By Christian Schneider
Sports fandom is an funny thing.
1) It can be something earned by quality of play: "Hey the Warriors are so much fun, I think they're my favorite team!"
2) It can be something forced upon you as a simple survival instinct: "Dude, I know you don't care about baseball but it's gonna a lot easier for you if you root for the Sox, they're playing the Yankees this week"
3) It can be something bequeathed you by your predecessors: "Son, I have rooted for the Vikings from the Purple People Eaters all the way through Christian Fucking Ponder. And now, on your fifth birthday, I present you with you very own vintage Randall Cunningham jersey"
4) Or it can just be something that just happens for reasons that only make sense to you: "Tony Parker was married to Eva Longoria until he cheated on her with a teammate's wife. She sucks and I hate Desperate Housewives. Go Spurs Go!"
(I know people who only pull for sports teams for Reason #4, such as a female friend who rooted for the Seahawks during our Super Bowl party because she found Russell Wilson hot. First off, we got TOM BRADY on our team dammit! Secondly, if the Pats hadn't pulled out the win in the end she would have had the uneaten bean dip flung in her general direction by yours truly. Anyway...)
I am a North Carolina basketball fan for the first three reasons.
Firstly, my father is a Tar Heel, graduate of Chapel Hill in 1982. For those of you who don't know, 1982 is the Dream Season for Tar Heel basketball: James Worthy led the Heels to a national championship by dunking everything that was thrown into his hands, Dean Smith finally erased his reputation as the coach who couldn't win the big one (0-6 in Final Fours before that), and a skinny frosh named Michael Jordan hit the gamewinning shot in the title game that turned him into MICHAEL FUCKING JORDAN. My dad and his friends celebrated by painting Franklin Street (Chapel Hill's party center) Carolina blue. His then-girlfriend's cat had a litter of 5 kittens that night and they named them for the 5 UNC starters (has there ever been a better name for a cat than Sam Perkins?). Suffice to say I was destined for UNC fandom.
Secondly, Carolina basketball has always been a standard bearer for the "student athlete." The late, great Dean Smith won two national championships and produced some of the greatest basketball players of all time, but his legacy comes from his athletes' commitment to staying in school and fulfilling their degrees. Even the greats like Worthy, Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn Jamison, and Vince Carter who left school to be top 5 draft picks came back to graduate. A diploma meant something to Tar Heel players. No disrespect to Anthony Davis, but do you really think he's coming back to Kentucky to get a degree?
Thirdly, Carolina basketball kicks ass on the court. Jordan, Worthy, and Perkins. Stackhouse and Wallace. Carter and Jamison. Some of the most brilliant and entertaining teams in college basketball history played under the rafters of the Dean Dome. They won and they won with style, even if that meant Phil Ford running the Four Corners (you're welcome America, that play was the reason we got a shot clock in college games).
One of the great memories as a young kid was watching UNC win the 2005 National Championship. They had been horrible for years thanks to Matt Doherty's disaster of a tenure and had been Duke's personal whipping boy as Coach K became the biggest name in college sports. '05, when Roy Williams arrived like a messiah and turned Sean May, Raymond Felton, and shitty Rashad McCants into winners, changed that. Carolina was back on top. The following years produced Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Brandan Wright, and Wayne Ellington. They won again in 2009 and won an incredible 4 straight games in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, which was then seen as the most difficult environment in college hoops, with its nauseating atmosphere filled with sweat, chants, and upper-class private school privilege. It was a new golden age for the Heels.
And now it's all falling apart. In every way. And that's the story today.
Two days ago Brandon Ingram, the #3 high school prospect in America, committed to Duke University. This is the latest in a series of blows that UNC has been suffering for about 4 years now. Brandon Ingram is a native of Kinston, NC. For those of you who aren't familiar with college basketball recruiting, there are certain areas of North Carolina that are "no-fly zones" for opposing schools. Places like South Mecklenburg, which produced players like Walter Davis and Bobby Jones. Places that have fed North Carolina basketball for years with top-notch high school talent who have grown up idolizing Tar Heel legends and have dreamed of their turn to wear Carolina blue. Kinston is one such area. It has produced Jerry Stackhouse, one of the great Tar Heels of all time, and more recently Reggie Bullock, who has made his way to the NBA. Brandon Ingram was considered, for years, to be a surefire Tar Heel.
And he would've been. If not for the scandal. The academic fraud scandal in the UNC African-American department that came to light in 2011 has Carolina's blueblood legacy bleeding out. The revelation that many UNC athletes (primarily from football, but also many basketball players) were academically eligible as a result of paper classes with bogus requirements has the NCAA sniffing around and the possibility of sanctions, possibly postseason bans. Whether the athletic department was privy to this fraud (and that is certainly open to doubt, it frankly looks more like a professor chose to keep African-American Studies majors in school by rigging their courses) it has damaged the reputation of the basketball program beyond repair.
Added to that are Rashad McCants' allegations that him and his teammates never went to class and that their tutors wrote their papers for them (This much at least is definitely bullshit and McCants is a straight up fucknuts who washed out of the NBA and tried to be an actor, but it still hurts that a former player is attacking the program so publicly and viciously), the dismissal of Will Graves and his subsequent pot bust, and the PJ Hairston weed/rental car/firearm/what-the-fuck-are-you-doing episode.
But back to Ingram. He was planning on committing to UNC this past summer, but the threat of playing for a team that will be banned from the NCAA tournament caused him to wait. In stepped Duke, the Satan-worshipping newly crowned national champions, adversaries of Carolina. Coach K got Ingram. Stole him. In broad daylight right before our very eyes.
My first reaction was the classic "We Will Be Revenged!!!" response. Ingram is now public enemy number 1. I marked my calendar for the next UNC-Duke game, labeling it "the day we pay Benedict Ingram back." We'll break him all right; like we did that buttplug Shavlik Randolph before him. We'll shut him down and kill his draft stock and roll on to take the National Championship. To steal a quote from famous Duke fan Joffrey Baratheon, "So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished!"
But as the Bloodwrath subsided another thought crept into my mind, one that I hate with a flaming fiery passion but one that I know in my heart to be the truth: Ingram made the right decision. He was right to go to Duke. He was right to spurn Carolina.
Ingram is a can't-miss NBA prospect, a 6'9 wing who can drive, post up, shoot the three, and play great defense. He has Jay Bilas' famous "wingspan" of 7'3, he is a big time player and almost certainly a lottery pick. The only thing that could hurt him is committing to the wrong school and not getting a shot at the NCAA tournament, which the Duke trio of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones all used to vault them into the 1st round of the NBA Draft, possibly the lottery for all three. UNC has a lot of talent and experience and may very well be the preseason pick to win it all next year. They DEFINITELY would have been had Ingram joined them. But that's all for naught if the NCAA decides to exclude them from the tourney. Their season may end in March, long before America really takes an interest.
Instead, Ingram threw in with Coach K, who has in the last 5 years sent Kyrie Irving, Jabari Parker, and now Okafor as top-3 picks in the draft. Coach K, who has turned the tide back to Duke on Tobacco Road, winning in 2010 and now 2015. Who swept Carolina this season. Who has won 10 of the last 13 against the Tar Heels. Who coaches the Olympic team that has been so vital in his recruiting takeover of one-and-dones. John Calipari has had some fun in Lexington but Coach K is still the top dog, no matter what way you slice it, not just on Tobacco Road, but ANYWHERE. And Ingram was smart to choose him.
And Carolina is slipping. No Final Fours since 2009, no ACC tournaments. Their 2012 team had championship written all over it but injuries to John Henson, Dexter Strickland, and tragically Kendall Marshall kept them from even reaching the semi-final. UNC hasn't mustered a top team since then.
And now Duke's taking our players in our own backyard.
UNC fans, true fans that is, don't ever jump off the bandwagon. They didn't when the 2002 team went 8-20. They didn't when 2010 team went to the NIT while Duke won a championship. We won't now, sanctions or no sanctions. But something's gotta change and it's gotta happen soon. Because Duke's kicking our ass.