zigga zoomba


Usually when I write about basketball, I warn you right off: if you don’t enjoy it the way I do, then feel free to skip this particular entry. However, in the lingering sting of today’s loss, I’m going to try and put into words exactly why I bother, and use language designed for those readers who only see a leather ball, an iron rim, and a bunch of people running around in culottes.

Nutty fans give college hoops a terrible name. In particular are the Kameron Krazies, a numbnut group of ravenously twee dorks who shoepolish their nipples dark blue, scream classless and deeply unfunny bullshit at opposing teams, and jump up and down with the sort of mindless hegemony last seen by the German army in “Triumph of the Will.”

Add to this Madison Avenue’s idea of college fandom, which is unfailingly a balding, fat, aging fuckwad busy torturing his family with a minivan painted orange, or freaking out at Applebee’s, or woofing at insurance ladies while wearing styrofoam antennae. This kind of shit is fine if you want to sell deep-fried wings or beer, but it gives me Stupid Feeling™ and no doubt makes some people rankle at college sports in general and March Madness in particular.

Understand, then, that this type of obsession is not practiced by everybody. There are those for whom college basketball is a spiritual thing – as serious as medicine, as frivolous as dessert, and as important as religion. For me, Carolina basketball came to represent a way of thinking. It’s not just scoring more points than your opponent, it’s a method of conducting your affairs. I know that sounds silly, but bear with me.

The progenitor of much of this is Dean Smith, who was UNC’s coach from 1961 to 1997. He innovated entire swaths of the sport that affect everything from YMCA pick-up games to the NBA Finals. Apart from being an incredible man who was the first to integrate southern white-only basketball, he also lent his hand to gay rights, peace activism and stopping the death penalty – all under the auspices of his religious faith. He is truly one of the last of a giant, dying breed: the liberal Christians.

He also hated to lose. There are a number of stories about him getting under the skin of other coaches, pushing their buttons, and occasionally being a sneaky little gadfly. He was also a virulent smoker with a failed marriage (who quit smoking and remarried happily) but it is also his slightly-flawed humanity that makes him such a stunning character.

I will cut to the chase. He had several rules about playing basketball, some of which I will list here – first describing what they mean to the game, and then what they mean to me.

1. “You play the first half to get to the second half.”

Basketball meaning: Just survive the first twenty minutes of play, because what counts is the end of the game. If you are still competitive at halftime, start over and outscore them.

To me: The first part of any endeavor is almost always a slog, especially when dealing with massive works of art: a script, a musical, a novel, even a long piece of journalism. Think of how great it will be when you give your work the last semicolon; the last period. Don’t worry too much in the early going of any relationship. Don’t get despondent. The final act hasn’t been written yet. You aren’t fired. In fact, for all you know, your boss might be fired first.

2. “Take the shots you want, not what the defense gives you.”

Basketball meaning: Your game plan is to get the ball to your hot players, and to make set plays for an open shot. Your opponent is big down low? They like to run? Who cares? Make them play YOUR GAME.

To me: Don’t ever second-guess your strengths, and don’t ever give up on a plan without concrete evidence of failure. Come into an interview with a clear knowledge of the conversation you want to have. If you are a brilliant actor, don’t try to write; if you don’t want to be bored, bring a book.

3. “When you get blocked, go straight back up with the ball.”

Basketball meaning: Usually, a player who makes a block has either exhausted his energy getting to you, or is busy celebrating, so if the ball comes back to you, chances are good for an open lay-up.

To me: A huge failure generally frees you for another project. If someone pulls the rug out from under you, and all your funding is gone, make seven phone calls THAT DAY. When God closes a window, it’s usually because the door was always open.

4. “Point out the passer.”

Basketball meaning: When you make a basket, immediately point out the person who threw you the ball. This deflects praise to the true creator of the play.

To me: Never forget where you came from. Never foster resentments to those under you. You had help, and don’t fucking forget it.

5. “Give the tired signal if you want a rest.”

Basketball meaning: The coach doesn’t take you out – YOU decide when you need a rest. Put your fist in the air, and you will have relief.

To me: Know your limitations. Don’t stay at that party until 3am; she is never going to come.

6. “The Carolina Way.”

Basketball meaning: Dean Smith and his successors Bill Guthridge and now Roy Williams never let any of their players go out alone into the world. The Carolina family will always be there with advice, help, and occasionally life-saving gestures. When ex-point guard Phil Ford went into rehab, Dean learned the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and went to meetings with him. When Richard Vinroot went to Vietnam (a war Dean despised), the only postcards he got were from his parents and from Coach Smith. Old players never quite leave. Michael Jordan will show up to give a pep talk. Vince Carter calls for advice. It is a loving fraternity like no other.

To me: You will see commenters on this blog who have been friends for more than twenty years (and we’re not that old yet). My life would be so much the lesser without Bud, Chip, Jon, Lindsay, Kendall, Salem, Greggy and everyone of us (Gribster! Lee! Suzanne! Andy! Bill! Greg! Dean! Scruggs! Neva! Etc! SO MANY!) who spent those spring days in Chapel Hill soaking in the dogwoods.

I admit it, I’m an asshole homer. I will instinctively give jobs, hire and promote fellow Cackalackians. And for those of you who didn’t go to school with us, we’re an open fraternity/sorority, and you’ve got a bid. Hell, my two favorite roommates ever were dookies, Scotty and Lars (well, tied for third. My Tar Heel wife and my Tar Heel brother get #1 and #2).

I may be a jackass, a pill-popping leftist stooge and fat with a double-chin(?) but I am fiercely loyal. You’d have to murder a lot of puppies to lose me. Carolina taught me that nothing is meaningful without your family, both nuclear and extended.

As for the game today, sure, I’m heartbroken. We had what seemed to be a golden path to the Elite Eight. We made terrible decisions and it’s hard to believe this dream season is over. But this has been my favorite UNC team ever – they worked so hard and obviously loved each other. There is also this sense with Roy that if you followed his directions and toiled beyond compare, any one of us could have made the 2005-2006 squad. Even Lindsay.

And I’ve never said this before, but this time I think it’s fitting: Just wait until next year.


24 thoughts on “zigga zoomba

  1. Kate from the DTH front desk

    Great post!
    I enjoyed the ‘basketball meanings’ very much, but the personal meanings are worth so much more.
    I was pretty bummed after our loss to George Mason, and then my sister called me and said, “Didn’t George Mason die in a nuclear explosion in the desert a few years back?” You might have to watch 24 to understand and/or appreciate that, but it made me laugh.
    I’m proud of the season we’ve had, and like you said, just wait until next year.

  2. dean from Bub's and Troll's

    Great post — nice salve for my wounds. I liked the part about the Carolina Family. I own my own company and am often inundated with resumes. It took a while for everyone to realize that any resume that contains dook on it must go in the trash immediately. I mean, really, can I ever see myself working with a dookie?! But, resumes from UNC or Wake get a second look. Fair? Damn right!

  3. Johnny

    I am *not* a college hoops fan, but your post makes me “get it” to a greater degree. It is in may ways analogous to how we Canadians have come to feel about hockey. The only thing I don’t understand is how “The Carolina Way” produced a nimrod like Vince Carter, who routinely and self-admittedly mailed it in in Toronto so he could get out of town?

  4. Tanya

    I’m still feeling the sting of Sunday’s loss, but it’s abating a little. Ian, your blog definitely helped. Now, I’ll just be cheering my hardest for any team dook is playing. God, I just couldn’t stomach dook winning the whole enchilada. Ugh!

  5. Neva

    Thank you for the wonderful post. Chicken Soup for the Tarheel soul! And, thanks for mentioning me Ian. I feel I have an incredible Carolina family too and your blog helps me feel connected to them in many ways.
    I got an email today sent out to all UNC faculty that there is going to be a gathering in the pit in about an hour to reflect on the “recent events” of the past few weeks. I’m assuming they mean the guy in the pit not the loss yesterday but I don’t know? After the student body president speaks there will be a moment of silence and finally a Bluegrass band will play and everyone will enjoy this beautiful spring day. What an incredible place this is!

  6. Just Andrew

    great entry Ian. Last fall I think all us Tar Heels were gearing ourselves up to not have expectations for this team, then when they did what they did this year, it made a 2nd round loss burn. I’m OK with the loss – I was expecting a rough year and instead had a great one. Instead of being mad today, I’m just a little bit snippy.
    14 guys I don’t know directly influence my mood all winter depending on how well they do playing a game. It may sound silly to some, but it is downright normal for some of us.
    Great year, Heels, thanks as always.

  7. Sean Williams

    Best. Blog. Ever.
    If you really did whip this off yesterday after the loss, then I am slack-jawed. I fully believe you did, and I have no idea how you manage such incredible writing without a day or so of editing.
    If I were you, when you get in this kind of a creative place, I’d write seven or eight blogs that you can keep in your hip pocket for those nights you really don’t feel like writing. Those of us writing music have it easy. We’ve got about thirty half-baked bad ideas waiting for an emergency.

  8. emma

    Agreed – this was a great entry. It is always great to hear the true life importance of the comaraderie (sp?) of basketball to us basketball/sports widows. Greg from Winston Dorm summed it up (not so concisely, but very moving) well in his opus last year on how the national championship and UNC bball helps many deal with hard times in their lives.
    Another rule that Dean Smith lived by was “Never use your time outs until it is absolutely necessary.” I think that translates to something for me – I just can’t seem to put it in words.

  9. Bill

    The Tar Heels loss has not affected me like it normally would. I’m disappointed, but this surprising team already delighted me with its season — they seemed a year ahead of where we thought they would be. Still, a Final Four march would have been nice.
    Maybe I’d had my fill of basketball by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around. I attended the first and second rounds in Salt Lake City, where I saw Adam Morrison act oddly on the court and walk through the lobby of my hotel on the way to breakfast. Man, that guy has some manic tendencies and super skinny legs.
    Salt Lake City — weird vibe in that place.
    Minor press coverage of my NCAA hoops crew, courtesy of the Albany Times-Union: http://timesunion.com/ASPStories/storyprint.asp?StoryID=461062. Now if only they had overnighted the right shirts AND Albany had upset UConn — then we’d be headed for an appearance on “Good Morning Albany” or something.
    I’m reading “To Hate Like This…” about the UNC-Dook rivalry, and thoroughly enjoying Will Blythe’s dissection of good vs. evil, the karmic consequences of screaming at Coach K on the TV, an intimate behind-the-scenes look at Melvin Scott as an NCAA athlete parable, etc. I commend it to all Tar Heel fans.
    In that spirit, I’m now resigned to rooting for Anyone But Dook.

  10. jje

    Brilliant. Simply brilliant. I’m saving this one and forwarding your URL to a few friends today. I used this DES quote yesterday:
    “If you make every game a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”
    I’m still alive and half-heartedly kicking today, but please, please…let anybody win but dook!

  11. scruggs

    Great pick-me-upper today. I would have loved David Noel to go out a little further down the line, but hopefully he knows how people just love him and this team like none past. (And not bitter, but Psycho T led the ACC in FT attempts but didn’t have even one yesterday?)We had a great year.
    Dean is the epitome of class, and I have just started getting around to reading my husband’s copy of his Coach’s Life book. The introduction lists those who helped with the book and he even gives a shoutout to some faculty committee (including Mark McCombs, the coolest guy in the Math dept) he’d meet with while writing it. The Carolina Way is also about elevating and praising the little guy, too, on and off the court! Could you imagine Dean or Roy petitioning the NCAA to drop losses from an “injury sabbatical?” Or making a cheesy car commercial that plays INCESSANTLY?” Though I did like the one Dean did after he retired where he is sitting all alone in the DDome with a foam #1 hand, ready to cheer. Cute.
    I think one of my father’s happiest moments in the short 54 years he was around was the time Dean showed up at our local country club in Columbia SC, years ago, looking to play a round. Everyone there knew how big a UNC fan my dad was, so they tracked him down to play the round with him. What a euphoric 3+ hours that had to have been. Of course, we got some looks when I had the interlocking NC put on my father’s memorial marker, but it seemed fun at the time and he would have dug it.

  12. eric g.

    thanks for the shout-out, ian. i, too, am incredibly indebted to the carolina family of which you wrote so eloquently this morning. i’ve been eating, sleeping and breathing carolina hoops since before i can remember. (apparently i used to dribble my little white and blue basketball around our apartment at fidelity court when i was two screaming “i’m george karl!” the fact that he was then the carolina point guard (and weighed less than 200 pounds) is today’s reminder that i am indeed getting old.) thanks for this post. it summed up nicely why i have a warm glow about this year’s team, which better than any other embodied the spirit of dean smith. that glow is, of course, tempered by the gloomy feeling i get in the pit of my stomach when the season ends with anything other than a “w.” just wait ’til next year. it’s gonna be a hell of a ride.

  13. Greg from Winston Dorm

    I said it before that this was my third favorite Carolina team of all time, behind 1993 and 2005.
    I think Ian’s blog entry today strikes the right balance and understanding of how we die-hard Carolina fans follow our beloved Tar Heels. It would be a pity indeed if we all lived and died with the fortunes of the team. Rather, the important lesson is that we all seem to LIVE our respective lives to the fullest while taking the time to enjoy and mark the milestones in our life with Carolina basketball.
    If you ask me about the last five weeks of my life, I’m more apt to brag to you about the joys of becoming a first time father and seeing my son come into the world and admiring my wife like never before.
    But if you press me further and ask me to characterize my last five weeks in the context of sports, I’ll tell you that I was sitting beside my wife’s bed in the delivery room helping her breath through the contractions the night Tyler Hansbrough dropped 40 on Georgia Tech. Or that watching Carolina beat Wake Forest from the hospital bedroom on February 19th while holding my sleeping son (his first Carolina game) provided me with a serene type of joy that I’d never experienced before.
    Carolina basketball is the drawing together of old friends from this blog and other places with animated phone calls and hurried text messages: “Did you see that Noel dunk?”
    Objectively speaking, I don’t gather that dook fans feel as much of a connection with their team. I do know that they don’t gather in Atlanta like we do.
    Sarah, I agree with your comment about Tyler. Some unnamed source projected Tyler as a #17 pick in the draft this year. I just don’t see him bolting on the heels of yesterday’s lackluster performance. And he’s going to love patrolling the paint next year with Brendan Wright at his side.
    Jengel, your brother-in-law is a good writer. But I’d kill to have the access he enjoys. The rest of us amateur hacks don’t get to see Quentin lying on the floor of the shower in the locker room in Dayton. At least Adam is kind enough to make us feel like we enjoy his access.
    Emma, thanks for the shout out regarging my “Opus” to Carolina basketball. If you take out that photograph and the front cover sheet, it’s really only about 50 pages and not 52! But I had to stretch it to make it a secondary homage to my fellow Gastonian, James Worthy. (He was #52)

  14. lee

    Maybe since we lost this weekend our boys won’t go to the NBA this year?? And then we get them all to ourselves again next year!! Selfish, I know.

  15. Lindsay (taking the bait)

    Great post, except for the part that it was written by you, of course.
    Me = David Noel’s positive attitude + Jackie Manuel’s recognition of on-court limitations + Ken Pomerory’s ability to pick NCAA brackets
    Ian = Matt Christensen’s impulse control with a side order of Trajan Langdon’s shot selection with Koach K’s vocabulary, and losing to a High-picks-only bracket in the ESPN pool.
    That being said…
    …it’s odd that I read two internet posts that sum up what I’ve always thought about UNC hoops but have never been able to put into words. I would also say that Dean Himself has never quite made the connection between “doing things the right way” on the court and in life quite so directly, even though he has written a book on the subject.
    Here’s the other one:

  16. Ian

    I was going to add Dean’s “never use a timeout” as a metaphor for “you should already know what to do.” And his “living and dying” comment is one I told Tessa yesterday to keep me from driving our car into the ocean.
    Lindsay’s comment, which was very funny except for the fact that Lindsay wrote it, has a great link by old uncbasketball.com poster Tar Heel Bill, who asserts that UNC plays a game that thrives (and occasionally loses) based on what he calls “moral authority.” I couldn’t agree more, but I see it a little differently.
    In many senses, we tend to be a team that gets freaked out when our opponents “don’t play by the rules” (hard fouls, etc.) or something bizarre happens (half-court heaves go in, backboard shatters, power goes out). We routinely play poorly after a week off. When things aren’t according to Hoyle, we can tank. It’s a rigidity that we often overcome, but many of our losses can be chalked up to it.

  17. Lindsay

    “When things aren’t according to Hoyle, we can tank. It’s a rigidity that we often overcome, but many of our losses can be chalked up to it.”
    True, but I don’t usually take those losses as badly as some people I know.
    The nice thing about having an Achilles’ heel, is that it tends to come with a pair of Achilles’ arms, Achilles’ legs, Achilles’ six-pack abs, etc.
    But, yes, we are often picked on and knocked around by the tough guys.
    I’ve got no real beef with what Ian said about hard fouls, just thought this pic would cheer everyone up.

  18. caveman

    bless you Lindsay, that picture of Mr Peepers was just what the doctor ordered…..now I must return to my war on beer

  19. wvlheel

    Emma – to extrapolate on Coach Smith’s opinion on the use of timeouts – I liked Coach Williams’ quote this year. He was commenting on a difficult stretch during a game where he wouldn’t call a timeout to settle the troops. “I didn’t get them into that mess, and I wasn’t going to get them out of it” – or something to that effect.
    I took that to mean that when times get tough, don’t take the easy way out. You should keep trudging along while giving your best effort and concentration, and not look for anyone to bail you out of that particular jam.
    I’m not sure if we did that yesterday (Coach Williams did in fact take a TO to try and calm the second half storm), but its a decent metaphor (maybe).
    Oh well, this morning I felt like I had lost a small piece of me, but now I’m better. It was a great season. At the beginning of the season I looked at the schedule and tried to find 10 wins.


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