Last night my brother-in-law invited me to what was my first true initiation into North Carolina. Tarheels-Bluedevils basketball. He's got three little kids and his wife is out of town, so first he called up and asked if my wife could come over and babysit so he and I could go watch the game with some of his buddies.
Initially I thought we would be going to someone's house to watch the game and have a couple of beers and that would be that. Nope. Last night we ended up at the Visualite Theater to watch the game on the big screen.
I'm not that familiar with everything that is North Carolina, but I was aware of there being a little rivalry between Carolina and Duke, considering that the schools are only about 10 miles apart from each other.
Except for teams like UCLA, college basketball isn't the same in California. My glory days on the court ended when I graduated from high school and I didn't finish college, so I don't have the same devotion to college sports as many people out here do. I used to watch the Lakers back in the day, that was about it.
I was a little unprepared. Knowing that my father-in-law, sister-in-law, her husband, several of my wife's aunt's and uncles had all attended UNC Chapel Hill I wanted to fit in at the big game last night. So I hunted through my closet for any piece of clothing that would at least come close to being "Carolina Blue". What I finally found was a light blue and navy track jacket that once belonged to a member of the Bundeswehr*. So I put on my jacket and told my wife that it was a "North Carolina basketball, neutral-fan outfit" which, I found out later, doesn't exist. You can't be neutral. You're either a Tarheels fan or a Blue Devils fan.
So we picked up my brother-in-law's buddy and headed over to the Visualite. Rain poured down heavily, soaking all of us as we hustled to the doors of the theater. Inside, the place was packed with mostly, ex-Chapel Hill students. Come to find out later, when I was wondering where all the Duke fans were, the night's event was sponsored by the alumni association, or something like that. Slices of pizza were being sold and Tarheels swag given away. There was a raffle at half-time and $5 "Blue Cups" of Bud and Bud Light were being poured. For those who don't know about "Blue Cups"; there is a bar in Chapel Hill, He's Not Here, that serves beer in these 32 ounce plastic cups.
I'm not a sports writer so this post is more about people watching sports than an actual play-by-play of the game.
The game started out with the tip-off in favor of Carolina which immediately caused the crowd to erupt into cheers, followed by the first two-points on the board and more cheers. And it went on like that for the rest of the night. Anytime a Tarheels player did anything positive, like scoring or stealing the ball the crowd went crazy.
I started noticing that as the night wore on and more blue cups of Budweiser were consumed the cheering grew louder and the individual fans became more belligerant. One man near me, a grown man, with his face, beet-red with alcohol, slammed his fist on his cocktail table, raised his middle finger and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Pass the f**king ball Green! You f**king ***hole!" I'm sure Danny Green heard that. The fan didn't realize that he was shouting at a movie screen, I guess. But a moment later, Green scored and redeemed himself. He had been forgiven as made known by the guy's hoarse cheering, letting by-gones be by-gones. His buddy even joined in this time by lifting his chair and slamming it's legs down over and over again on the concrete floor. It was North Carolina's versions of soccer hooligans.
I've been a musician for many years now, so I've seen a lot of crazy drunk people. But I have to admit that it was fun being part of this crowd, crammed in the dark theater chanting "Defense!" at the movie screen. It was almost like you were actually at the game in the upper bleachers and could hear the voices echo off the wood floors of the court.
It was a basketball theater melodrama of sorts. The referee would make a call for Duke and the crowd would boo. The Tarheels would take advantage of a turnover and the crowd went wild with shouts and applause. They even laughed at a Duke student who was caught on camera at the game wiping tears away from his eyes as Carolina piled on more points. My brother-in-law remarked, "It's all right for a player to shed a couple of tears after a lost game, but man, you don't want to be a Duke fan caught crying on camera in front of this crowd."
Thank goodness Carolina won. I think people would have torn the place apart if Duke had claimed victory. When the game ended we shuffled to the exit and out onto the sidewalk. The rain had stopped. The sky was crystal clear as if God had ordained the win for Carolina. We walked out as fans tried to leave with their half-full Blue Cups, red-faced and staggering; pissing in the bushes of the parking lot. Ahhh, like I said, it was almost like you were actually at the game.
We got home and as I drifted off to sleep, with my ears ringing from the crowd noise and screams, I reflected on the evening and the game. I had a great time and had watched one of the best basketball games in my life..........next to the Lakers' 1987 & 1988 NBA Championship wins, that is.
*Bundeswehr is the name of the unified armed forces of the Republic of Germany (man, you can find out about anything on the internet). A funny story: My brother found a Bundeswehr track jacket several years ago at a thrift store in the farming community of Delano, California. In 2007 I found the exact same jacket in a small thrift store in Copenhagen, Denmark!