1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President
My name is Thurl Bailey and I'm writing to you in hopes that you might be so kind as to grant a long-standing wish for me and my former college teammates, who over 30 years ago, were able to achieve the unthinkable in sports.
In 1983 our North Carolina State University men's basketball team, coached by the late Jim Valvano (Jimmy V), beat the University of Houston Cougars for the NCAA Championship. As a college basketball fan yourself, I'm sure you can recall the significance of not only what that championship meant to our team, but also the message it embodied to the world that, with strong determination, the underdog can achieve great success.
It was to say the least, an incredible journey for a group of young men who committed to the philosophy of a young enthusiastic coach to, "Never Ever Give Up."
With that being said, the one thing that has eluded us for these many years is a chance for the members of our team to visit the White House by invitation of the President of the United States. But my hope is that you will grant an opportunity to a team who truly embodied the definition of what sports should represent. We were, as Jonathan Hock penned it, "A team of destiny, led by a once-in-a-generation coach, that capped the last true golden age of college basketball." But even more than that, our story was one of hope, commitment, vision, and how a team of individuals with a true purpose could achieve the ultimate goal.
Over the years we have lost a few members of our basketball family including our coach Jimmy V and teammate Lorenzo Charles who scored the championship game's winning shot. However, every year we all find time to reunite in Raleigh, N.C., to honor their memories and carry on the legacy of that season.
I hope that you will seriously consider and grant us an opportunity to visit you in our Nation's Capital. Thank you in advance for your consideration and I wish you great blessings in your final year in office.
Thurl L. Bailey
1983 NCAA Basketball Champion
N.C. State University
Nobody knows better than the members of the 1983 NC State men's basketball team that no dream is impossible. That squad defied the odds, and the oddsmakers, by winning the national championship.
But there was one dream that went unfulfilled.
In the early 80s, a visit to the president wasn't a given following a national championship, although the teams from Louisville and Indiana had visited following their 1980 and 1981 titles. The Wolfpack did receive an invitation to visit the White House through Senator Jesse Helms' office, and local television station WRAL even offered to foot the bill. But after checking with the NCAA, NC State's athletic administration found out that having the station fund the trip would be a violation of NCAA rules.
So instead of the team taking a trip to the nation's capital, on April 18, 1983, head coach Jim Valvano went to Washington to meet with President Ronald Reagan. The team had to settle for a satellite conversation. "The exchange, said to be the first of its kind with the White House, allowed Reagan to see and converse with the players and vice versa," according to a story in the Technican the following day.
Before the conversation went live, the President asked Valvano: "Do you pronounce your name Val-VON-oh or val-VAIN-oh?" Valvano told him the correct pronunciation and then asked, in vintage Jimmy V fashion, "Do you pronounce your name REE-gun or RAY-gun?"
Instead of traveling to D.C., the team just crossed Western Boulevard and gathered in a studio at WRAL, which broadcast the exchange live in the Raleigh area. Seniors Thurl Bailey, Dereck Whittenburrg and Sidney Lowe each spoke to the president while the rest of the team watched.
For the past 33 years, the members of the '83 Wolfpack have watched other national champions visit the White House and have always regretted that they weren't afforded that opportunity. Following the tragic death of Lorenzo Charles in 2011, the team began a tradition of getting together every summer and the topic usually came up.
Bailey, who was taken as the seventh pick in the 1983 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz and has lived in that state for most of the past three decades, decided he would try to do something about it.
"As definitive as a National Championship sounds, as an athlete there always seems to be unfinished business," said Bailey. "You're always looking for the next challenge, the next opportunity. This was it for me. If I could get this done, it would be yet another story for me and the other members of that team to be able to pass along to our kids, grandkids and generations after that."
Bailey contacted his friend, Utah senator Orrin Hatch, who in January wrote President Barack Obama a personal letter. "Mr. President, I understand that you have long followed college basketball, so you no doubt remember Jimmy V and the historic 1983 season," Hatch wrote. "Meeting you at the White House would be an unforgettable experience for these athletes."
In April, Bailey received word that President Obama had issued the invitation. On May 9, the members of that team, some of whom are now grandfathers, will hold their annual reunion, but this time instead of in North Carolina's capital, it will take place in the nation's capital.
"The joy and the euphoria of winning a national title against all odds, as well as the pain and devastation of losing members of that family, are important parts of who I am," Bailey continued. "Contacting President Obama was one piece of our incredible journey that had eluded us for far too long."
"Every time I've seen a team going to the White House over the years, I always felt like we missed out on something," said Ernie Myers, who was a freshman on the '83 squad. "To have this opportunity is like ANOTHER dream come true."