Feb. 10, 2007
By Adam Lucas
Michael Jordan is in the kitchen making coffee.
Where else, other than Jordan's house, do they say those words?
Saturday, that's exactly what the man who came to Chapel Hill as a lanky basketball player and exploded into a worldwide brand was doing. This is to be considered normal at Carolina. You walk into the basketball office a couple of hours before the game, and there's an all-time great taking cream and sugar.
Can this be considered normal? On this day, in this place, at this time, it was.
Days like this don't happen anywhere else. You know that, right?
It takes a really remarkable day to be extraordinary in Chapel Hill. This is a place where NBA All-Stars roam the halls in the summer and players from one of the nation's best college teams can often be found playing ping-pong in the basement.
But Saturday was extraordinary.
It started with the dedication of the newly-named Bill Guthridge Locker Room, as the Tar Heel locker room was renamed for one of the most dedicated Tar Heels ever. The ceremony was held in the tiny hallway outside the locker room, with a podium wedged against the door and attendees standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
Roy Williams likes to bring his team in tight before they take the floor in a big road game, so they can feel the energy and the closeness. It was the same way for the dedication. There was the entire living roster of the 1957 title team on that side of the podium. Here was the 1982 team on this side. It was like walking through a Carolina Basketball Encyclopedia.
"It's a great thrill for me to pull up in the parking lot and see the Dean Smith Center," Roy Williams told the small crowd. "And it will be a great thrill for me to walk into the locker room and see the Bill Guthridge Locker Room."
Guthridge is best-known by some Carolina fans for his calm sideline demeanor, crunching ice while directing the Tar Heels to two Final Fours in three years as a head coach. Few outside the locker room ever got to see the passion that burned behind that façade.
He started out with his trademark dry wit, saying, "I have to pinch myself. Usually this only happens to people when they're dead. So I wanted to make sure I was OK."
Then the tears came. As he tried to thank his family, the tears came, and they wouldn't stop.
But it wasn't uncomfortable. Everyone pressed together in that small space knew how much he'd given to Carolina, how much his time in Chapel Hill had meant to him. In a bigger setting, it probably would have been cause for some applause to pick him up. In this environment, though, it was OK to soak in the feelings.
Eventually, he recovered. "You know, I could beat anybody running the golf course," Guthridge said, "except for Michael Jordan. He wouldn't lose."
That's when you heard a familiar deep chuckle. And standing right next to you was Michael Jordan.
Do I lose professionalism points by telling you that it made my stomach flip?
Jordan, of course, was the picture of calm. "I couldn't lose," he said. "I would've had to run again."
So do you see why highlights won't work for this day? It was about relationships and hugs and the ties that bind.
The '82 team is a bunch of rock stars. Really, they are. They have a handful of members who need just one name--Jordan and Perkins and Worthy and Coach Smith. In most places, they would be the show. The beauty of Saturday was that they were as enthralled by the 1957 team as everyone else was by the '82 squad.
"Don't get me wrong, I want to see the guys from my class," Perkins said. "But I also wanted to see the history that came before me. Those '57 guys, they are so close. And it's great to see that."
The 37-point win over Wake Forest was perhaps the most anticlimactic ACC basketball game in conference history. This story is supposed to be about the game. Do you mind if we just skip that part?
For the first time ever, no one left their seats at halftime. And when the '57 and '82 teams took the floor together, flashbulbs popped like the first pitch of the World Series.
They were saluted with videos put together by Jones Angell, Ken Cleary and Justin Burnett. Maybe you were part of the crowd of 21,750 that watched the videos along with the players. But if you took just a moment to take your eyes off the screen and watch the players, you saw something that would make you shiver:
Several of the 1957 players were crying. They played in an era with no television, no internet, and only the barest of radio. And now, 50 years later, they were being greeted with a roar from over 20,000 people who still appreciated what they had done.
Will anyone remember what you've done today 50 years from now? And if so, can you imagine how good it would feel?
And then, the '82 introductions. Perkins, Worthy, Jordan and Smith on the end of the line. This was not just a moment for Carolina basketball--it was a moment for the entire basketball world. And when you looked over at the tiny Wake Forest rooting section behind their bench, you couldn't help but notice that almost every single one of them had out their cameras or cell phones, snapping photos so they could prove they were there, too, on a very memorable day. It's impressive, sure, when you're loved by your own. It's even more impressive when you're respected by your foes.
Jordan threw his left arm around Smith and planted a kiss on the top of his head as the head coach--he'll always be the head coach, even if Roy Williams officially bears the title now--was introduced. It was a spine-tingler. The greatest basketball player of all time and the regal coach who often kept his emotions hidden, for one brief second open for the entire world to see.
We hear and read about the Carolina basketball family. In that moment, Jordan and Smith cracked the door for all of us to actually see it.
"Sometimes, on a day-to-day basis, we get so wrapped up in the next practice that we don't take time to look at the rafters at the jerseys or banners and think about the history here," Wes Miller said. "We've got it around us with pictures and banners. But to actually have the people who are part of that history come back, and to see them so involved with the program, it shows how special Carolina basketball really is."
Tonight, Miller and the rest of his teammates will join the '57 and '82 players at a banquet where they'll get another taste of the history they are living. The current Tar Heels were in the locker room as the halftime ceremony ended. They didn't see the '57 and '82 teams embrace. One-by-one, they shook each other's hands--Rosenbluth and Black, Brennan and Worthy, Jordan and Kearns.
They've gone their own way and made their own reputations and lived separate lives. But in that moment, on the Smith Center floor, they greeted each other like brothers.
Like, yes, a family.
"It puts it into perspective," Bobby Frasor said. "It shows you how big North Carolina basketball is. It makes you so happy you're a part of it.
"We're lucky. We don't always think about it, but we're very lucky."
Adam Lucas's third book on Carolina basketball, The Best Game Ever, chronicles the 1957 national championship season and is available now. His previous books include Going Home Again, focusing on Roy Williams's return to Carolina, and Led By Their Dreams, a collaboration with Steve Kirschner and Matt Bowers on the 2005 championship team.