DY: In Just a Few Words (#128)
Much has changed, but much has stayed the same.
My earliest recollection of what has become March Madness dates to 1957 and the University of North Carolina’s magical 32-0 undefeated season. I was a senior in high school in New Jersey, riding around in my parents' Plymouth while listening to the championship game on the car radio. I would enroll at UNC the following September.
North Carolina had reached the finals after beating Michigan State in triple overtime. The finals also went to triple overtime, with UNC beating Kansas and its all-world player Wilt Chamberlain. And, you wonder why I call that season magical?
A lot has also changed in basketball since I was in high school. Go online and look at the uniform (including shoes) and you’ll see one difference right away. The game was played below the rim back then. The dunk that would become wildly popular wasn’t standard fare until the mid 1970s. The three-point shot - while around longer than the dunk - wasn’t introduced until the 1960s.
The term March Madness had not been invented in 1957. It was a different tournament than today in some ways, but it was eerily similar in others. Only 23 teams played in 1957 versus 68 today. But, in addition to UNC, Kansas and Michigan State, many names familiar to today’s hard-core basketball fans competed that year, including UConn, Syracuse, Kentucky and Notre Dame. And, to prove what goes around comes around, the 2022 final game had Kansas beating UNC, getting even for 1957.
Back in olden times, UNC home games attracted only a few thousand fans to its Woolen Gym with a capacity of 6,000. By the early 1980s, the team had become so popular that students would camp out for up to a week to get a coveted ticket to a basketball game.
The current home of UNC basketball, the Smith Center (aka Dean Dome), has a capacity of 21,750. And, here’s the answer to a trivia question - contractors were prohibited from wearing any Dook or NC State garb on that job.
Rumor has it that one game against Dook exceeded that 21,750 figure by a handful. Hope the fire marshal doesn’t hear about that. If you think home court advantage doesn’t exist, UNC has won more than 400 games at the Smith Center over the years, while losing less than 100.
UNC had a terrible 2023 season - not even being one of the 68 teams good enough to be invited to participate in the NCAA Tournament. What a fall from grace. A year ago the national finals. This year not even a participant. And so it goes. Bet your house that the 2024 Tar Heels will be better, a lot better.
I’m asked all the time what I majored in at UNC. Truth be known, I majored in basketball watching.
It’s a different world today. Next week's blog will have my thoughts about the current state of March Madness.
DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.
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