Like any other 12-year-old in Western Pennsylvania whose favorite television program was any game involving any teams from The Old Big East, I was captivated by Pitt basketball in 1988. But the biggest memory—and biggest regret—I have of Jerome Lane’s dunk is that I missed watching it live.
Pitt had very little basketball tradition in those days, so it’s difficult to overstate the impact that ‘87-88 team had. Lane (though a junior) and Charles Smith were heading to the NBA as first-round draft picks, with Smith going third overall. The freshman class—Bobby Martin, Jason Matthews, Sean Miller, Darelle Porter—was legendary, and it also included Brian Shorter, who had to sit that season as an NCAA Prop 48 casualty. Miller, who threw Lane the no-look pass on that famous play, is now Arizona’s head coach. A young assistant on coach Paul Evans’s staff that year was a Yinzer kid from the suburbs named John Calipari. Demetreus Gore, on the left on that fast break, made a rap song called “Pitt Has Arrived” that I once recorded onto a cassette off the television. The song, sadly, is now lost to posterity. Pitt’s season would end with a Big East regular-season title and an upset loss to Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament. An entire generation of disgruntled Pitt fans is still pissed the Panthers didn’t foul the Commodores’ Barry Goheen with a three-point lead at the end of regulation.
I don’t remember why I missed Lane’s dunk that night against Providence; I can’t recall if I had something else going on with my family, or if my sister had commandeered the TV on that Big Monday to watch Alf. I had eagerly anticipated every Pitt game that season, when it was pretty much impossible to score a ticket to Fitzgerald Field House, the wonderful old barn (capacity: 6,798) the Panthers then called home. But I wasn’t watching that one. ESPN used to black games out from time to time in those days, but Tom Odjakjian, the Big East’s associate commissioner who was ESPN’s director of college sports at the time, can’t find a record of the game being blacked out in Pittsburgh. And E.J. Borghetti, Pitt’s media relations guru, recalls having watched it on ESPN just an hour north of the city. Whatever. It doesn’t matter.
I only know that, at some point when the game should have been nearing its conclusion, I turned on the radio in the kitchen of my family’s home. It was halftime, which was strange. But then the radio team of Bill Hillgrove and Dick Groat—who still call Panthers games to this day—came on to say there had been a 32-minute delay because Jerome Lane had shattered a backboard. I finally got around to seeing it either later that night or the next day, and to hear Bill Raftery’s memorable call: “Send it in, Jerome!” Holy. Shit. It’s been 25 years, yet it never gets old, and it never gets any less exciting.