A Little More Pomp and Circumstance


As the video faded out, the doors opened and I wiped the tears from my eyes, I finally understood. I suddenly realized why Duke and the rest of college basketball loves to hate UNC basketball. The answer was simple and pure: pure jealousy. A couple of weeks ago I visited Chapel Hill, the Smith Center and the rest of the UNC campus for the first time in eight years. Almost nine ago years to the day, I sat with a few hundred other Carolina blue clad, December graduates and received my diploma with little pomp and circumstance compared to the much more celebrated May commencement. A year later in 2003 shortly after moving to Charleston, I ventured back to the Dean Dome to watch Roy Williams in one of his first games at the helm. That trip was really nothing to write home about either except it spelled the end of my two month courtship to an absolute moron. I think the final straw was on the way back to Charleston he asked me if I was impressed that he and his friends could lift up and move cars in high school. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “No.” Another one that thankfully went away.

I’m not sure if it was because I had been away for so long or because UNC had won two titles since I had last attended a home game, but there was a marked change in the Smith Center atmosphere on December 17, 2011. The humility and modesty that Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge personified as head coaches was nowhere to be found in the 21st Century. Humbleness and unpretentiousness had been replaced with pomp and circumstance and most importantly . . .  swagger. It was a welcome change, and one that made me beam with pride. There’s that old saying that goes “If you’re lucky enough to be a Tar Heel, you’re lucky enough.”

The pageantry began with my visit to the Carolina Basketball Museum which opened its doors in January 2008. The tour began with a brief, introductory video showcasing former coaches,  players and highlights from classic games. The video runs continuously so about every 10 minutes, 35 or so strangers united only by their devotion to Carolina basketball huddle into a small room and watch a six minute celebration of five national championships and countless other accomplishments and successes. The video ends with a quote from Roy Williams which led to the aforementioned tears in my eyes. “North Carolina is your school, and it will always be your school. It will always be your program. And for the rest of your lives you will be part of the North Carolina program as well.” I’m pretty sure that quote was crafted to appeal to recruits, but somehow Coach Williams made me feel like I was the only person in the room.

Once the museum doors opened, well there is no way words can do it justice. All I can say is I worked in three, different archives and museums while living in Charleston and have visited dozens of others. Carolina’s Basketball Museum is one of the best I’ve ever seen and truly one of a kind. If you haven’t paid a visit, GO! Make your plans now. It is everything you imagine a little slice of blue heaven would be and more. But don’t make the mistake I did and visit right before game time. Shortly before the Appalachian State game, the museum floor resembled a can of sardines, and there was not enough elbow room to fully enjoy the most popular exhibits. Just like the best time to go to Disney World is in February, the best time to visit the Carolina Basketball Museum is in the midday during the work week. In addition to being a celebration of decades of Carolina basketball, I imagine the museum also serves as a pretty influential recruiting tool. I’m not sure how a recruit can walk through the first floor of the Ernie Williamson Athletics Center and not come out ready to sign commitment papers to the University of North Carolina.

My bursts of Carolina Pride continued as my father and I walked into the Smith Center. The goose bumps appeared like they always do. The normal sea of blue was heartwarming as usual. But there were a couple of more National Championship banners hanging around and a few more jerseys in the rafters, #50 being the most prominent. I noticed a couple of differences in pre-game intros as well. The Tar Heel “Jump Around” mantra has been around since Rashad McCants and company (someone please correct me if I am wrong). However, I had never seen a Tar Heel team take the court in a “lights out” version comparable to the 1990s Chicago Bulls. Who can ever forget “From North Carolina, at Guard 6’6”Michael ‘Air’ Jordan”?

However, the newest and by far the most striking addition to the Dean Smith Center experience was the “I am a Tar Heel Video.” The video concept originated in 2008-2009 and was the brain child of the UNC Student Government’s Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Outreach (MADO) committee. The Rams Club now uses the video as a fund raising tool. The Rams Club was also responsible for a big hunk of the 3.4 million dollars needed to build the Carolina Basketball Museum. Maybe they’re earning those cushioned, court side seats after all. The Smith Center version currently shown during game breaks features former players and coaches from of all ages and decades. Almost every team from the past 25 years is represented by at least one team member. So whether you went to school with Serge Zwikker or Jason Capel like I did, your class has a face. From Donald Williams to Roy Williams and everyone in between, they all avow, “My name is _______, and I’m a Tar Heel.”

Then there are the Heels who need no introduction. The elite. The legends. The icons. James Worthy. Phil Ford. Billy Cunningham. As the video nears its end, his Airness appears as sharply dressed as ever. And with his eyes twinkling as bright as his smile, he assures you, “Yes, I am a Tar Heel.” (Just in case anyone had doubts). In any other promotional video in the world, Michael Jordan would be the fade-out, the icing on the cake, the best they saved for last. Not in Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC is the only place where Michael Jordan is the runner-up, the vice-president, the second banana. I’m pretty certain he doesn’t mind though. I’m sure the Smith Center will get louder and more raucous as the Heels open up ACC play. But that evening a week before Christmas playing against a non-conference opponent, no cheers were louder than when Coach Dean Smith came on the big screen and said, “My name is Dean Smith, and I am a Tar Heel.” It was the second time that evening that my eyes filled with tears.

So, fellow Tar Heels, no wonder those guys down the road hate us so much. It’s no surprise that State fans continue to brag about victories that happened in the 1980s. I now understand why Clemson fans are bitter about being 0-54 in Chapel Hill. I guess you could say every opponent comes into the Dean Dome wearing green. But beware haters; envy is one of the 7 deadly ones. So let Cameron have their Crazies. Let UK have Rupp Arena and Kansas their Rock and Chalk. We’ve got something way better going on in Chapel Hill. We’ve got swagger. Why shouldn’t we? We’ve got the papers to back us up. We’ve got the rings. We’ve got the trophies. We’ve got the legends. And dammit, we finally have the pomp and circumstance we deserve. My name is Monica Biddix, and I am a Tar Heel.