Buzz, Michael and Davis: Longtime friends share weekend headlines
Posted July 10
Charlotte, N.C. — They all made news the other day. Buzz Peterson, Michael Jordan, and Davis Love, close friends since their days together at UNC, were back in the headlines-on the same day no less.
All three are past their coaching and playing prime, and as a result, often spend months away from the limelight. And yet on Thursday, Buzz received a promotion as Assistant General Manager of the Charlotte Hornets. The team’s owner, Jordan, approved the promotion for Peterson following the departure of Chad Buchanan to the Indiana Pacers. Love, not to be outdone, fired an incredible 63 to take the first round lead at the Greenbrier Classic. I find the symmetry here just amazing.
Peterson was the first of the three to step into the spotlight. As a senior in Asheville, Buzz was voted the North Carolina High School Player of the Year in 1981. After enrolling at Carolina, Peterson found himself rooming with another pretty good player from the state of North Carolina. Though Peterson and Wilmington’s Michael Jordan became great friends, I am betting No. 23 spent his entire first season in Chapel Hill feeling overlooked-and motivated-by the specter of Buzz being named NC High School Player of the Year. Their careers moved in somewhat different directions.
Jordan started as a freshman at UNC in 1982, joining a nucleus of four veteran players that included James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Jimmy Black, and Matt Doherty. Though lightly recruited in high school - remember Jordan didn’t even make his high school team as a sophomore at Wilmington Laney - he developed rapidly in Chapel Hill. By season’s end, Jordan had become one of his team’s best defenders. And of course he could score. When he made the game winning shot in the National Championship against Georgetown, MJ’s career took off.
Jordan grew in stature - both literally and figuratively. Though measuring just 6’4" as a freshman, MJ checked in at a full 6’6" by the time he began his sophomore season. By the end of his junior year, Jordan had become a dominant player. At the urging of his coach Dean Smith, Jordan turned pro one year early. The Chicago Bulls drafted Jordan with the third pick, and he proceeded to win Rookie of the Year.
Peterson, meanwhile, became a role player. A good shooter, who provided energy off the bench, Buzz could light it up in spots. I remember one game against LSU where a flurry of Peterson jumpers (which only counted two in the days before the three point shot) drew a rave review from flamboyant NBC analyst Al McGuire, who kept raving about “that Peterson.” But the truth is, Buzz never averaged more than seven points per game in his days at UNC.
Love joined the UNC golf team for the 1982-83 campaign - the autumn after Michael hit “the shot.” I remember Love’s coach, Devon Browse, was eager for WRAL to interview his freshman star when Jay Jennings and I covered a practice round prior to the ACC Golf Championship at the Northgreen Country Club in Rocky Mount. Browse knew Love would be a special player. And in fact, during his time at UNC, DLIII won six different tournament championships, including the 1984 ACC Championship. That one was played at Pinehurst. Love, the long hitter, paired with talented up and down man John Inman to make UNC formidable on the golf course. Inman actually won the 1984 NCAA individual championship.
Love, like Jordan, turned pro one year early. Somewhere along the way DLIII befriended Buzz and Michael, and got them interested in the game of golf. The trio played a number of rounds together at the old Finley Golf Course, long before Tom Fazio’s redesign in the late 90’s. I remember covering a UNC basketball banquet and sitting next to Davis. He would not have attended unless invited by a player, so maybe that invite was a thank you from Buzz and Michael for friendship and help on the golf course?
And they got hooked on golf, Jordan particularly. Michael held a press conference in Chapel Hill after his rookie season with Chicago. I vividly remember much of the conversation in that question and answer session being about MJ’s robust enthusiasm for golf. Jordan told the media he played every chance he got, which during the off-season meant just about every day. Michael told us in 1985 that his scores varied a great deal-from 88 to 130 depending on the course and how well he was playing. It’s not at all unusual for beginning players see their scores jump around a bit. However, with help from Ed Ibarguen, the Finley Golf Course Pro during the mid 80’s, Jordan became a more consistent player.
Jordan’s star in the NBA continued to soar, until an injury cut short his second season with the Bulls. Jordan returned to Chapel Hill for rehab. At least some of that rehab, took place on the golf course.
Buzz, Michael and a Golf Match
I remember the May day in 1986 when Jay Jennings and I got a phone tip from a friend Michael was playing Finley with his pal Buzz. We found them on the 14th hole. It seems hard to believe now, but in 1986 Michael was very familiar with WRAL (Channel 5). He even called Jay and me by name. MJ and Buzz were playing a match (though I don’t think the stakes were very high). While Buzz putted, Michael hammed it up, grabbing the microphone from me and describing Mr. Peterson’s putt. It didn’t go in, but I remember Michael, in hushed golf announcer style saying, “ooh, he pushed that to the right. But not bad for a rookie!” Michael really did play sports announcer, I swear! And WRAL actually has tape of this.
Michael’s lead in the match dwindled to one as the duo teed off at No. 17. Michael stood over his ball and Buzz let the trash talk roll. MJ listened for a moment then decided he had heard enough. “Hey Buzz,” he said. “Seventeen seconds. Seventeen seconds baby!” Michael Jordan, who had hit the pressure jumper with seventeen seconds left to win it at all against Georgetown, was not going to be intimidated by Buzz Peterson on the 17th hole of their match. He hit a long drive, about 240 yards. In the fairway. MJ actually closed out the match a couple of shots later.
While covering big events and big stars for WRAL-TV, I made it a practice NOT to ask for autographs. But that day I broke my rule. In fact Jay and I both asked Michael if he would sign a couple of pages in a reporter’s notebook for our kids. He was only too happy to oblige. I know of at least one of those now grown up children, who still has Michael’s precious signature!
1986 Michael Jordan: 'How’s Tom Suiter Doing?'
And then it happened. Michael asked, “how’s Tom Suiter doing?” Jay and I said in unison, “Oh Michael, he’s doing great!” Michael asked, “Is he married yet?” As this was 1986, Tom was still an eligible bachelor at the time. MJ then asked for the microphone and for Jay to roll the video tape. “Tom, this is Michael,” this most amazing recording began. “I hear you’re not married! We’ve got to do something about that Tom! Come to Chicago. Come to Chicago! And we’ll see what we can do.” Needless to say, our friend Mr. Suiter was rather amazed when we played him Michael’s video appeal. He laughed. We all enjoyed Michael’s generous gesture. Tom never took Michael up on his offer to show him Chicago. But he did become happily married-to Julie-right here in Raleigh a few years later. Jay and I did our best to preserve that tape. Alas, it disappeared. But I couldn’t possibly make up a story like this.
Davis Lights Up 80’s PGA Tour
Meanwhile, Davis took the PGA Tour by storm. Sports Illustrated published an article in 1987 that featured a quote from Greg Norman - Love had just outdriven him, by 40 yards! DLIII won tournaments in the 80’s. But his favorite mementos at the time were a jersey and a pair of high top shoes that his good friend Michael had worn at Carolina. And by the early 90’s, as Jordan was beginning to lead the Bulls to NBA Championships, Davis Love was becoming one of the top players on the PGA Tour. He even earned a spot on the 1993 U.S. Ryder Cup team. And later would win a major-the 1997 PGA Championship.
Buzz went into coaching. He connected with Les Robinson at East Tennessee and then came with Robinson to NC State. Relative to its talent (remember 1991 was the period where NC State radically increased its academic standards for athletes as part of the university’s effort to receive approval for Phi Beta Kappa on campus), the Wolfpack fared pretty well against UNC with Buzz on the bench assisting Les. Peterson recognized and called out UNC’s offensive and defensive sets. That probably had some impact. State went 3-3 against Carolina in Buzz Peterson’s three years as an NC State assistant, most notably defeating the Tar Heels home and home in 1992. State finished near the bottom of the ACC that season and UNC went all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. Only in 1993, UNC’s National Championship season, did the Tar Heels score a sweep against State with Buzz on the other sideline.
What a Wedding Party
Somewhere during the early 90’s, Peterson got married. Michael Jordan was his best man. Of course! Also in the wedding party - one Davis Love III. Did the groom and his groomsmen play the traditional round of golf before the wedding? Oh yeah! Jordan by this time had become a 12 handicapper; and MJ was just a few years from becoming a fairly accomplished Celebrity Tour golfer. But could he beat DLIII? No. Not close. And according to Buzz, Jordan was pretty frustrated that he couldn’t. Although Jordan’s golf coach, Ed Ibarguen, who later moved from UNC to Duke, told me that Michael understands the difference between being a 12 handicapper and playing even on the Senior Tour, the competitor in Jordan did not like losing to Davis Love, even though DLIII was about 18 shots better-by profession.
Time marched on. Jordan completed arguably the best career in the history of the NBA-certainly the best by a non center. And then he bought Charlotte’s NBA franchise.
Peterson put together a pretty successful run as a head coach, first at Appalachian, then later at Tulsa, Tennessee, Coastal Carolina, ASU again, and UNC-Wilmington. Jordan ultimately hired Peterson to come work for the Hornets, first as a scout, then as Director of Player Personnel, and now as assistant General Manager.
Love served two stints as Captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. In 2012, DLIII invited Michael to join the U.S. team as an honorary member. Love of course, captained the U.S. team to victory last September. That was one year after Davis became the third oldest player to win on the PGA Tour when he claimed the Greater Greensboro Championship at age 51. Love is one of just three players, ever, to win golf championships in four different decades.
And then last Thursday he shot a 63 at Greenbrier, which might rank second only to his phenomenal 62 at the other GB to win that tournament for the first time in 1992. Love played three very competitive rounds at the Greenbrier before slipping to a 75 on Sunday. But he still finished in the top 30 against players who were his junior by 20 years and more.
This remains a special friendship, where all three continue to enjoy at least some of the success they experienced in their college days. And for at least one perfectly symmetrical occasion, all three enjoyed the limelight at the same time. Last Thursday.