Monday, October 19, 1987, dawned gray, dreary and unsettling across the United States. The stock market plunged 508 points, the worst crash since Black Tuesday in 1929, which kicked off the Great Depression. The political news was the same tired litany of discord, led by something about an Iranian president vowing to retaliate for a United States attack in the Persian Gulf. In the sports world, Billy Martin was hired as manager of the New York Yankees—for the fifth time.
The discordant mood fit snugly into West Lafayette, Indiana, where Purdue University’s basketball team was in its first week of preparations for the upcoming season. Student tickets for the season’s home games had gone on sale that morning, and a healthy percentage of the 32,000-plus students on campus had gathered to stake their respective claims to the golden moments that seemed destined to await them inside Mackey Arena in the months ahead.
The previous season’s team had been one of the best in the school’s rich basketball history. It won 25 of 30 games and mounted a fierce late-season drive that produced eight consecutive victories and a share of the Big Ten championship. But the momentum had coughed, sputtered and wheezed with a 31-point loss to Michigan in the final regular season game when a victory would have brought an outright championship, and then died abruptly with a 19-point loss to Florida in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
By now, all that seemed like a mere prologue to an even better story. Four of the five starters and eight of the top nine scorers were returning from that team, and as the season approached a fever pitch was building. Every supposed basketball authority with a voice and an audience considered the Boilermakers among the nation’s best teams. Street and Smith’s, one of the oldest and most respected preseason college basketball magazines, had rated them number one. The Associated Press, in its poll of media members, had them second. The Sporting News picked them third.