05 April 2016


by Andy Weddington
Tuesday, 05 April 2016

I am sure no man can derive more pleasure from money or power than I do from seeing a pair of basketball goals in some out of the way place. James Naismith

Never could James Naismith have imagined what his invention in 1891 - the game of basketball - would become. Pairs of basketball goals are indeed in out of the way places, and all over the place. 

The beauty and complexity of today's game is for its wonderful simplicity - put the ball in the basket - and the mastery of fundamentals (offensive and defensive) necessary to make (or prevent) a goal. The point is score points and the team with the most points when time expires wins. 

Seventy-seven years after Naismith's invention, 48 years ago - but a North Carolina kid raised in the heart of ACC country who played on neighborhood dirt half courts and schoolyard asphalt full courts - I watched the (1968) NCAA men's basketball championship game.

It seems like yesterday. 

The players appeared not kids but men. And in the day most any of my pals could rattle off the starting lineups of every team in the ACC. 

The 1968 Tarheels, coached by a young Dean Smith, played in that championship game. Many of the names still I recall - Dick Grubar; Rusty Clark; Bill Bunting; Eddie Fogler; Charlie Scott; Gerald Tuttle; and my all-time favorite, Larry Miller.  

So did the Bruins of UCLA, coached by John Wooden (already a legend for champion teams) play in that game. The more famous players I recall - Lew Alcindor; Lucius Allen; Mike Warren; and Lynn Shackleford.

That year 23 teams (Villanova was not one of them) made the tournament. The championship game was played, in Los Angeles, on the next to last Saturday (night) in March. 

Only because it was a Saturday night did my parents allow me to stay up so late to watch the game. I remember chips and dip and Coke. And the excitement. 

UCLA won. Handily. 78-55. 

The loss hurt. For a long time. 

That night there was another kid in North Carolina - a few years younger than me whom I did not know but surely played neighborhood and schoolyard basketball - that was probably not allowed by his parents to stay up late and watch the game.

Fourteen years later that kid, Michael Jordan - a freshman amongst a roster of famous names, hit a shot with seconds to go to beat Georgetown and give Dean Smith's Tarheels a national championship. 

That year the players were younger than me. They did not seem like men. Yet. 

Eleven years later the Tarheels, under Coach Smith, won another title. 

And there's been a couple since.

Last evening I watched the championship game. 

For grace of living in a friendly time zone, I did not have to stay up late. Nor did I need my parents' permission. Chips and dip and Coke are no longer on the menu, even for special occasions. 

The players looked like kids. 

Michael Jordan, once named Naismith College Player of the Year, was there. So were many former Tarheels. There was no mention of any 1968 players present. I wondered about Larry Miller. 

A player for North Carolina wore number 44 - Larry Miller's number (I thought had been retired). In 1968 I wore a Carolina Blue sweatshirt, until it was a rag, that I'd Magic Marker'ed up - front, back, and sleeves - with 44 and Tarheels. That treasure of youth, worn that 1968 game night, is long gone. Maybe karma, anyway.

Over the years my fanaticism for sports, especially ACC basketball, has tempered. But I enjoy watching excellence, no matter what it is, on occasion. 

Last evening the Tarheels squared off against Villanova.

Based on earlier tournament observations, I thought Carolina would win by 5 or less. 

It was a good game - with moments of excellence. 

Carolina by 5 at the half. 

In the end this edition of the Tarheels beaten as a three-pointer swished as time expired. Even basketball is a game of inches and seconds and fractions thereof. 

Thirty-four years after his famous shot, Michael Jordan experienced a fan's perspective. 

Last night's loss did not hurt. I turned off the lights and went to bed.

After all, it's just a basketball game - played by kids.

They'll learn. 

Time heals, Heels. 

Congratulations, Villanova! And Wildcat faithful. 

Post Script

For me the game's highlight was not the buzzer-beater shot but came before tip-off - the Sailor who belted out our National Anthem. Wow!

Last evening the players of both teams surely did not sleep though for different reasons. But sleep I did, peaceably, for knowing Marines and Sailors (and Soldiers and Airmen), some younger than the basketball players, stand duty about the globe taking and making critical shots - hunting and killing bad guys. Theirs not a game but deadly business - our colors and National Anthem and us they willingly and courageously protect and defend. 

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