Before writing this, I don't think I'd seen my favorite UNC highlight more than half a dozen times in my life. On a screen, that is. I could play it instantly in my mind, despite it happening two years before I was born. I didn't need to see it.
Three seconds, down by two. Those aren't the numbers you usually here about this play — those are 8 and 17. Seventeen seconds remaining, down by eight, with no three-point line to help make up the difference. This clip from the HBO documentary of a few years back runs through the entire series. UNC makes some free throws; then they get a steal and a bucket off the inbounds pass. Duke fails to get it inbounds a second time, and UNC scores again. When Duke finally masters the concept of drawing a foul, they miss the free throw and it's Carolina ball. Three seconds, down by two.
In the huddle, Dean Smith said one of the greatest coaching lines of all time. "Isn't this fun? You guys are going to win the game."
One of the great things about Chapel Hill is how often you can just walk into Carmichael Auditorium. Much of the athletic department still had offices there, at least in the nineties, and the doors that connect it Woollen are usually unlocked. It's very easy to wander down to the court, and to trace the play in your mind, both there and on any other court open to a kid growing up in the state.
Three seconds, down by two. Send Walter Davis to a spot just shy of half court. One, two, three dribbles. Two seconds. The amount of time it takes the Duke defender to realize what's going on, and to cross the distance to get a hand in Davis's face.
It doesn't matter. Davis acts like the guy isn't there. Just pulls up and takes the prettiest shot you've ever seen. The bank is open. The shot falls.
I've taken hundreds of shots from that same spot, on the Carmichael floor and elsewhere around the world. I can't walk into an empty gym with a ball and not run that play. My shots were never that pretty, especially as an undersized kid putting way too much shoulder into it. They rarely find the net.
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that Duke was 2-10 in the ACC that year, or that the Heels would go on to lose in the semis of the ACC Tournament and again in the opening round of the NIT. When you hear the 8,000 people in Carmichael, either on grainy video or in your mind, rattling the rafters, none of that makes a lick of difference. It's the shot you replay, over and over again. Three dribbles. Bank. Net.