Missouri men’s basketball had never faced an opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference in the regular season entering the fall of 1982.
To kick off the 1982-1983 season, that changed when defending national champion North Carolina traveled to the Show-Me State for a nationally televised showdown against the Tigers inside the Checkerdome in St. Louis.
It was one of eight matchups between Norm Stewart’s Tigers and Dean Smith’s Tar Heels during their long-standing careers in Columbia and Chapel Hill, respectively.
"He was one of the few coaches that I was not able to bring to Columbia," Stewart said of Smith during a phone interview this week. "I had a lot of the other great coaches that people would know their names, and some are still coaching. But we played eight times at different sites. A couple of times in Hawaii and a couple of times elsewhere, but we never played in Chapel Hill or Columbia."
North Carolina’s most notable player that year? Michael Jordan. And the rest of its roster was loaded with talent such as Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty and Brad Daugherty.
ESPN is scheduled to air the final two episodes of its Jordan-centric documentary series "The Last Dance" on Sunday night. Nearly 40 years ago, MU fans got a close look at No. 23 before he reached superstar status.
UNC graduated James Worthy the previous year, making Missouri’s lineup, featuring Jon Sundvold, Steve Stipanovich and Greg Cavener, the more experienced bunch.
North Carolina entered the game as a preseason top-five team, while Missouri was ranked in the top 10.
Stewart, who played in college at Missouri before coaching his alma mater, knew Smith and longtime Tar Heels assistant coach Bill Guthridge well from their playing days at Kansas and Kansas State, respectively.
The Tigers ran Stewart’s triangle offense, which he picked up from former Kansas State and Houston Rockets head coach Tex Winter.
Winter was one of Phil Jackson’s assistant coaches during most of Jordan’s Bulls career. Chicago also ran the triangle offense with Jackson at the helm.
Before "Space Jam" or Jordan’s memorable shots against Craig Ehlo or Byron Russell, Missouri had an overwhelmingly partisan crowd behind them against the Tar Heels in that Thanksgiving weekend showdown.
"To us, it wasn't going to be an upset. I mean, it was North Carolina, but we had an older team," Sundvold said. "... We were going to guard Jordan and Perkins, that was the focus. We were going to see if the other three guys could beat us."
That strategy paid off as the Tigers took down the Tar Heels 64-60 and held Jordan to 13 points, with Ron Jones handling the future six-time NBA champion as his primary defender.
Missouri didn’t enter the contest at full strength either, with Prince Bridges and Michael Walker missing the game due to injury.
Stepping up in their place were role players such as Barry Laurie and Dwight Moody. Mark Dressler, a fellow senior alongside Stipanovich and Sundvold, helped fill in the gaps as well.
It was a Missouri roster filled with in-state talent on its way to winning its fourth straight Big Eight Conference championship.
"I’m trying to think who was not a Missouri kid. Stipanovich was from St. Louis, Cavener from Springfield, Ron Jones from Cape (Girardeau), Dressler from St. Louis," said Sundvold, himself from Blue Springs. "I think Dwight Moody ... was a junior college kid, wasn’t a Missouri kid. It says a lot about the type of team we had and the players we had."
Jordan and the Tar Heels bested the Tigers a month later in a tournament in Hawaii. North Carolina took down Missouri once more with Jordan on its roster the following season before he was drafted by Chicago.
Sundvold got to know Jordan by both being named to Playboy’s 1982-83 All-American team. The duo spent three days together in Chicago to commemorate the honor with the rest of the group, including Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing.
When Jordan and Sundvold would run into each other on the NBA circuit, Jordan always made a point to ask Sundvold how Stewart and the Tigers were doing.
"I think the show did a good job of really describing how tough it would be to win a championship," Sundvold said of "The Last Dance."
Jordan, Scottie Pippen and other Bulls players of that era still won six titles anyway.
But first, it was Missouri that bested arguably the greatest player of all time.