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Lucas: One Extraordinary Night
Feb. 10, 2007
By Adam Lucas
There is one room in the United States where Michael Jordan walks to the podium in front of a capacity audience and does not get a standing ovation. OK, maybe one room in the entire world where Michael Jordan walks to the podium in the front of a capacity audience and does not get a standing ovation.
Saturday night, that room was inside the Carolina Club on the UNC campus. Jordan was the last of four speakers to address a banquet honoring the 1957 and 1982 teams. And as he made his way to the front of the room, something remarkable happened--everyone clapped...while staying in their seats.
That's remarkable to you and to me. If Jordan walks to a podium in front of us, we stand on the chair and wave our hands above our heads and generally act like Julia Roberts in the polo scene from "Pretty Woman" (Woo woo woo!).
But in front of the '57 and '82 teams, Jordan is something he is nowhere else in the world--he is among peers. To some of them, he is still Mike Jordan. To all of them, he's simply family.
His presence was important because he was a key member of Dean Smith's first national championship. But as was mentioned several times during the night, and although history tends to obscure it, he was not the key member.
"I heard through the grapevine that Michael didn't want to speak tonight," said Jimmy Black, the point guard and co-captain from 1982 who was the first member of that team to address the gathering. "But Michael, with all you have accomplished, you can't step on any toes. I'm happy and proud to call you a teammate."
"This is our family," Roy Williams said as he opened the evening. "And we always want our family to feel good about coming back."
On nights like tonight, they wouldn't have any choice. Fifty years of Tar Heel history was in the room, from the full living roster of the '57 squad to the '82 team to the current team. Williams usually gives his current players one simple instruction at reunion events: "Don't try to be cool." It means he doesn't want them to send text messages during the speeches, doesn't want them to check their watches, and doesn't want them to guess how much longer the speaker will be at the podium.
Pete Brennan, the versatile forward from the '57 team, was the night's first speaker and he addressed the current Tar Heels directly.
"Guys, I want you to listen to this," he said. "In 1957, we all realized Lennie Rosenbluth was the best shooter we had. So the rest of us knew we had to become a better rebounder, or a better defensive player, or a better passer. We had to struggle with that through our sophomore years.
"And when we understood that and became a team during our junior years, that's when we won a national title."
That title is familiar to many Carolina fans but not always easily accessible to the current team. This is a generation that considers the '91 Bulls-Lakers NBA Finals to be a historic game. So it was instructive to watch Danny Green raise an eyebrow at Marcus Ginyard as the details of the '57 squad's back-to-back triple overtime wins in the Final Four were recounted.
"Being from the West Coast, I think I'm missing a part of that whole Carolina tradition," freshman Alex Stepheson said. "I wasn't able to live in that moment and in that time. So I'm excited about getting a taste of everything."
The day's earlier events included the unveiling of a new banner honoring the perfect 32-0 record of the '57 team and head coach Frank McGuire. To some fans, it might have been simply another banner. But to the '57 Tar Heels, it was recognition they had been seeking for decades. Not for themselves, but for McGuire.
"Frank McGuire meant everything to us," said the night's second speaker, '57 reserve Bob Young. "Getting him the recognition he deserved was the highlight of the day."
It was a testament to the events of the evening that everyone could have probably identified a unique highlight. One of them came next, as the '82 team was saluted with a special '82-centric version of the now traditional "One Shining Moment" video. February 10 will be remembered for many different things in Chapel Hill. But it will be hard to forget the opportunity to watch Jordan, Worthy, and Perkins watching much younger versions of themselves while the current Tar Heels bobbed their heads to the song every player hopes to watch from the NCAA podium after accepting a championship trophy.
"Hey," Black said when he took the microphone, "I can probably make my mile time after watching that video."
Ever intent on sharing the credit, Black also called co-captains Chris Brust and Jeb Barlow to the podium. Barlow's final words perfectly captured the spirit of the night.
"I didn't play a single minute in the championship game," he said. "That was my last college game. And in the locker room after the game, Coach Smith came to my locker while my dad was sitting there and apologized for not getting me into the game.
"That is Carolina basketball and that is Dean Smith."
Jordan's speech was the shortest of the night, but its brevity made it crackle. Imagine that you're a 2007 Tar Heel. You're one of the five best teams in the country. But you're also very, very young.
And then the world's greatest basketball player stands at the front of the room, looks at each of you, and says the following:
"The memories I have with the '82 team can never be replaced. It's like no other team I played with.
"For the 2007 guys, this is the only time you will ever be on a team like this. The things you laugh about, the things you joke about, are the same things you'll talk about when you get together 25 or 50 years from now. That's what this program means.
"This will never be replaced in my memory. And this will always be home for me."
At exactly that moment, there was not a single college basketball player in the entire United States who wouldn't have wanted to be a Tar Heel. Only a select few get the opportunity. And they were all beaming.
"I love Carolina basketball," Williams told the room. "And that means I love the people in this room. That's why every single day I make sure I do every bit of work that I possibly can to make sure I don't cheat you."
Before the group disbanded, they made time for photos. One shot brought together all three teams. Wright and Perkins, Rosenbluth and Jordan, Worthy and Hansbrough.
The photo was exactly what it looked like:
A family portrait.
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.