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« 1984 »

Sports fans of a certain age still call it Balentine’s Day.

As this Page 1 of the Feb. 13, 1984, Arkansas Gazette reported, the University of Arkansas Razorback basketball team met the North Carolina Tar Heels that Feb. 12 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. This was a nonconference game arranged long before anyone could know that the 1983-84 Tar Heels would be the No. 1 team in the nation. Most of those Tar Heels would wind up in the NBA, including their 6-foot, 6-inch, 195-pound guard, Michael Jordan.

Going into what was expected to be a nationally televised cakewalk, UNC was undefeated in 21 games.

Meanwhile, Coach Eddie Sutton’s Hogs were having an uneven season. They had dropped from Associated Press rankings even before a 59-58 squeaker over Texas A&M on Feb. 9, which the Hogs won only because an Aggie flubbed a last-second shot. But they had some great players. As Gazette sports editor Orville Henry explained, less than 24 hours before their noon date with UNC, the Hogs “destroyed” Southern Methodist University at Dallas, 90-71.

Then violent storms grounded their aircraft, and instead of flying home, they spent the night in a Dallas hotel. Sutton didn’t even show them a Tar Heels reel until 30 minutes before bedtime.

At 8:35 in the morning, they were still in Dallas.

So it was a shocker when a brilliantly cohesive Hogs team held their own, led, slipped and then surged back.

The action was so intense it made Sam Walton, chairman and founder of Walmart, late for a 2 p.m. press conference at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock. He hurriedly asked reporters if they would mind going up to his 19th-floor suite to watch the game, but there was a more convenient TV turned on in a menswear store near the meeting room. “Walton, followed by a queue of Wal-Mart executives, reporters, cameramen and others, encircled the flickering black-and-white set to watch the closing seconds,” the Gazette reported.

The Hogs were down 63-64 when forward Alvin Robertson, surrounded by opponents with sticky hands, somehow handed off to Charles Balentine, a 6-foot, 6-inch junior starting forward from Newport. Balentine hit a baseline jumper with 4 seconds left on the clock.

After a commercial break, UNC’s desperate rejoinder bounced off the rim. Victory, Razorbacks: 65-64.

NBC Sports announcers Dick Enberg and Al McGuire voted Joe Kleine, the Hogs’ 6-foot-11 star forward, player of the game along with Jordan. But still it was Balentine’s Day. Walton crowed that he had opened his first discount store at Newport, where Balentine attended high school.

UNC finished the year still No. 1. The Hogs went 25-6 (14-2 in the Southwest Conference). But so far as fans were concerned, they took down No. 1, so they were No. 1.

— Celia Storey

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