A portrait of excellence
by Carey Rowland, April 11 2009
1.) April 6, Monday night: The University of North Carolina men’s basketball team defeated the Michigan State University team, in Detroit. UNC Tarheels were declared National Champions. A ceremony and celebration following the 9:00 pm game lasted well past midnight. It was a long night, but it was worth it. No tellin’ what time it was when the ‘Heels collapsed in their beds.
2.) April 7, Tuesday: Tarheels returned to Chapel Hill, where they were extended a grand welcome by the Carolina faithful.
3.) April 8, Wednesday night: The Tarheel senior players bounced right back to playing basketball. They joined with other ACC stars in Hickory, NC, to begin a statewide tour of exposition games to raise money for charity.
4.) April 9, Thursday night: 70 hours after winning the National Championship, the Tarheel seniors played their second game of the fundraising Carolina Barnstormers tour, this time in Boone, NC, which is my home. I went to the game, and enjoyed watching it.
5.) The outcome of that Thursday night game in Boone was a surprise. The ACC stars were defeated by a bunch of determined whippersnapping regional players who represented Appalachian State University (the host school), UNC-Asheville, Mars Hill College and Warren Wilson College.
6.) The excellent players from those western North Carolina colleges played skillfully and victorioulsy against the seasoned ACC superstars. Appalachian State guard Eduardo Bermudez was especially impressive with his determined penetration. The talented unkonwns provided an amusing upset victory for the crowd, and proved their worth to have been selected to compete against players of national stature.
7.) With all due respect to that winning team, we must note a few observations about the losing team, and what happened in Boone on that Thursday night:
a.) Two or three of the Carolina boys were now playing ball using hands, feet, and bodies that are potentially worth millions of bucks as implements of basketball perfection in the NBA next year. So now, by participating in non-professional (essentially) pickup games, they are risking damage to those valuable body-parts assets. These champions were playing skillfully, but carefully, and not, shall we say?, as vehemently as they had fought in their other April (and March, and February, January, December) games. Also,
b.) Their bus broke down on the way from Hickory; this delay caused a late arrival in Boone, where they entered the Holmes Center court without , apparently, having eaten dinner. Some notable players were seen scarfing down hotdogs during the game. I’m not kidding. I saw this with my own eyes from the third row. Some local VIPs were out big bucks, having won a raffle that entitled them to dinner with the Tarheels at local Makoto’s restaurant. But the dinner never happened. The boys from Chapel Hill and their Barnstormin’ buddies entered the fray late, tired and hungry.
c.) ... and flat worn-out. You could see it in their eyes. I have chosen one champion whose participation in that event must have happened something like this:
It was a long arc of victory.
A tarheel tossed the ball away, propelled it high above the final fray. The buzzer buzzed the game away. All America saw new Champions smile and sway, shout and jump, and maybe pray.
The warrior stood shell-shocked head and shoulders above the throng, his thrashing paint-war ended, his bruising battle won. He’d been tossed and beaten long enough. He had fought, fierce and hard through teams and schemes; now he sailed on courts of long-tended dreams. Now he waltzed on air. Now he strode through hugs and thumps, handshakes, shouts and leaping chest-bumps. Their season-long marathon had ended.
And here was begun a new ordeal for him--a whirlwind of vehement attention, a maelstrom of incessant intervention, spinning telescopic, mediopic, through macroscopic inquisition--without end. Like a freight train of bouncing balls, flashing bulbs in shifting halls, the meddlesome media mavens called down their thrashing cloud upon the warrior, with a tunnel of confetti through a storm of forever being ready.
We could see it in his eyes, though the rare smile cracked his intensity.
It was the weight of the paint-war that had wounded him--the persistent pounding of opponents that robbed his soul of comfort, and pierced his peace with pain. It summoned him, even now, to the next battle.
If this is Thursday, must be...
Somewhere in Carolina, three nights later, the calling voice of conquest had not ceased; yeah, it has just begun again in him. Is there rest from the victor’s onward quest?
From deep within the loins of the champion came forth his cries; we heard them in his embattled eyes: Who will challenge me now? (Oh, but I am weary.) This I discerned from across the court; this I saw in the warrior’s heart.
The upstart guys had won their prize, and claimed their forty minutes
in the skies,
to tell the grandkids all about.
The champion shrugged.
On such shoulders are the worlds of excellence