There’s a triumvirate of college basketball competing in the middle of North Carolina, with rival sectors drawn by Duke’s Blue Devils at Durham, and North Carolina State’s Wolfpack at Raleigh, but completed by the Tar Heels of Carolina in the bucolic setting of Chapel Hill.
In fact, consolidated ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) championships by the three powerhouses represent 48 titles out of 64 seasons, for a 75% margin of victory. Even now, as I write this, Carolina has defeated Duke 74-69 to compete against Virginia for its 19th ACC Championship and a place at the NCAA Championship table.
With a long legacy of league leadership, Leah and I concluded that a look around Chapel Hill might offer some insight into Carolina’s dominance.
The campus was abustle, as classes were winding down in anticipation of Spring Break, and time was running out for research papers due by March 9th.
We wound our way around to the sports complex where the public address system at Kenan Memorial Stadium blared a recitation of upcoming Tar Heel dates for Spring sports, which piqued our interest. Perhaps we could find the answers to some of our questions here, so we entered the Charlie Justice Hall of Honor.
We were overwhelmed by the floor to ceiling showcases of memorabilia, photographs, trophies and historical artifacts detailing the history of Carolina football. As I positioned my camera to my eye to capture the glory days of Lawrence Taylor, I was suddenly greeted by the authoritative voice of an attendant behind a long arc of a desk who demanded to know our business.
“Uh, we were looking for access to the stadium, and though it might be through here,” I suggested.
“There is absolutely no photography allowed in the building,” she insisted. “Especially when the athletes are in the weight room.”
At the end of a corridor lined with decorated Tar Heel helmets on one side, and an assortment of NFL helmets on the other, was a glass wall offering a view of several oversized students pressing, curling, squatting and deadlifting 250 pounds or more.
I put my camera by my side. “If you could just tell us how to get to the stadium, we’ll be on our way,” I back-pedaled, not wanting her to think I was spying for a competing organization.
Pointing, she offered matter-of-factly,” Through those doors, and takes the stairs to the left of Choo Choo.”
We mounted the stairs, filed past security’s bag search, and entered a cavernous oval overlooking the first level.
On the field, the Denver lacrosse squad was completing drills before their opening scrum with the Tar Heels.
When the match began, the 63,000 missing fans could not drown out the rap and disco music excerpts that echoed throughout the stands. Leah and I left with the score tied at 1 after 17 minutes of playing time, and with no greater appreciation for rap and disco music.
However, we did fall in love with Patrick Dougherty’s installation of weaving whimsy…
as we passed the front lawn of UNC’s Ackland Art Museum…
on our way to the truck before the meter timed-out,
which served as a visual metaphor for the intricacies of basket(ball) art of a different sort.
With rain forecasted for most of the following day,
we decided to take our investigation indoors where it mattered most.
Inside the museum, we had the run of the court,
dodging and weaving around interactive exhibits detailing every aspect of the game…
that contributed to the success of a program that became a pipeline to the NBA!
When gauging the quantitative results of the team, one need not look any further than the volume of awards.
And if all-time National Championships were a deciding factor, Carolina has seven.
Only Kentucky with 8, and UCLA with 11 have more.
Yet aside from great coaching (Dean Smith and Roy Williams have contributed to the second highest all-time winning percentage at .739) and recruiting amazing talent, Carolina also has the X Factor–
–arguably the greatest player to ever play the game–and the museum has devoted a shrine of artifacts in his name.
Most illuminating are correspondence letters from Coach K…
and Dean Smith…
that directed Michael Jordan’s path and launched him on a career that would shatter records and inspire a new age of athletes…
to become future role models in their own right and not much of a secret after all.