I remember when I knew that it was real. It may have been later for me than most folks, admittedly. I know people who have truly known for the majority of their lives. As for myself, however, it took me a while before I could even admit to myself that the feeling wasn’t simply fading away. That’s the thing about true love, though; it doesn’t just go. It sticks, like the light buzz of a peck on the cheek after a last first date, or the warmth of a familiar hand in your own.
Like all of the best love stories, mine started in a very unlikely place. Mine started, in a manner of speaking, in the hands of Greg Paulus. Paulus, for those of us who have forgotten/repressed the memory, was a point guard at Duke University for what felt like seven years. Mostly unremarkable with the exception of egregious flopping, the Blue Devil point guard attempting a three is an admittedly odd place for a Tar Heel fan to fall madly in love. To be fair, though, it wasn’t Paulus so much as the chain of events he set into motion. Regardless, it happened, and at that moment the Carolina basketball team shifted from a casual acquaintance to a life partner in the eyes of a young Chapel Hill native.
See, when the ball left Paulus’ hands and clanked off the rim, the rebound fell to someone named Danny Green. Dribbling through traffic and crossing the timeline, he fired a no-look pass to a streaking Marcus Ginyard on his left, his eyes never leaving the face of his soon-to-be victim. Without a pause, Ginyard sent a gorgeous touch pass back to Green, who gathered himself and took flight.
Time stopped in the living room of my childhood home. A breathless moment, as Danny Green continued to rise. Paulus, to his credit, tried valiantly to stop the inevitable. He went down unsurprisingly easily, perhaps in the hopes of drawing a foul, or perhaps simply wishing to distance himself from the man whose midsection was suddenly at eye level and rising. I remember the play vividly. I remember Green hanging on the rim for just long enough to allow those watching to confirm that it had, in fact, gone down like that, then dropping down over a still-prone Paulus and jogging back to the defensive end of the floor like it was nothing. I remember the noise that came out of my TV; the choked yelp of a Blue Devil guard learning something new and unexpected, as well as the collective gasp of a thousand tent-dwelling students as Danny Green visited great violence on the rim in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
My relationship with Carolina basketball changed appreciably after Green sent Paulus to the shadow realm. I had always been a fan, sure, and I cheered like hell when Sean May and Raymond Felton led the team to a title in 2005. That may be my first memory of a championship year, but I went to bed that night in 2008 a lot happier than I had been when I woke up the morning prior. It’s difficult to put into words, which may make this a pointless exercise, but I’d be willing to bet that nearly everyone who reads this piece has had a similar experience with a particular group of young men wearing light blue. The names above the numbers may be different, but we’ve all still wound up in the same place.
Sometimes, love isn’t easy. Sometimes, it takes work. This season, cheering for the Heels has been more difficult than in the past. It hurts all the more because we know how good it can be, and sometimes that’s what makes it the hardest. At least for me, though, it’s still a labor of love.