Q&A: Dan Dakich on Stopping Michael Jordan

On Selection Sunday, Indiana secured the top seed in the East Region. The program has officially been revived; after a latent period, the 2012-13 Hoosiers — with Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, and coach Tom Crean — will be following in the footsteps of former Indiana legends this March. The school boasts a remarkable basketball history, including five national championships. But one of its most famous NCAA victories came before the Final Four, in a season that ended without a championship.

On March 22, 1984, North Carolina and Indiana met in the Sweet 16 at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta. The Tar Heels — the no. 1 team in the nation and the no. 1 seed in the East — were led by junior Michael Jordan. Their record was 28-2, and the losses had come by a combined three points. Two years earlier, coach Dean Smith had won his first national title when Jordan made the game-winning shot over Georgetown. The ’84 team was considered one of the most talented in Smith’s career, featuring future first-round picks Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, and Kenny Smith in the starting lineup. Indiana was the 4-seed, coached by Bobby Knight and led by freshman Steve Alford.

Indiana junior Dan Dakich drew the task of guarding Jordan that day. Dakich later became an assistant under Knight, and then became the coach at Bowling Green. Today, he hosts a radio show in Indiana and works for ESPN. But the events of that game — a 72-68 upset win for Indiana — would come to define his basketball legacy.

What was it like when you first realized you’d be playing North Carolina?

We had a meeting at six o’clock on Sunday after we beat Richmond [in the Round of 32] and Coach Knight came right in, and he closed the door to the locker room.

He said, “All right, we’re going to whup North Carolina’s ass. And anybody that doesn’t 100 percent believe we’re going to whup North Carolina’s ass, you need to get the fuck out of here right now.”

And he said, “Here’s exactly how we’re going to do it. This is how you handle Jordan, this is what we’re going to do.” And I remember walking out of there thinking, Damn, we’re going to be ready. Whether we can do it or not, I don’t know, but we’re going to be ready. That’s for damn sure.

Is that when you knew you’d be guarding Michael Jordan?

I didn’t know until three hours before the game. I had been sick all week, but I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t start all the time. And we got to the game site, and Coach Knight didn’t talk about who was starting. I knew I had played well the previous week against Richmond, so I figured I had a shot based on how practice went. But three hours before the game we had a team meeting. And Knight goes down the line and says, “Alford, you’ve got Kenny Smith; Marty Simmons, you’ve got Matt Doherty; Giomi, you’ve got Sam Perkins,” then he looks at Uwe Blab and says, “You’ve got Brad Daugherty.”

And then he got this disgusted look on his face, like, I can’t even believe I’m going to say this, you know what I mean? He said, “Dakich, you’ve got Michael Jordan.” It was like, how has Indiana sunk this low? Where it’s not like, “Hey, Isiah, you’ve got Michael Jordan,” or back in the day, “Scott May, you’ve got Michael Jordan,” or any of the other greats at Indiana. It’s me.

That kind of made me mad. I felt like, what the hell, I’m on a scholarship. So we went over the scouting report and, I’ll never forget this, I was looking at a notebook that I had, and he said take away the back cut, take away the offensive rebounding, and don’t let him post you, and that was it. It wasn’t anything else. It wasn’t like I had to go out and pressure him or pick him up full-court. We were going to make him shoot a jump shot and take away the three things he liked the most. That was it.

There were rumors that you vomited after hearing that Jordan was your assignment. True?

No. Here’s what happened with that. I was sick, and I didn’t want anybody to know, so I was the last guy to leave the meeting. And I’m going up to my hotel room and I’m by myself, just because I wanted everybody to clear the room in case I did throw up. So I go up the elevator, I’m by myself, I get off on my floor, and I open up my door to the room and I get sick. It just hit me. I threw up on the floor of the hotel.

And I didn’t want my roommate, Mike Giomi, to see it, because I was supposed to be a tough guy, the leader and all that stuff. And hell, if your leader’s puking on the floor, that’s not good. So I cleaned up real quick and it became a story that I threw up because of Jordan. I was just sick, and like a dummy I tried to eat my way out of being sick. I thought, Man, if I eat I’ll be all right. So I had a pregame meal. I had spaghetti, hamburgers, eggs, toast, and it all came back up right then and there. That was three hours before the game.

What was the interaction like between you and Jordan?

They introduced us, and we were last. So Jordan comes out and puts his hand out and he kinda smacks mine real hard, you know. Like he was going to intimidate me. And I remember getting really pissed off about that. But I also remember thinking, Damn, did that hurt. This dude is strong. But he tried to do stuff like that.

Were you intimidated as a team?

No. The truth of the matter is, we were Indiana and we were supposed to beat Carolina in the tournament. Three years before, Indiana had beaten Carolina in the NCAA tournament, so it wasn’t like we were intimidated or anything like that, and it wasn’t like we were going to get intimidated by Carolina guys. They were too busy taking themselves out. They were putting their fists up. I’m puking in a bucket during timeouts and Brad Daugherty’s worried about his pinkie or something. I remember we all thought how soft they were during the game. We were kind of laughing about it.

So you had that thought of We’re tougher than these guys, if not more athletically gifted?

One hundred percent. I remember making fun of Brad Daugherty raising his fist to come out. I remember Coach Knight telling us, “Any one of you wants to come out of this game, you ain’t getting back in. We’re going to let them do that.” He was kinda making fun of them, too. Before the game, he said, “We’re going to be tougher than them, because they’re not tough.” And they weren’t. They were pretty, they were athletic, but they weren’t tough. At least that night.

When I fouled out, I’ve got a towel over my head and a big old cop behind the bench gave me a yellow bucket and you can see a couple clips of me puking into this bucket. There’s no dignity in throwing up on national TV, I’ve decided. But hell, I’m throwing up in a bucket, and they’re worried about their fingers. Jordan was always messing with his wrist. I’m thinking, Man, you guys are worried about how pretty you are, we’re trying to kick your ass.

What did Jordan say to you during the game?

Absolutely nothing. He didn’t say a word. In 1980 or ’81, I went to a game, it was a famous game, Orlando Woolridge stopped Ralph Sampson in the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. [Note: The game took place in 1981.] And Ralph Sampson and Virginia were no. 1 in the country, and I went to that game as a senior in high school, and what Woolridge said after was, “Everywhere Sampson went, I just stood next to him.” And I remembered that before the game, so I did that. And Jordan never reacted. I didn’t say anything to him, he never said anything to me. He just played. I wish I had a better story, but I don’t.

The first couple minutes of that game might have been as bad as it got for you, when Jordan scored twice quickly. Do you remember that?

Yup. You’re not going to believe this, but I remember doing the math as I was running down the floor. Because the scoreboard at the Omni was on the façade of the upper deck, and I looked up and it just hit me in my brain that it’s 4-0 North Carolina. There’s one minute gone in the game, Jordan has all four points, and he’s going to get 160 points in this freaking game if I don’t do something. I swear to God, that came into my brain. How stupid is that, right?

The second foul call on Jordan has become pretty infamous — it was a questionable call. Dean Smith took him out, and kept him out for more than 12 minutes in that first half. Any thoughts on that foul?

I remember I had a bad foul on a back cut that he did up by the rim. I took it away from him and they called a foul on me. And in the video, you can see a dude from Indiana running down the stairs like he was going to beat up the ref or something. I remember we used to laugh — when we watched the video in college — a couple of my college buddies were in that shot and they were like, “Look, man, that dude ran right by us, he was going to go beat up the ref for you.” And I’m like, “He should have, because it was a bad call.”

Were you conscious of Jordan being out of the game for a large part of that first half?

Yeah. Buzz Peterson — who I love as a friend — he took a jump shot out of the corner and I remember thinking, Well, they’re no better than us now, they’re not more talented than us.

We all talked about it when Jordan went out. Which seems stupid because they still had Sam Perkins and Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty, but we didn’t feel like they had any weapons. Now, you got to understand, basketball is organic, man. Different games grow into different things, and that particular night they didn’t have anybody that was going to take this over with Jordan out. They just didn’t have that look about them, so it made us very comfortable.

There was nobody else on Carolina, Smith, Perkins, or whoever, who had that killer attitude?

No. And North Carolina fans have over the years — now even more because of Twitter — whined about it. “Well, you only beat them because Kenny Smith hurt his wrist.” Well hell, our best player was a guy named Winston Morgan, and he didn’t play. He was hurt! Later, as the game went down, you felt like Perkins was, because he was making everything. We were fouling and he was still making. So I just remember him being that great in that game. He was really good. But other than that, with Jordan out, it didn’t seem like anybody else could hurt us.

In a way, this game can be seen as a tale of two decisions. The first being Dean Smith’s choice to keep Jordan out for so long with two fouls, and the second being Coach Knight keeping you in after you picked up your fourth early in the second half. It felt like the former was a bad one, and you had a great second half and didn’t foul out until much later.

Billy Packer actually mentioned it. My friends make fun of me for this, and it’s going to sound weird, but you can get hot as a passer. In a motion offense, you can get to where you feel like you’re directing the team even though you’re not scoring. Packer even said, I think during the broadcast, I forgot how he worded it, but, “Dakich is controlling the game.” And I felt he was right! I felt that way on offense, and I don’t know if I ever felt that way again. Or even before.

So I asked Coach Knight later, “Why’d you keep me in with four fouls?” He said, “Well, we needed scoring, and you were getting the ball where it needed to go, so I just figured if you foul out, that’s the way it goes.” We were a really good free throw–shooting team and there was no [shot] clock, so if you got up about 10 with five minutes to go, usually the game was over. We missed the free throws, but that’s why he kept me in. I thought I got a horrible call at the end, but like I said, we let Coach Knight do the complaining.

The horrible call was your fifth foul?

Yeah, I kinda reached in, and I got tired. I didn’t move my feet and I got lazy. But I don’t think I hit anybody, and they just kinda called it. I was very disappointed because I felt like we were in a pretty good rhythm. And then you’ve got to go sit there and throw up in the bucket and watch your teammates. I didn’t like that.

UNC had a surge at the end, but you pulled out the win. Steve Alford was pretty spectacular as a freshman, and he finished with 27 points on 9-13 shooting. Were you amazed by his performance?

He was unreal. And what was the best — I don’t know if you saw it — was where he slid under the guy when we were reeling a little bit and got himself to the free throw line and got fouled. He did that a couple times. How about that for a freshman? Marty’s missing shots, a freshman, Chuck Franz is a senior, and he’s missing, and the freshman is just like, “Hey, foul me.” And I always thought that was really cool.

Alford was great. He’s so competitive. He looks like a choir boy, but we knew from the first day of practice that, man, this dude is not just some little Indiana shooter that’s coming to be on the team. He was coming to be an All-American. And I always admired him for that. And I kinda just … I was not as self-assured, maybe, as he was. Because he came in there like, “I’m going to be a freaking All-American.” I came there to be on the team and help out. But he came there to be great. And I’ve always admired that [about] him. And he was great that night.

Did Bobby Knight out-coach Dean Smith?

If you look at the talent that Coach Knight won with compared to the talent Dean Smith lost with? Hell yeah, he outcoached him. And I say that begrudgingly as one of the “talents” that was on Coach Knight’s side. So yeah. I mean, Coach Knight did some really smart things in the game. He got Alford down the floor so when we broke the press I knew where he was in the corners, and we helped off. He and [Jim] Crews, who did the scouting, had us helping off the right guys and being in position. He did a great job.

What was the immediate aftermath like? Did you interact with the Carolina players at all?

We didn’t have that silly handshake line, so we didn’t have to do that. I just remember thinking, Man, when we win this, I’m jumping on Alford. Because I knew the TV cameras would be on Alford. So I’m on the bench, and it was actually on “One Shining Moment,” it was me looking up from puking, cheering with a towel on my head looking like Mike Tyson after a fight or something. So then I jumped on Alford because I knew the cameras were there. You know, hell, I’m a great celebrator, and I was finding him.

I remember doing the interviews after the game. Sitting there, it seemed like forever, I remember there was no way we were going to sleep that night. But I don’t really remember that night. I remember getting a bunch of calls in our room. Me and Mike Giomi, my roommate. I just remember him talking to his damn girlfriend all night long, and I finally hit him, saying, “Get the hell off the phone.” Other than that, I don’t remember much.

Have you interacted with Jordan since that game?

We played golf. It was at IU, in the summer of ’84. Me, him, Alford, and Timmy Knight. And I was really good at the time, and he was learning to play. It’s me and Alford against Timmy Knight and Jordan, and I remember Jordan was talking. And I’m beating the hell out of him, and we get to the sixth tee at IU’s golf course. And we’re winning, and he’s like, “Hey, Dakich, you want to double the bet?” And I said, “Man, I’ll bet you anything you want. Whatever you want to bet, I’ll bet you.” I think he signed his Nike deal that day, or he said he did. And we ended up — it got dark on the 15th hole — he ended up owing me six grand.

It may have been more — in fact, I think it was more — but I let him off the hook for six. We went to Wendy’s after, and he’s like, “Hey man, come by practice tomorrow. I’ll get you covered.” I said all right, so I come by practice, and he’s trying to give me all the shit that they got for free. Plain pocket jeans, and Polaroid cameras and shoes. He goes, “Hey man, here.” I said, “I need six grand.” You know what I mean? It was like, that’s all great, it’s wonderful. But that’s not 6K. Anyway, I never got paid.

Then Calbert Cheaney’s senior year, ’93, [Jordan's] agent invited my brother and I to a game at the stadium. His agent was David Falk, and he was trying to represent Calbert. And after the game, Jordan told David Falk to invite us over to his restaurant. And he was at a back table with a bunch of guys. So we hung out. He was awesome, man. He was great. We talked about Coach Knight and golf and stuff. I never brought up the six grand.

Rate this statement on the truth scale: Dakich stopped Michael Jordan.

Here’s my thing. When people say — like Vitale always says — “Well, Dean Smith really stopped Jordan, not Dan Dakich!” I say, Yeah? I didn’t see Dean Smith blocking his ass out. You know what I mean? I didn’t see Dean Smith defending him on the post. I didn’t see Dean Smith trying to knock his ass out of bounds on a blockout. So I do get a little bit … I’m pretty self-deprecating about it, but it just depends on who’s saying it. Like if my buddies are like, “Hey Dan, man, we’re so tired of that bullshit. Why don’t you tell people the truth? He just missed the shots.” I’m like, shut up, don’t tell nobody that!

But when somebody’s outside of that? Then I’m like, wait a second here now, my man. Like my wife asked me one time, she says — and Dick Vitale’s a friend — “Why can’t Dick Vitale just say you did a good job on him?” And I said, “Well, you know, everybody’s got their thing and wants to be cute, or whatever.”

But like I said, I really didn’t know I’d stopped Jordan till Billy Packer said it in the postgame interview. I’m like, “No shit, huh?” I know I didn’t stop Jordan, but if people want to say it … shit, that’s all right! There could be a lot worse things to be remembered for. So I’m cool with it. I don’t ever talk about it, I never bring it up. People bring it up to me, and I just usually tell them something like, “Man, Michael just ran into a better athlete that night.”

This interview has been condensed and edited. Special thanks to Ben Steele for making the video available.

Filed Under: College Basketball, Indiana, March Madness, Michael Jordan, Shane Ryan, UNC

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Shane Ryan is a contributing writer for Grantland. His book about the young stars of the PGA Tour will be published by Random House in early 2015.

Archive @ ShaneRyanHere