After 25 years, Jerome Lane still sending it in
The force of a slam dunk by Pitt's Jerome Lane shattered the glass backboard 25 years ago against Providence at Fitzgerald Field House in Oakland.
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For years after he tore down a basketball rim with a one-handed dunk on a Monday night in January, Jerome Lane tried to replicate the same achievement just about every time his feet left the floor. He could not do it, of course. The moment -- a perfect, inexplicable synthesis of conditions -- had come and gone.
Friday was the 25th anniversary of that night. Lane's name remains tethered to the feat, in which he shattered the Plexiglas backboard at Pitt's Fitzgerald Field House with a fast-break dunk less than five minutes into the first half against Providence on the bitterly cold night of Jan. 25, 1988.
The moment is widely considered one of college basketball's most memorable, not just because of the dunk -- one of the first (and last) of its kind -- but for the call, from the ESPN broadcaster Bill Raftery, who breathlessly exclaimed, "Send it in, Jerome!"
Those four words have been immortalized through highlight reels, T-shirts, March Madness pool titles and regular catcalls for Raftery, who still broadcasts games for ESPN.
"It just popped out," Raftery said of the line. "There was no preconceived notion for it. I'm sure somewhere along the line I'd heard people say it, maybe."
Lane, 46, now the director of a youth recreational center in Akron, Ohio, where he grew up, played five seasons in the NBA. He was sturdy and strong -- listed at 6 feet, 6 inches, he actually stood about 2 inches shorter but weighed 230 pounds -- and had led the nation in rebounding the year before.
Lane was never thought of as a particularly ferocious dunker, but he could jump, and he could run, and the Panthers liked to use both skills. The 1987-88 Pitt team began the season ranked fourth in the nation but had lost at Oklahoma, 86-83, on Jan. 23 and came into the matchup with Providence with something to prove.
The play came after a steal, on a fast break orchestrated by point guard Sean Miller, now the coach at Arizona. Instead of passing ahead to Demetreus Gore, who was out in front, he dished to his right, where Lane was gathering steam filling the lane.
Lane caught the ball and elevated above Providence's 6-foot guard Carlton Screen. The dunk sounded as if a light bulb had popped. When he landed, Lane had no idea that the lower portion of the backboard had shattered, leaving a gaping glass hole squarely in the center of the box. The rim was left dangling by a thread, until the Pitt mascot grabbed it and paraded around the arena with it in hand.
"I didn't realize anything until I looked at Demetreus," Lane told ESPN in 2010. "Then I saw glass on the floor. It came down like snow."
For several seconds, the stands were practically silent. "Everybody just kind of gasped," said Larry Eldridge, then Pitt's associate athletic director. "Nobody could believe what they were watching."
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.
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.
"The kids were jumping, like they had just won the NCAA championship," Raftery said. Maybe they sensed it was part of history."
For Raftery, the phrase became synonymous with both ESPN's budding college basketball coverage and his own way of punctuating the broadcasts. Reflecting on what that spur-of-the-moment saying meant for his career, Raftery said, "Nothing hurts you if people are still talking about it."
Before a Pitt-Connecticut game Raftery was broadcasting in 2009, Lane appeared and told Raftery, "Thanks for making me famous." Miller likes to tease Raftery that it was his pass that made Raftery famous.
First Published January 27, 2013 12:00 am