When Michael Jordan came onto the hardwood of the Dean Smith Center to announce his brand’s new partnership with UNC football, he made sure to immortalize the moment. The man who had already given us possibly the biggest sports meme of the last two years, in an effort to display his belief in this team, praised the hard work and dedication that Larry Fedora has put into the program. Then, in a display of confidence, he proclaimed that for UNC football, say it with me, “The ceiling is the roof!”
Initial reaction to this turn of phrase was...mixed, largely because it sounds like it makes no sense. However, a bit of thought has helped me realize that it does, in fact, make perfect sense. Allow me to explain:
This is our typical imagination of a house.
The roof is the part that covers the house, while the ceiling is the upper interior part of the house. They are two separate structures. Our coding of the words “ceiling” and “roof” is tied to this imaginary house, more or less. We can’t see a roof from the inside, and we can’t see a ceiling from the outside.
But here’s the thing: when we use the word “ceiling” metaphorically, it’s something that can be broken from the inside (like the “glass ceiling”). When we use the word “roof” metaphorically, it’s (wait for it) something that is broken from the inside, like when I say “The Tar Heels’ offensive prowess is through the roof!” And therefore, the ceiling is the roof. By saying that for UNC Football, the ceiling is the roof, MJ is simply saying that they’re operating on a higher level, able to understand the idiomatic evolution of language.
Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. How’s this one: Jordan delivered his speech at the Dean Smith Center, which, of course, is topped by its famous dome. From both the inside and the outside, the structure that tops the Smith Center is the same. It is both the ceiling and the roof. Clearly, MJ was voicing his aspiration for the UNC Football program to become every bit as storied and successful as the basketball program, which plays in a building where the ceiling is the roof.
Yes, I’m still reaching. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter, because Michael Jordan is the GOAT. Simply being in his presence was enough to awe players and spectators alike. His provision of a moment that won’t be forgotten is something that should be treasured by everyone lucky enough to experience it, as unintentional as it might have been.
In the short time since that night, UNC Basketball and its fans have wholeheartedly embraced it. We have shirts popping up all over the place, including this one seen worn by the band at the ACC Tournament and this one from your friends here at Tar Heel Blog. Roy Williams has already voiced his approval for it. Jones Angell brought it out in commentary during the game against Miami when Theo Pinson accidentally made a three-pointer. I’m half-expecting Pinson to start using it as a catchphrase now, if he gets the chance. It might not make sense, but man, it sounds cool.
Bonus: it still gets the point across. No matter what it actually means, “the ceiling is the roof” certainly makes it sound like anything is possible, even, and especially, the highest of highs. I can think of no better rally cry for the Tar Heels’ 2017 postseason.