LAHAINA >> Chaminade’s 77-72 victory over Ralph Sampson and top-ranked Virginia in 1982 is widely considered the biggest upset in college basketball history, among the greatest in any sport.
Unlike today’s world of 24-hour sports networks, social media and smartphones, the game was played in relative obscurity.
Fewer than 4,000 fans, officials, media and team members were inside Blaisdell Center that day. For those who were there, the memory of what happened on Dec. 23, 1982, left the kind of indelible mark that comes with witnessing history.
Three of those people — Silverswords point guard Mark Rodrigues, Washington Post sports writer Michael Wilbon and public address announcer Chuck Williams — recall the events surrounding that game.
Rodrigues: “The year before when we played them, we didn’t get beaten too badly, so we were pretty confident, had a bit of cockiness. Everyone is a little bit cocky and we had the mentality that we could beat anyone.”
Few outside the team gave them much of a shot.
Williams: “It was really only the die-hard fans there because we probably should have been 40-point underdogs to Virginia. It was going to be a smash.”
But the Silverswords had an advantage.
Virginia was coming from Tokyo, where it beat Utah and Houston despite Sampson missing both games. He was still sick when the Cavaliers arrived in Hawaii.
Wilbon: “I was staying in the same Hyatt Regency as Virginia. Ralph was on my floor and with those circle towers, there’s not much space between rooms and I could hear Ralph coughing and wheezing. I didn’t think Ralph was going to play and there was opportunity for some drama.”
Wilbon already had a bit of drama while covering Maryland at the Aloha Bowl.
Terps defensive back Bobby Gunderman fell and broke his arm on the way to the airport, then somehow ended up flying to Caracas, where he was detained for being a suspected drug dealer. Maryland receiver Mike Lewis also nearly drowned while swimming off Waikiki Beach.
Wilbon: “My boss, George Solomon, said ‘You’ve already written too many pieces, take the night off.’ I said, I’m not taking the night off. How many chances to see the No. 1 team play in an exotic situation, a different situation, Ralph Sampson already three-time player of the year? There was no way I was going to miss that.”
Inside the locker room at Blaisdell, Silverswords coach Merv Lopes turned off the lights so the players could meditate, then went down the line.
Williams: “He says to Mark Wells: Mark, is this guy faster than you? No. Can he shoot better than you? No, coach. He goes all the way down the line to Tony Randolph who was going against Ralph Sampson, looked at him and said, ‘What can I say?’ Everyone got a laugh out of that.”
Rodrigues: “The point is they’re only as good as you allow them to be. One of the things he always said was, if they take 40 steps, you take 41. He didn’t say anything else but let’s go give the people something to see.”
The Silverswords were the aggressors from the start, scoring six of the game’s first eight points. They swarmed Sampson whenever he touched the ball and had a game plan for getting him away from the basket on defense — one that started with Randolph shooting jumpers over a team manager holding a broomstick at practice.
Williams: “In locker room, Merv said to Tony Randolph, you need to go out there and hit 15-foot jump shots to get that monster of a player out away from the basket. Tony hit five or six shots in a row from medium range and brought Ralph out, which opened things up for the other guys. That was the real key. If he was throwing bricks up there, 1 for 7 of something like that, Ralph would just plant himself underneath.”
Chaminade continued to go at the Cavaliers and the game was tied 43-all at halftime, prompting a call from Wilbon to his desk.
Wilbon: “I said are you guys listening to this on the radio? If this stays close, save me some space, don’t put the paper to bed. They said OK.”
Rodrigues: “At that point, it just gave us more confidence.”
When Virginia scored the first seven points of the second half, it appeared the game would turn quickly. But the Silverswords answered with a 7-0 run of their own.
Then Rodrigues found 6-foot guard Tim Dunham, who soared over the 7-foot-4 Sampson for an alley-oop dunk.
Rodrigues: “People said from that point on, you could see it on Virginia’s face that they knew they were in for a serious challenge.”
Williams: “Sampson is running down the floor shaking his head, like he’s saying I don’t believe that. Timmy just went up, up, up … slam! As I’m announcing, I see this thing unfolding and as the ball goes through, I’m saying Ti-iiiim Dunham!”
Chaminade led by two with a minute left and Virginia had three chances to tie, missing all three. Virginia’s Othell Wilson was then called for a carrying violation and the Silverswords closed out the improbable victory by hitting three free throws.
Wilbon: “People were in disbelief. It wasn’t like today. I don’t remember people rushing the floor. It might have been chaotic then, but not by today’s standards. You had the biggest upset in the history of college basketball and no one quite knew what to do.”
Williams: “Richard Haenisch, I don’t know he did it, he ended up sitting on the rim with a basketball in his hand. The celebration was crazy.”
Rodrigues: “We went into the locker room and the fans were calling for us to come back. We came back out on the court, sat there for a while, celebrated and talked.”
After the game, Wilbon waited to get Virginia coach Terry Holland before calling his desk.
Wilbon: “It must have been the local AP reporter who said: ‘Coach, is this the greatest upset of all-time?’ I remember almost looking down because this question is going to get us one and done. He’s going to answer angrily and walk off. And I remember there was no sound coming out and Terry Holland was shaking his head affirmatively, saying something to the effect of I think it is. I was like ‘Oh my god, oh my god,’ called the paper and asked are you guys listening. They were like, ‘Yeah, but we put the paper to bed.’ I’ve never been angrier in my life, professionally because they put it to bed and the next morning there was nothing in my paper.”
Rodrigues: “We didn’t really realize how big it was until the next day. That’s when AP was calling, everyone’s sports department was calling, it was getting on CNN news, the local news and then you realize what really happened.”
Williams: “They couldn’t even pronounce the name of the school. They kept calling it, Chami-NADE, like lemonade.”
The shockwaves of the upset took a while to reach the mainland, but continue to resonate today.
Williams: “It put Chaminade on the map, a little school 2,500 miles from the nearest land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
Rodrigues: “They wanted to change the name of the school to Saint Louis-Honolulu, to have a more recognizable name in the title. They changed their mind after that game.”
Wilbon: “Every day I get further away from it, I realize it’s the greatest upset in history. Can you imagine Kentucky losing to an NAIA school? The whole thing was surreal. It wasn’t the game that was surreal, it was the surroundings of it. It was just not possible for it to happen.”