Believe it or not, every season of Carolina Basketball I get so frustrated with them that I seriously consider not watching ever again. I’m conditioned to believe that they’ll win every game they play when in fact they’ve only gone undefeated once in 100 seasons. I sort of did that last season when I got so angry with them beating themselves (all 4 times), that I would DVR the game and not start watching it from the beginning until the 2nd half started. That way, by the time I caught up to the live feed, the game was over or almost over and I would know the outcome. It helped save a few years on the end of my life, so that was worth it. This season, to say the least, has been frustrating. So frustrating, that I’m at the point where I have to laugh to keep from crying. Last night watching the UNC/FSU game, I actually physically hurt when one turnover after another just made my muscles ache.
Then, I got up this morning, and as I do after every game, I log on to tarheelblue.com and read Adam Lucas’s post-game column. I’ve studied most of the great literary writers in history. Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is still a page turner, and I find something I missed in Shakespeare every time I read him. But no one has ever made me feel like he was sitting in my living room watching the game with me like Adam Lucas. Like clock work, after every game, Adam posts a column not about the stats and percentages but about the story behind the game. He’s moved me to tears and made me laugh…sometimes in the same column. In short, he’s more often than not put what I was thinking in print because he’s just as much a fan as the rest of us.
North Carolina is currently a .500 team that could end up being a below .500 team before it’s all said and done. A rare occurence at best. In the 100 years of Tar Heel Basketball, the program has amassed a nearly 74% winning percentage second only to Kentucky in the history of college basketball. This losing thing is really kind of new to all of us. In those 100 seasons, the program has experienced a .500 or below season just 11 times. ELEVEN TIMES! Think about that. It’s entirely possible that someone had an entire lifetime without EVER seeing Carolina have a losing season. So, as I read the words that Adam Lucas wrote to remind us all that no fan of any other team is feeling sorry for us…that in fact, they’re likely rejoicing in our learning how the other half lives, I laughed. I remembered just how incredibly lucky I am to be a Carolina fan. To know that the one place where people like Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter, and Antawn Jamison are just “one of the guys” is tiny little Chapel Hill, NC because those bigger than life NBA and former NBA players will never be bigger than the program itself.
Using the advice his own father gave him after a Carolina loss, Adam reminded us just how important it is to be a Carolina fan during the good times AND the bad times. “You have to sit through the bad ones to enjoy the good ones.” Truer words were never spoken. I remember feeling the sweetness when we won the National Championship just 11 months ago (yes…that was just 11 months ago) because the year before had ended on such a horribly sour note in the Final Four. I remember crying all the way to church the next day because I was so upset, and then I remember just 12 months later not being able to wipe the stupid, silly grin off my face. Even now, when I think about that run to the championship, I still giggle a little. Someday, we’ll all look back on this and laugh…I hope…when we think about how frustrated we all were. How we all felt like a program that has spent nearly 90% of its lifetime winning more games during the season than losing them couldn’t catch a break this season. And I hope when we are at that point, we will look back and remember that Adam Lucas was the one who set us on this course by finding the silver lining in the midst of misery.
Feb. 24, 2010
By Adam Lucas
In the spring of 1986, I cried when Louisville beat Carolina in the NCAA Tournament round of 16. It was a sound 15-point whipping, as “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison was in the middle of one of the best months of his basketball life. It left my beloved Tar Heels without a Final Four for the fourth year in a row–imagine that, four straight years without a Final Four!–and I went to my room, cried, and wished evil things for Never Nervous Pervis (it worked, as he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings).
I’m not particularly proud of the reaction. Since then, I have moved on to much more mature responses to losses, such as breaking things. At the time, though, I think my parents were a little concerned about what type of weirdo/person they were raising. After what I imagine was probably some intense negotiation, with my mother slamming down her fist and yelling, “I have to pack his lunch every day, do you know what it’s like to make peanut butter and jelly five days a week?” my dad came into my room very cautiously.
It was at that moment that he gave me some of the most profound advice he ever shared with me. Yes, even ahead of, “Don’t plan on being tall,” or, “A red light is a great place to catch a nap.”
This is what he said: “You have to sit through the bad ones to enjoy the good ones.”
And he was right. It didn’t make me like Never Nervous Pervis (you’d be surprised how many ways a 9-year-old can find to make fun of a name like “Pervis”) any better, but it did make it feel a little sweeter seven years later when George Lynch and the Tar Heels were on top of that ladder cutting down the nets in the Superdome. Somehow, I felt like I’d earned it. I’d weathered Louisville and Syracuse and Arizona and Kansas. Michigan felt good.
The truth is, we don’t sit through many bad ones as Carolina basketball fans. No one feels sorry for us. You know that, right? They love this. They are downright gleeful that for three months out of our lives, we’re experiencing what it’s like to be everyone else. We’re even having to talk about…next year.
We stink at talking about next year. That’s because we have no practice at it. Next year to us might as well be 20 years away (same with last year, but that’s a different column). Most every year that I’ve been alive except for maybe three, a Carolina basketball season has been about this year until the last possible second elapses in the NCAA Tournament.
Take Roy Williams’s first year. That team couldn’t figure out how to play together long enough for the water to get hot. But when the brackets came out on Selection Sunday, do you know what everyone said? “Carolina is a Final Four sleeper.” This year.
That was crazy talk. But it was Carolina, so it made sense. Struggles are never a permanent condition. The Tar Heels are .500 right now and every national media outlet is wondering what’s wrong. You know where this team will be next November? Right back in the national preseason top-25. This isn’t a foundation-shaking season. It’s just a disappointing season.
If you’re a Tar Heel, in most years sitting through the bad ones means that maybe six or seven times a season, you’re miserable. This year is different. This year, now that I’m a father and don’t want to risk raising my son to be the same weirdo/person that I am, I’m having to come up with different ways to answer the question, “Daddy, did the Tar Heels win last night?” at the breakfast table each morning after a game.
Usually, I try to distract him with Spiderman, which has a remarkable success rate.
Maybe it would be better to tell him the truth, to prepare him that there will be some bad ones along the way to all the good ones. And the truth is that Wednesday night was a bad one. On Wednesday night, Florida State was demonstrably better than Carolina. The Tar Heels couldn’t get stops when they needed them, shot 52 percent from the field in the first half and still trailed by 15 points, and committed too many silly turnovers.
You don’t worry about the upperclassmen quite as much, because they’ve won at Carolina and know how to win. It’s the freshmen that concern you.
“I don’t want to feel like this ever again,” Dexter Strickland said. “I feel embarrassed. It’s probably the worst game I’ve ever played and it’s aggravating.”
Without prompting, though, he quickly turned the focus to the future.
“This season will help us in the future,” he said. “This feeling I have right now, it makes me want to play even harder to make sure I never feel this way again.”
The freshmen don’t have to look far to see recent examples of other Tar Heels who endured first-year hardships on the way to eventual success. Raymond Felton played in the NIT. Jawad Williams was on a team that didn’t even qualify for the NIT.
Both left Carolina as national champions, which means when they return to Chapel Hill they are kings. They played through the bad ones to get to the good ones, and both would tell you even today that the ending was a little bit sweeter because of the way it all began.
“I talked to Melvin (Scott) the other day,” John Henson said. “He told me you have to keep pushing. He said they had their rough times, and if you fold up, it’s going to be worse. We can’t do that.”
Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly. He is also the author or co-author of five books on Carolina basketball, including the just-released book on the 2009 national title, One Fantastic Ride. Get real-time UNC sports updates from the THM staff on Twitter.