The 1957 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship Game took place on March 23, 1957, between the North Carolina Tar Heels and Kansas Jayhawks at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri. The match-up was the final one of the nineteenth consecutive NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship single-elimination tournament — commonly referred to as the NCAA Tournament — organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is used to crown a national champion for men's basketball at the Division I level.
After surviving numerous close games during the regular season, conference tournament, and most recently a triple overtime game against Michigan State in the national semifinal, North Carolina came into the National Championship game with an unblemished record of 31–0. Led by coach Frank McGuire and Helms Foundation College Basketball Player of the Year Lennie Rosenbluth, the Tar Heels were ranked first overall in the AP Poll. Kansas came into the National Championship game with two losses, which were credited to poor ball control on the Jayhawks part. The Kansas Jayhawks, led by Sophomore phenom and First–team All-American Wilt Chamberlain, came into the game favored to win against the Tar Heels of North Carolina.
The game received heavy media attention with over ten television stations and seventy news reporters being represented. The North Carolina Tar Heels jumped out to an early 19–7 lead in the first half, before the Jayhawks were able to close the lead before halftime. In the second half, the Jayhawks managed to fully overcome the deficit and take the lead. However, the Tar Heels were able to tie the game in the final minute, sending the game to overtime. The first overtime saw each team score a basket before time ran out, while the second overtime saw zero points scored due to poor offensive execution on both teams parts. The third overtime saw more action take place, with the Tar Heels winning the game 54–53 as Joe Quigg made two free throws in the closing seconds to give the Tar Heels the lead.
The Tar Heels won their first NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship and received a large welcome at Raleigh–Durham International Airport when they arrived back in North Carolina. Due to the success of televising the National Championship game in North Carolina, the broadcasting of collegiate basketball for the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded greatly. Kansas' Wilt Chamberlain received heavy criticism for his inability to win the National Championship and eventually left Kansas after his junior year in order to join the Harlem Globetrotters.
The North Carolina Tar Heels were coached by Frank McGuire, who was in his fifth season as head coach of the Tar Heels. His offensive philosophy was centered around passing before shooting. McGuire's starting line up and most of the roster consisted of players primarily from around the New York area. Tommy Kearns and Pete Brennan were two offensive specialists. Center Joe Quigg provided a solid presence in the paint and grabbed almost nine rebounds per game. Guard Bob Cunningham was one of the teams best defensive players. The team was led by Lennie Rosenbluth who averaged almost twenty–eight points a game and served as the team's clutch performer.
North Carolina began their 1956–57 campaign with three straight victories by a wide margin of victory. In their fourth game, the Tar Heels traveled Columbia, South Carolina, to play against South Carolina, where the Gamecocks took the Tar Heels to overtime before North Carolina was able to come away with the victory by four points. Near the end of December, the Tar Heels participated in the annual Dixie Classic The Tar Heels won the classic, and also remained undefeated, after beating Wake Forest in the championship game. North Carolina then won five more games before going into double overtime against Maryland and winning the game 65–61 to earn their seventeenth consecutive victory. In the following game, Duke and North Carolina were tied at 73–73 before Tar Heel Kearns sank two free throws to give North Carolina a two-point lead before the game ended. The Tar Heels closed out the regular season with six more victories to end the season with a record of 24–0. North Carolina won their quarterfinal match–up in the ACC Tournament by twenty points to advance to the semifinals against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were ahead 59–58 as the game entered the final minute. With time running out, Rosenbluth made a two-point shot and was fouled in the act of shooting, which sent him to the line to shoot a free throw; he made the free throw and the Tar Heels won 61–59. The Tar Heels then beat South Carolina in the championship to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Tar Heels defeated the Yale Bulldogs 90–74 in the NCAA East Regional Quarterfinal in order to advance to the semifinal against Canisius College. North Carolina won the game by twelve points, which allowed them to move on to the NCAA East Regional Final against Syracuse. The final, along with the semifinal, were held at the Palestra in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Syracuse Orange fell to the Tar Heels 67–58 as the Tar Heels advanced to the Final Four in Kansas City, Missouri. The Tar Heels opponent for the national semifinal was Michigan State. The Tar Heels were tied with the Spartans as time was winding down in regulation. Michigan State's Jack Quiggle made a half court shot that would have given the Spartans the lead, but the shot left his hands after time expired, nullifying the basket. In the first overtime, Michigan State had a two-point lead with eleven seconds remaining, while also having a player at the foul line. The Spartan missed both shots and Tar Heel Brennan gathered the rebound, dribbled down the court, and made a shot as time expired to send the game to a second overtime. The Tar Heels pulled away in the third overtime to win the game 74–70. The game saw the lead change thirty–one times before the Tar Heels were able to emerge victorious after three overtime periods.
Dick Harp was in the midst of his first season as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks as the team entered the National Championship game. Kansas came into the season favored to win the national title. This was due in large part to Wilt Chamberlain joining the varsity team after finishing his freshman year on the freshman team per NCAA rules. At the beginning of the season, the Jayhawks starting line up consisted of Seniors Gene Elstun, Maurice King, John Parker, Lew Johnson, and Sophomore Chamberlain. Ron Loneski replaced Johnson's spot in the starting line up during the season. Harp began the season with a man to man defense, but later switched to a zone in order to give them an advantage in rebounding the basketball.
The Kansas Jayhawks began the regular season with twelve consecutive victories before losing to Iowa State by two points after losing the lead in the closing seconds of the game. Kansas' following game was against Iowa State; this time, the Jayhawks won the game by a margin of nine points. The Jayhawks won their next four games before losing to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Due to the lack of a shot-clock in 1957, the Cowboys held the ball for the final three and a half minutes in order to win the game 56–54. Both of the Jayhawks regular season losses were in part due to poor ball control by the Jayhawks. The Jayhawks squad closed out the regular season with four more victories. The Jayhawks closed the regular season with a conference best 11–1, earning them the Big Seven Conference regular season crown and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Kansas faced Southern Methodist and was forced into an overtime period. Behind 36 points by Chamberlain, the Jayhawks won 73–65 to advance to the regional finals. There, the Jayhawks defeated Oklahoma City 81–61 to reach the Final Four. Chamberlain posted 30 points in the contest, adding 15 rebounds. The two–time defending NCAA Tournament champions, San Francisco, faced Kansas in the Final Four's host site, Kansas City. With a field goal percentage of almost 60 percent, the Jayhawks posted an 80–56 win to advance to the championship game against undefeated North Carolina, the number one–ranked team in the country. Even though the Tar Heels were undefeated and ranked number 1 in the nation, Kansas entered the game as a 3–point favorite, mostly because playing in Kansas City was a virtual home game.
The national semifinal between Kansas and San Francisco was not televised, while the North Carolina–Michigan State match–up was televised in some areas. Plans to televise the national championship game were made in advance due to anticipation that the Kansas Jayhawks would reach the championship game. By the time that the match–up was set between the two teams, an eleven station network had been arranged. Castleman D. Chesley, a local television producer, broadcast the game in North Carolina on five stations. After the Tar Heels won the Eastern Regional, Chesley managed to get announcers, sponsors, and five stations to set up a network to broadcast North Carolina's Final Four games from Kansas City. Locally, the game was to appear on channels 9 and 13. The 1957 National Championship game saw the largest media crowd ever for a men's basketball game at the time, with over eleven television stations, 73 radio stations, and 63 news writers represented.
The game began with a tip–off between Kansas' seven foot tall Wilt Chamberlain and North Carolina's Tommy Kearns, who was not even six feet tall. Coach Frank McGuire sent out Kearns after he had been talking down Chamberlain the night before. The rest of the North Carolina squad set up in their zone defense rather than around the center circle per McGuire's request to "show them the zone we were going to use." The Jayhawks were unable to score on their opening possession and set up in their defense as the Tar Heels came down the court with the ball. Kansas' initial defense was a box–and–one, which consisted of four players in a box around a basket while one player, Maurice King, played defense on North Carolina's Lennie Rosenbluth. Kearns received a pass along the baseline and was fouled in the act of shooting. Kearns missed the shot, but made both free throws to give Carolina the early 2–0 lead. Kansas missed a jump shot, and North Carolina's Joe Quigg converted a 12-foot baseline shot. Kansas scored their first points off of two free throws.
The Tar Heels' began to strain Kansas' defense with several players making perimeter shots, and when combined with Kansas' inability to convert from the field, this allowed the Tar Heels to jump out to a 11–4 lead. This led to Harp changing Kansas' defensive formation to a 2–3 zone, with Chamberlain under the basket. Rosenbluth — who was now relatively unguarded when compared to Kansas' previous formation — made a contested seventeen foot jumper. Kansas retaliated by giving the ball to Chamberlain who was subsequently fouled as he went up for a shot. He went to the free throw line and made one of two. As Kansas went up the floor coach Harp ordered his squad to revert to their original box–and–one. Carolina's Kearns made a jumper from the floor after pump faking to lose a defender, which brought the score to 15–7 in favor of Carolina. Kansas came up the floor and missed their shot, but Chamberlain grabbed the rebound and was then fouled in air. He went to the line for a one–and–one and missed the first shot, while Rosenbluth caught the rebound.
During the following possession, Harp changed Jayhawks' defense to a man–to–man. The change in defense caused the Tar Heels to become more active on offense with several screens and movement on offense. The possession resulted in an off the ball foul that sent Rosenbluth to the free throw line where he made both shots. Kansas pushed the ball up the court quickly with King, who took an eight-foot shot and Carolina collected the rebound and continued to slow the tempo in the half court as Kansas shifted back into a 2–3 zone. The Tar Heels passed the ball back and forth until the Jayhawks broke from their zone and went into a man–to–man again. Kearns made a close quarters shot in the paint. Kansas stepped up their defense at the behest of coach Harp and held Carolina scoreless for two minutes. During the period, Kansas made four free throws to cut their deficit to two points, with the score being 19–17. The Tar Heels continued to slow the pace and work the ball around to get the open shot, while the Jayhawks would rush up the court and attempt to give the ball to Chamberlain before taking a poor shot. This resulted in moderate success for both teams as North Carolina scored eight points to Kansas' three before the final two minutes began. In the closing two minutes, the two teams would both score two free throws to bring the score to 29–22 in favor of North Carolina.
The second half began with another jump ball between the two competing teams. Chamberlain won the tip as Carolina sent out Quigg to contest the jump rather than Kearns like in the first tip–off. Both teams failed to score on their first possession, but after Carolina missed their opening shot, Kansas scored on a fast-break pull-up shot. Kansas scored once more – from a lob to Chamberlain – before the Tar Heels were able to score with a baseline jump shot from Quigg to bring the score 31–26. Kansas closed the lead to 31–30 with a basket and a pair of free throws from Chamberlain. Carolina's Kearns returned with an acrobatic layup to extend the lead to three points.
After Kansas failed to convert a shot on their next possession, North Carolina proceeded to pass the ball around the perimeter of the court for close to two minutes. After finding the right setup, Lennie Rosenbluth drove to the basket and scored. Following that possession, Kansas began to make outside jump shots. When combined with Carolina's inability to score, Kansas' improved jump shots led to a 10–2 Kansas run, with Kansas taking the lead nine minutes into the second half. In addition, as North Carolina players continued to foul Chamberlain in order to make him score from the free throw line, they began to get into foul trouble. Kansas' coach Dick Harp then began to hold the ball beginning with their next possession. Harp's plan worked for a while as Carolina was not able to overcome Kansas' three point lead; Kansas did not attempt a shot for over five minutes.
With 1:45 remaining in the game, Kansas' Gene Elstun was fouled by Lennie Rosenbluth on a lay–up attempt. This was Rosenbluth's fifth foul, which disqualified him for the rest of the game. Elstun missed the two free throws from the foul and Carolina got the rebound. The Jayhawks were only able to score two points after Rosenbluth's disqualification. North Carolina then began to rally after scoring a basket and then an accompanying free throw. Bob Young — who had replaced Rosenbluth after his fifth foul – scored a lay–up to bring Carolina within two points. Carolina tied the game at 46–46 after Tommy Kearns made a free throw in the closing seconds. The Tar Heels got the ball back and held it for one final possession. The ball was passed to Bob Cunningham who missed his initial shot, but was able to get the rebound. Cunningham went up for another shot, but received heavy contact from Chamberlain. No foul was called and the time ran out, sending the game to overtime.
Overtime began with a jump ball that was won by Kansas' Chamberlain, who quickly passed the ball to King. King took a jump shot that missed and Carolina's Cunningham grabbed the rebound. The Tar Heels traversed the court and Bob Young managed to score a basket to give Carolina the edge. However, North Carolina was unable to stop Kansas during the ensuing drive as Chamberlain scored a basket to bring the score to 48–48. After Kansas score the tying basket, North Carolina proceeded to hold the ball for one final shot before time ran out. Carolina's Kearns drove and put up a shot that was blocked by Chamberlain as time ran out.
North Carolina's first possession of the second overtime period ended with a turnover, while Kansas missed a long jump shot in theirs. North Carolina's Brennan boxed out Chamberlain who went over Brennan to collect the rebound and was called for over the back. Joe Quigg turned the ball over after traveling, while Chamberlain threw the ball out of bounds on the subsequent possession. Carolina failed to capitalize on Chamberlain's error when Kearns missed the front end of a one–and–one. Kansas came down the court and passed the ball to Chamberlain who was then fouled hard by Cunningham. This sparked an altercation between the two teams, which resulted in Chamberlain being hit in the stomach with a megaphone and his knee being scarred by a Carolina cheerleader. The referees stopped the commotion and Chamberlain was sent to the line, where he missed his shots, and Carolina got the rebound. The Tar Heels aimed to hold the ball for a final shot but they turned the ball over to Kansas with ten seconds to go and the Jayhawks called a timeout with six seconds left. The ball went to Kansas' Loneski who missed a shot and the game remained tied at 48.
After a one-minute break between periods, the third overtime began with another jump ball that was won by Chamberlain. After King missed the opening shot of the period, Carolina's Kearns made a right handed lay–up to bring the score to 50–48. Kansas failed to score again, and this time Kearns missed his shot after being fouled, but then made both free throws. Off of a pass from Loneski, Chamberlain made a shot, was fouled, and made the ensuing free throw to complete the three-point play and bring the Jayhawks within one point. Cunningham was fouled after being trapped in a double team and then missed the first shot of the one-and-one. The Jayhawks' Loneski missed a contested, close layup, but King got the offensive rebound and was fouled on a put back shot. King made one of the free throws and tied the score at 52–52.
The next possession, Kansas' John Parker stole the ball and crossed half court when coach Harp called a timeout. Chamberlain received the ball in the post, went up for a shot and received some contact; however, no referee called a foul and the ball rolled out of bounds off Carolina. The next play, Elstun was run into by a Tar Heel and went to the line for two shots with 31 seconds remaining, where he missed the first and made the second shot. Out of timeouts, Kearns drove into the lane and put up a shot that was blocked out of bounds by Chamberlain. The following play, Quigg pump–faked and went up for a shot that Chamberlain blocked; however, simultaneously King made contact with Quigg's body while shooting and the referees called a shooting foul. Quigg went to the free throw line for two shots with six seconds to go and made both, which gave the Tar Heels the lead 54–53. Kansas called a timeout and in-bounded to Loneski who then passed the ball towards Chamberlain who was under the basket. The pass was under thrown and Quigg tipped the ball away from Chamberlain. Kearns grabbed the ball and got away from a defender before he threw the ball into the air to run out the clock. Time expired as the ball was in the air and the Tar Heels won the National Championship.
Despite losing in the championship game, Kansas' Wilt Chamberlain was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Chamberlain was also named to the Consensus All-Americans squad for the 1956–57 season. North Carolina's Lennie Rosenbluth was named the Helms Foundation College Basketball Player of the Year for his performance throughout the basketball season, as well as a Consensus All–American. The Tar Heels' coach Frank McGuire was named UPI College Basketball Coach of the Year for leading North Carolina to a win in the National Championship game and a perfect record of 32–0.
While coach McGuire and Rosenbluth boarded a plane to New York to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, the rest of the Tar Heels returned to North Carolina two days later when they landed at Raleigh–Durham International Airport (RDU). The North Carolina squad was greeted by over 10,000 fans. Some players were carried by members of the crowd from the airport ramp to the terminal. The airport manager believed the crowd gathered to meet the Tar Heels was the biggest in RDU's history. The crowd was so big that it prevented Chancellor Robert House from giving a planned speech for the team. The large crowd at the airport was credited to the airing of both the national semifinal and National Championship game on television around North Carolina. The 1957 North Carolina team were awarded watches for their victory in the national championship. In the 1990s, the team was given rings to commemorate their win in the national championship game after then North Carolina coach Dean Smith insisted upon giving the team rings. Coach McGuire was given a brand new Carolina blue and white Cadillac by the university, as well as being signed to a new five–year contract that gave him $11,500 per year.
After seeing the success from televising the final games of the tournament, Castleman Chesley believed that "ACC basketball could be as popular as any TV show in North Carolina." Chesley's success in airing North Carolina's national semifinal and National Championship games in North Carolina led to the increase in attention towards basketball around the state. In addition, it led to Chesley and the Atlantic Coast Conference agreeing to a television contract that would air twelve ACC games league–wide during the 1957–58 season. The games aired the following season were called the ACC Game of the Week which aired on Saturdays. The television contract allowed the league to expand and increase the conference's visibility. It also led to an increase in ticket sales for the members of the ACC. Due to the increase in televising of ACC games, more children began to pick up the sport of basketball.
In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Tar Heel fans that watched the game on the television flooded Franklin Street after the victory over the Jayhawks. Over two thousand people rushed the street, which prevented cars from passing for over an hour. Police were required to help maintain the crowds. This has since turned into a tradition where people overrun Franklin Street following a win over the Duke Blue Devils or whenever the Tar Heels have won a National Championship.
Wilt Chamberlain received criticism for his inability to win lead Kansas to a win in the National Championship game; Chamberlain later admitted that this loss was the most painful in his life. He returned to Kansas for his junior year and to play another season under coach Dick Harp. Chamberlain quickly became frustrated with the opposing teams' way of playing him, which primarily consisted of double or triple teaming Chamberlain in order to limit his offensive production and effectiveness. In addition, many teams resorted to running out the time on the clock when in the lead against the Jayhawks to increase their odds of winning the game. After the Jayhawks failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament that year, Chamberlain decided to forgo his senior season to play with the Harlem Globetrotters. He did not return to Kansas' campus for over 40 years after leaving for the Globetrotters; he finally returned in 1998 when his jersey was retired.