A single shot.
Those who remember that’s all we have on this wandering orb of rock tend to make the most of life. Sometimes, their legacy is etched early on, thanks to the right constellation of factors.
That was certainly the case with the four Arkansas basketball players who are on the Mt. Rushmore of Memorable Shots in Razorback history – Scotty Thurman, U.S. Reed, Michael Qualls (yes, I consider a put-back dunk a shot) and Charles Balentine.
This past week, we lost one of those indelible memory makers when Balentine passed away at the age of 60. Every ensuing story focused on the fact that his 5-foot floater sealed a one-point win over a No. 1 North Carolina team led by Michael Jordan on Feb. 12, 1984 during his junior season. Earlier in that game, he also blocked one of Jordan’s shot. In all, the star-studded affair featured six future NBA Draft first rounders, with two from Arkansas in Joe Kleine and Alvin Robertson.
The 6’6″ Balentine joined some of them in the NBA when he was selected in the 6th round in 1985 by the Kings, but pro ball didn’t last long. In the following decades, he served as a manager at Wal-Mart and Coulson Oil among other companies, yet his life’s trademark moment – at least to outsiders – was already established.
For some, that can become stifling, a burden resented.
Unforgettable Arkansas Basketball Moment
Not so with Balentine, said Chuck Barrett, the longtime Razorback broadcaster.
“When you hit a shot like that it defines your life. You carry it with you forever. You carry people’s memories with them forever,” Barrett said on ESPN Arkansas’ “The Morning Rush.” “I know that Charles Balentine… from the day he hit that shot until the moment he passed, he got asked about that, every single day. Now, he always handled it with grace. He always handled it in the way that you hoped your hero would handle it. He talked to people like it was the first time he’d ever been asked, and he’d been asked a million times.”
That kind of perpetual patience is a gift on top of the endorphins that Balentine sent coursing through the veins of Arkansas basketball fans that day in 1984, and still all these decades later when they recall one of the program’s proudest moments.
Balentine’s grace and generosity comes across even more clearly in the way he helped others and the tradition in which he so proudly played a role. Not just in the many public Razorback events he attended through the decades, but also in what he did behind the scenes.
For instance, years ago, Razorback fan Bette White recalls meeting Balentine in a time of need in the parking lot after a Hogs football game.
The battery in Balentine’s car had died and White and her husband, Danny, helped him get another battery and install it for him. They learned that Balentine was a member of the Church of Christ just like they were. Balentine insisted that he pay them for their help, but they wouldn’t accept any money, White shard in a Facebook post.
Since they always attended church on Wednesday nights, Balentine told them he would send them tickets to an Arkansas basketball game at what was then a newly opened Bud Walton Arena for a game on another day.
After this chance encounter, a while passed and White wrote she forgot about what Balentine said, assuming he wouldn’t send any. Then, one day, she found the below letter in the mail along with two tickets to a Bud Walton game against a highly ranked Florida team:
“We went to the game and had a wonderful time,” White wrote. “Matter of fact, that game was when Florida was number two in the nation and we beat them at the buzzer. I will never forget Charles Balentine, he was a good man and a great basketball player.”
“You will be missed, Charles, rest in peace.”
In the end, Balentine only got one shot to make a difference in the lives of the Whites, to repay them back for the kindness he received in a time of need.
He made it count.
Charles Balentine and Dudley Dawson
In the world of Arkansas sports, Charles Balentine will be indelibly linked to longtime Arkansas sportswriter Dudley Dawson (a friend of mine). Balentine and Dawson played together for Newport High School. Balentine then came to Fayetteville to join Eddie Sutton’s basketball program for the 1981-82 season, while Dawson became a team manager.
Dawson, like so many others in Newport such as broadcaster David Black, appreciated how close Balentine stayed to his hometown and people.
As Chuck Barrett put it, “when you come from a small town and you go away and you make it big, so to speak, and believe me, when you’re from Newport, Arkansas and you hit a game winner for the Razorbacks, you’ve made it big.”
“To carry that and to go back to your town and to share that with them and to allow them to experience your joy, that’s a gift. You don’t have to do that and not everyone’s equipped to do that.”
More from Chuck Barrett on Charles Balentine starting at 29:22 below: