the words “A Piece of the Pitt Action 1-25-88”; he distributed them as gifts to members of the athletic department.
The game was officially delayed for 32 minutes as crews scrambled to find a replacement backboard. Eventually they wheeled out an old hoop located underneath the stands. It did not have a shot clock.
Both teams returned to their locker rooms during the delay. “I remember players brushing the shards out of their hair,” said Kimball Smith, an assistant sports information director for Pitt at the time.
Fitzgerald Field House popped just as the glass did, and then came Bill Raftery's most famous call, which is saying something considering all the quips that Raftery's known for:
Send it in, Jerome!
What I love about the call: it's quite delayed. Like, the man had to compose himself after witnessing the carnage, and then the synapses fired off a four-word declaration of excitement and approval.
Send it in, Jerome!
What also makes the play so special all these years later lies in the fact that we don't have many broken backboards anymore. The tech has advanced to withstand the weight and ferocity of modern-day athletes, so these moments are seldom, saved for the quaint corners of high school gyms that still adorn their walls with vulnerable hoops apparatuses.
And though Lane wasn't the first -- or last -- college player to end a backboard's life, we've still never seen any other college play unfold like this one. The perfect symmetry and speed of the happening remains unmatched, making it undoubtedly one of the 10 most mesmerizing plays in college basketball history.
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