Thursday, March 10, 2005



Once we got to our seats, there was no reason to sit down. The crowd was standing; swaying back and forth in rhythm to chant after chant. To this day, I don't know most of the words. The chants were repeated numerous times and I mumbled what I thought might be the words. My daughters almost die laughing when they see me trying to clap in rhythm while singing a a song. They appreciate how silly I must have looked keeping rhythm in a black chorus line. I had no rhythm, I did not know the words and I was trying not to stand out. The one chant I remember was "Can you beat S C? Hell no..ah?" I think the S C stood for state college but at the time I couldn't figure it out. My brain was literally on over-load.

I have never admitted to John Kimel how scared I was. He seemed a bit apprehensive but at least he could clap, sway and chant at the same time. We couldn't talk because it was too noisy. When the buzzer sounded to start the game, I still had no idea of the sight I was about to see.

Earl "The Pearl" was a superb NBA talent playing against a second rate team. I could search the internet to find the exact date and game but it is not really important. The name that sticks in my mind is Livingston State. Whoever it was, they did not have a prayer against "The Pearl".

There was no such thing as a three point shot; but if memory serves, Earl scored 48 or 49 points that night with most of them coming from three point range. He would have scored about 70 if the three had existed. Seeing Earl shoot made me understand the swaying of the crowd. Earl would dribble the ball beyond the top of the key with his back to the basket. He would cross-over dribble back and forth in a swaying manner. The entire crowd would sway back and forth in rhythm. There was no shot clock and sometimes he would play to the crowd and sway an extra long time.

The defender nor the crowd could guess if he would break to his left or right. When he turned, he would jump into the air and shoot a high arching one hand-er. Most of his shots were well beyond where the NBA three point line would now be painted. The crowd went wild with every shot.

For 39 years, I have hoped to see as pretty a shot. I have seen Walter Davis, Al Wood, Michael Jordan, Rasheed McCants and many others shoot sweet soft shots but none compare to what I saw that night. Earl was not know for his defense and I don't believe his field goal percentage was high. After accounting for his shots being turnarounds from 35 feet or more the percentage was very high. Watching him shoot was like watching a ballet; fluid, effortless and smooth.

A year or so later, I was aware that several of my closest friends, including John Kimel were planning to attend UNC. One day at lunch, Kimel asked if I was going to room with him; I thought for only a second and said yes. I applied only to UNC and am thankful to the state of North Carolina for its wise support of an outstanding university system. I did not do well in college until after a stint in the army.

My wife, graduated from Western Carolina University. She and I were married in 1972. We lived in married student housing in Chapel Hill from 1972 to 1975. Marilyn worked for the University Hospital and is a die hard Carolina fan. A young or an old couple with no children or ties need to try life in a university town like Chapel Hill. The town is growing too fast because once you live there you do not want to leave.

My first job after college was with Wake Forest University. In three years, Marilyn and I became great fans of the University. Many of our local friends support the local school; graduates or not. The Wake Forest experience was good, but UNC-Chapel Hill is still the special place for Marilyn and me. The love we hold for our two wonderful daughters cannot be adequately described but the time one shares with ones wife before the children come along makes memories of a life time. I recommend that folks get married and then wait a few years before having children. The waiting time makes the birth event all the more powerful as a life changing event.

Our oldest daughter, Courtney Tucker, was near the top of her high school class. Her SAT scores were 100 points better than mine. She was active in student government and participated in many extracurricular activities. She did well in college level advanced placement classes. She was not accepted for admission at UNC.

I know you have heard people tell stories about how the Good Lord looks after his flock and this is one of those stories. Courtney was accepted at her second choice school, NC State. There she received a good education and met the love of her life Jonathan W. Tucker. The two are happily married, live a good life and daily demonstrate their love for their fellow man. Can you imagine how happy I am for her?

Our youngest daughter, Whitney L. Miller, was accepted at UNC, graduated with honors and received a full recruitment scholarship to the Masters in Counseling program at UNC-Greensboro. She will graduate in December. You will never meet a more caring loving person.

I have first, second and third cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors and church family who have graduated from every ACC school. I have stored a more than 40 years of emotion in regard to these schools. For 15 years or more, I have been the driver for the group that attended Sunday's game. These close friends, all Methodist Men and all Carolina Graduates, buy my meals, a pass to the Rams Club and a good ticket in exchange for transportation. Each year, we typically go to one or two football games and three, sometimes four, basketball games.

The trips take the better part of a day giving us ample opportunity to talk about every topic under the sun. We catch up with the lives of our friends, family, church families and church. One meticulous retired CPA, one quick witted lawyer and another old fellow who is the salt of the earth and I enjoy our conversations. I count these guys as precious gem's, each a blessing to me and my family. I am the youngest of the group at 54 years of age. I know the four of us will not attend a great many more games but I value each and every trip and look forward to the next one. I hope you have these kinds of friends.

So there we were on Sunday. In a packed noisy arena on senior day. As each seniors name was called, he presented a rose to his Mother. How fitting? Who else has a clue as to the amount of time, effort and energy that was spent in preparation for this day? A successful tenure for any university student is an accomplishment; to be a successful student and athlete at a top school is a daunting task well worthy of adulation. The standing ovations died slowly and tears were shed.

Then the national anthem was played. The once noisy arena was filled with the chorus of 22,000 voices. What a privilege to live in this great and free country.

The seniors were honored again by being announced as the starting five. Only two of these players have started many games. Two have gotten little playing time. It was the most important game of the year; first place in the ACC was on the line. The emotion of the rivalry becomes almost over-whelming. Carolina started this important game with only two of its star players in the lineup. This worthwhile tradition is practiced in many an arena. It says that life is not all about winning; live is about caring. These guys contributed to the school and the team for four years, they deserved to start this final game of their career. After all, college is not about basketball but is about preparing to live ones life well.

The seniors played well but within a couple of minutes the team score was losing. This group of players was over-matched. The regular starters were substituted and the seniors were given another standing ovation; after all they played their hearts out. Young folks should be taken to at least one senior day game.

The regular starters start the game 5 points behind but the Carolina team is a good one. By the end of the first half, Carolina was winning 47-41. Half time was a time of joy and relief but the crowd to a man knew that there was a lot of fight left in Duke. Duke is coached by one of the all time greatest. No Tar Heel fan likes to admit this fact. We even like to pretend to hate Duke, NC State and Wake Forest, but in truth we love these great schools too. Not like our beloved UNC but how much fun would basketball or life be if UNC never lost to Duke or if Duke never lost to Carolina?

Only Kentucky has won more college basketball games than Carolina; Kansas and Duke are not far behind. Kentucky pulled ahead while being coached by a black coach in the past few years. This happened while Carolina was in a transition from Coach Smith to Coach Williams. I mention the black Coach (Tubby Smith) only to point out the important role played by college sports in race relations. Adolph Rupp was the long-term famous Coach of Kentucky whose all time record for games won was broken by Dean Smith. Rupp was very opposed to having black players on "white" teams. Rupp believed blacks were inferior to whites.

In the late 60's Rupp's teams were some of the best ever. Two of his big players were referred to as the twin towers. To win against Kentucky, teams had to shoot well from the outside. The two monsters in the middle made close-in shots or rebounds tough. Charlie Scott was the solution to the twin towers problem.

Dean Smith recruit Charlie to win more basketball games but also because it was the right thing to do. When Charlie came to town on his recruiting visit, Dean did not hesitate to invite him to eat at formerly all white restaurants. The owners did not dare kick Dean out. Dean practices his religion which requires him to try to love his neighbor as he loves himself.

Actually it was a black division I coach, John McLendon who helped convince Charlie that he would do well in the ACC. I am not saying that Charlie did not have confidence in his game but it required a big leap of faith to attend an overwhelmingly predominantly white southern university. When I went to see Earl "The Pearl" play, I didn't know what I was doing. Dean Smith knew how tough it would be on the first black players and he did his best to ease the struggle.

One irony is that everyone gives Dean Smith credit for inventing the four corners offense; everyone but Dean. He reports that he got the idea from John McLendon the same black coach that helped him recruit Charlie Scott. One year after Charlie hit the winner against Utah, one year after Winston-Salem State College (University now) won the Division II national championship and the same year that Charlie help Carolina beat Kentucky, race riots broke out in Winston-Salem and in many other cities across America.

Several of my friends camped out on a Friday night. We woke up early on Saturday morning and drove the short distance to the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on Stratford Road. Yes, Krispy Kreme had been in Winston-Salem for decades prior to the riots of 1968. Seeing police at Krispy Kreme was no surprise but we were very surprised to see National Guard troops posted up and down the road. We asked a policeman what was happening and learned that the riots of the night before had resulted in a curfew. Had we arrived before dawn, we would have been arrested.

I looked at the crowd in Chapel Hill and more than 85% of the ticket holders were white. The Rams Club was populated by mostly wealthy whites. All the best players on the Carolina team are black. The head coach is white and one of the assistant coaches is black. Many a Carolina fan and many a Bulls fan has pulled for Michael Jordon as fervently as is possible. Charlie Scott, Dean Smith and others must be happy to see the coming together of whites and blacks to win a game for our beloved University.

The second half started and as expected it was an all-out cat fight. The Tar Heels played without leading scorer Rasheed McCants who has had an intestinal flu. Other Heels had off shooting days particularly from the out-side. Some of the credit for this goes to the Duke defense.

Duke plays a tight man to man defense. They put pressure on the ball and on passing lanes. The defense invites the dribbler to try to take his man to the hoop. The big problem is that the Duke defenders collapse quickly and the dribbler is often caught trying to shoot over Sheldon Williams, an excellent shot blocker, on the inside or one of the other defenders attempts to block the shot from behind. The box scores listed 7 team blocks by Duke and 3 team blocks by the Tar Heels; the scorekeeper missed a few. It was a tough day under the baskets.

Duke played tough defense and went on a 9 point scoring run until there were only two minutes and 45 seconds left to play. I must tell you that it was not easy to expect to win down 9, under three minutes. Had I not witnessed prior miracle comebacks and improbable wins by Carolina in the past, I might have given up hope. As it was, the four true blue Tar Heel Methodist turned to one another and agreed it was time to pull out all stops.

In the next couple of minutes, even with one terribly bad call against us, the Heels pulled a rabbit out of the hat. At least 6 Tar Heel players made one, two or three great plays under pressure during that last 2:45. Senior Jawad Williams got it started with a tremendous rebound and dunk. Jackie Manuel continued his great defense on JJ Redick. JJ is one of the all time greatest shooters to play the game but he scored nary a point in the second half. Raymond Felton and David Noel were instrumental in two turnovers. Marvin Williams, the freshman made free throws and a three point play when he rebounded a missed free throw and was fouled. Sean May did a lot of little things during this game.

In 34 minutes of play, he shot 10 of 19 from the field, 6 of 7 from the free throw line (missing the one that Marvin put back to make the trip a 4 point play) rebounded 24 shots including 12 offensive boards, scored 26 points and for good measure picked up 3 assists; no typo, 24 rebounds and 26 points. The heels scored the final 11 points. We won 75-73.

We had a fine trip back to Winston and stopped at Bill and Leah's on the way home for foot long hot dogs, fries and milk shakes. This group is not embarrassed to hold hands and pray for blessings. Indeed we all have received many blessings. I am thankful for the friendship of these guys and I am thankful that Marilyn allows me to leave her several times each year to be with these friends. Last Sunday was a day made in heaven! In a couple of moments, the Tar Heels will take on Clemson in the ACC tournament. GO TAR HELLS!