The KU men’s basketball team won the 1988 NCAA Divison I Men’s Basketball Tournament on April 4, 1988. The Jayhawks defeated Big 8 foe Oklahoma 83-79 in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1988 National Champions, we collected everything we’ve ever written about that season: the players, the fans, the students, and the history of one of the greatest runs the NCAA tournament has ever seen.
KU alumni and fans still smarting from this year’s loss to Wichita State in the NCAA tournament may find some solace in recalling the thrill of victory in 1988, more than a quarter of a century ago. If that makes you feel old, just imagine how the players feel.
While ‘Danny and the Miracles’ have all gone on with their lives, the ’88 championship still unites them, especially this time of year.
Over the weekend, National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition featured interviews with three of the Jayhawks from that Cinderella team in their For the Record segment by Rachel Martin. Recalling how the championship changed their lives, Jeff Gueldner, b’91, Clint Normore, ’89, and Milt Newton, d’89, g’93, each offered their unique journeys since ’88. The full interview, which you can listen to below and online at npr.org, catches up with each Jayhawk, none of whom made it to the NBA. Well, at least not the way you might think.
Newton always wanted to be a professional basketball player, but when his prospects for playing in the NBA looked bleak after college, his father gave him some sage advice, encouraging him to pursue a career that kept him involved with the game he loved. Today, Newton is general manager for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
Normore, who also played football at KU before joining the Jayhawk basketball team, leads diversity programs at Oklahoma City University and still remembers the surreal feeling of being in the moment, when he could tune out the crowd and only hear his KU coaches and teammates.
But Guelder’s life took a few twists and turns since ’88, and after a cancer diagnosis, he discovered how meaningful his championship moment really was.
“As soon as the folks at KU found out,” Martin reveals in her story, “he was overwhelmed with notes and care packages from people he’d never met before. But it didn’t matter. Gueldner was part of that storied ’88 Jayhawks team. They rooted for him then and they were doing so again when he needed it most.”
All KU alumni have special memories of KU’s magical run to the 1988 NCAA Championship– even those who played in it. Danny Manning, now head basketball coach at Wake Forest, remembers exactly how it felt to “seal the deal” and secure the Jayhawks’ first NCAA title since 1952. The former NCAA Player of the Year and number one pick of the 1988 NBA draft opened up about his championship experience in The Players’ Tribune, a blog featuring the voices of professional athletes from a first-person perspective.
In Manning’s post titled “It’s Over,” he vividly recalls the moment he put the game away, hitting two free throws with five seconds left, and the euphoria that followed. Yet the most memorable moment for Manning came during a quiet moment after the celebration.
“Sitting in the locker room with my teammates after winning the national championship, we talked about our season, which was my senior season. We talked about the tournament. And that’s when it hit us: That was the last time we’d ever be together on the court as a team. It was a somber moment for me, but also a very satisfying one knowing that I was a part of a group that was able to win a national championship.”
Manning’s team finished the 2015 season–his first as head coach of the Deamon Deacons–with a 13-19 record, placing 12th in the ACC conference and will miss the Big Dance this year. But don’t count Manning out. He aims to be back, because he knows what it takes to get there, and he can still recall exactly how good it feels to reign supreme as NCAA Tournament Champion.
“It’s a gamut of emotions that hits you at that point, but lastly, there’s a sense of calm after the storm, and all that’s left is the joy of what you’ve accomplished with your teammates.”
Never fond of the moniker ‘Danny and the Miracles,’ Manning reflected on the sheer joy of playing with his teammates in what he emphasized is a team sport.
“We weren’t the most talented and we weren’t the most athletic, but we played together and we played for each other. That’s what made us great. It wasn’t “Danny and the Miracles.” It was just the Kansas Jayhawks.”
We’ve enjoyed reading KU fans’ memories of the 1988 NCAA championship game. Many of our future staff members were at the game or the celebrations that took place afterward, and they shared their memories also.
Lynn Loveland, assistant director of Kansas programs:
I went to the games and had a great seat on the floor. Very exciting–after the games we went to the Plaza to celebrate. I thought Kemper Arena was a great place to hold the game. Though the revenue wouldn’t come close to what they make now, everyone could actually see the game from their seats with no big screen needed.
David Johnston, director of internet services and marketing:
We got tickets to the championship at Kemper from disgruntled Duke fans. My seat ended up being right next to the junior high basketball coach who cut me during tryouts the previous year, effectively ending my basketball career! He was incredibly knowledgeable about the game, and we had a great time. At halftime with the score tied 50-50, he turned to me and said “that was the greatest half of basketball I’ve ever seen in my life.” Unforgettable experience.
Susan Younger, creative director:
The night of the win, we headed to campus and were stuck in our car for hours on Oread Avenue. Our kids sat on the window sills of our car and slapped thousands of hands. Everyone had their hands out the window and a steady stream of students ran by slapping them. My palms hurt for a couple of days. For the parade on campus, I took my sons out of school. We were on the boulevard in front of Snow Hall. My 8-year old Garrett said, “I wish someone would throw ME in the air.” A guy next to me grabbed him and before we could do anything, he was being tossed in the air. He was small, so he was being thrown up high and made it all the way down the mob to the front of Strong Hall, then they started to throw him back my way. The boy who grabbed him in the first place grabbed him back and said to me, “I’m so sorry ma’am, I should have asked if that was okay.” My son was a little scared but also excited.
About four guys came down the road carrying a yellow VW beetle and put it in the garden in front of Hoch. Trees in front of Wescoe were so overloaded, you could hear the trunks splinter and see them cracking in half. We were drenched in beer showers. People were shaking cans and spraying beer over the crowd. It was amazing!
Marcia Wilson, office assistant:
I was at the game and then at the team’s hotel after the game for the celebration in the street. The Oklahoma fans were watching from their hotel across the street. It was awesome!
Julie Lowrance, records specialist and license plate administrator:
I was a junior in high school in 1988. I remember watching the championship game at home with my parents and was so excited when KU won. There was a parade on Massachusetts Street a few days later. They let us out of school for the afternoon and we got to go and see it. It was so awesome! A great memory to have from my youth! I also remember my parents buying me a “Danny and the Miracles” t-shirt after KU won. Wish I still had that shirt!
Michelle Lang, assistant director of Kansas programs:
I was nine years old at the time of the 1988 championship game but I have some pretty clear memories of the night. My family watched the game at my aunt and uncle’s house near downtown Lawrence and I remember right after KU won we went outside and could hear people shooting off fireworks. Then we hopped in the car and drove through campus…that was the thing to do then instead of going to Mass Street.
Tim Brandt, director of the Adams Alumni Center
I was alive and in my prime at 37. We were suited up in the bar in the Marriott, where the team was staying. We had just completed a full day of drinking beer at the opening day of Royals baseball and were settled in. Oklahoma, a one seed and KU a one seed — both big 8 schools — not sure the rest of the basketball world cared much. After the game there was a solid mob assembly inside and outside the hotel. The rest was just a blur — the next day was not quite so much fun as we had to drive back to Wichita.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of KU’s 1988 National Championship, we shared this video with members. We sat down with Kurt Messersmith, j’89, executive producer of the new documentary “The Miracles,” who shared what it was like to catch up with the players like Danny Manning, Archie Marshall and Milt Newton 25 years later. He found that their team chemistry was just as strong. Relive the drama of the ’88 season here, and purchase “The Miracles” on DVD from the KU Bookstore.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the historic NCAA tournament game by “Danny and the Miracles” and the KU men’s basketball team’s 1988 championship. Over on our Facebook page, we asked alumni and fans “Where were you? What’s your favorite memory?” Here’s a few of our favorite responses.
I was in Kemper watching the Jayhawks stun the Sooners! I was 25, working on my Masters and pregnant with my son. My dad was at the game with me and it is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ memories! We screamed, laughed and cried tears of joy! In 2008, that baby boy I was carrying was a sophomore at KU when we won it all again! Love my Jayhawks! — Janine G.
I was in Battenfeld Hall. We had to “borrow” toilet paper from other halls the next day – ours was in the trees. — Ulf B.
I was in NYC; moved there 2 weeks after walking down The Hill. Had to watch the game on a tiny B&W set…scared the neighbors at one point who knocked on my door thinking I was being murdered. The next morning my dad and mom called and told me they had already bought me a plane ticket home… wanted me to be back in Lawrence for the celebration. And, yes, I have great parents; die-hard Jayhawks! — Jennifer P.
We had a big watch party at home! It was a wonderful, exciting night! My husband worked at the Topeka Capital Journal at the time and we drove down there to get a newspaper hot off the press! That next morning, I went and got my personalized license plate “KU1NCAA” . I got the same one again in 2008! Love my Jayhawks! — Sheri W.
Was a senior. Watched the game at Gammons with sorority sisters. Our picture made the front page of the K.C. paper the next day. Never high fived so many people as we did that night on campus. Loved the team doing the cabbage patch at the return rally the next day, at the football stadium, and Cinderella coming from Disney for the parade downtown. Most of my graduation video is of Danny Manning. Dad got distracted by the fact he was walking down the hill behind us. Great senior year memories!! — Cindy B.
We had just moved from NJ to OP, KS two days prior. None of our furniture was here yet. We went to Sears and bought a bunch of pillows and a TV and watched in our empty living room. I figured Kansas was going to be an alright place to live after that, and I haven’t left yet! — Lauren W.