You know what the funny thing is about the Carolina Family? All you have to do is get your foot in the door. Some will say you have to attend the school to be a fan. Others will say you must be from North Carolina. But the true Tar Heels, the ones with that deep emotional connection, know that when it comes to Carolina sports, you can toss all that other stuff out the window.
My father originally hails from a small town by the name of Nashville, North Carolina. His father (my grandfather) attended law school at UNC and, for as long as he can remember, my dad was a rabid Tar Heel fan. Naturally, he carried that fandom with him all the way into adulthood where eventually, he met my mother (in Nashville, Tennessee ironically enough).
Mind you, my mother is from Mississippi and she, along with almost her entire family, attended Mississippi State University. If you don’t know much about MSU fans let me tell you something: those folks would die for their Bulldogs. I could go on for days about the dedication and passion of that fanbase but the point is this: even for a girl who’d already developed a lifelong connection to another school, all it took was that tiny bit of exposure. By her own admission, the most devoted my mother has ever been in her sports-viewing career was watching Carolina basketball with my dad throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Funny, huh?
The two bonded over their love for Tar Heel greats such as Jeff Lebo and Eric Montross. Perhaps what brought them even closer together was their shared hatred for infamous Dookies like Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. Eventually, though, it was time to welcome in the next generation of Tar Heels.
Spanning from 1992-1998, my two brothers and I were born. Despite the fact that not a single one of us ever ultimately attended the school and we lived in the suburbs of Tennessee, we became what you would refer to as a “Carolina Family.”
The earliest distinct memory I can recall of UNC sports stems from the 2004-2005 basketball season. Roy Williams was in his second year as head coach and had himself a loaded squad with studs like Sean May, Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams, and an unnamed player who’s currently pending re-entry into the Family (Heels fans know who I’m talking about). These guys were largely overshadowed by an Illinois team that had lost just one game in the regular season. This only made it that much sweeter when Carolina stormed through the NCAA tournament and ultimately defeated the Illini, 75-70, to win the 2005 national championship.
That memory will stick with me forever. There I was, seven years old, watching on with the rest of my Tar Heel-crazed family. I can remember strategically positioning myself behind the couch and just barely peaking over it because the magnitude of the situation was almost too much for me to handle. Then it happened. As the clock ticked down to double zeroes, Sean May hoisted the ball into the rafters, and the ‘05 Tar Heels were forever engrained in college basketball lore.
For me, it felt like a baptism of sorts. Though I was already an established fan, I think in that moment I was inducted into the Carolina Family. Since then, I’ve gotten to witness some of the best to ever do it in guys like Tyler Hansbrough, Marcus Paige, and Joel Berry. I cried tears of joy as the 2009 and 2017 teams climbed that seemingly unscalable mountain and I cried tears of sorrow as the 2012 and 2016 teams left us wondering “what if?” Crazy as it may sound, my undying passion for the Tar Heels has become a defining characteristic of who I am as a person. Funny, huh?
My oldest brother, Carr, has had a similar trajectory as a Carolina fan and while I’d like to tell you all about that, I’m going to tell a different story. Carr’s best friend since the time he was five years old was a boy named Ty Osman. As best friends tend to do, Carr and Ty shared everything. Since Ty wasn’t born into a love for any particular college team like Carr and I were, he decided to adopt Carr’s love for the Tar Heels. It wasn’t long at all before he developed the same intensity and enthusiasm that we had. Funny, huh?
Over the years, Ty’s and Carr’s mutual adoration for Carolina athletics brought them even closer together. I can remember Ty would come over and watch Carolina-Duke games at our house. The three of us, along with my other brother, Campbell, would scurry around and gather every last bit of UNC gear we could find and throw it all in a pile in front of the TV. Then, we’d start dancing maniacally around this “shrine”, thinking that somehow, some way, we could influence the outcome of the game with our voodoo magic.
It’s silly, I know, but I don’t think I appreciated it enough at the time. Unfortunately, several years ago in March of 2012, Ty passed away in a freak car accident at the far-too-young age of 18 years old. Naturally, Carr’s world was turned completely upside down and mine similarly spiraled having to watch him go through the unthinkable. It just didn’t seem fair, and to this very day, I still can’t make it make sense.
Ty was a ball of energy. He brought joy to every person or situation he touched and everything he did, he did for others. I know it’s commonplace when someone passes to reflect on how great that person was, but I cannot stress to you enough how true this was in Ty’s case. Carr often likened his relationship with Ty to that of brothers, which meant by association, he was my brother too.
In the months and years following this tragic incident, events have been held in Ty’s honor through a foundation set up by his family. Every single one of these events, without fail, has included some sort of nod to his love for the Tar Heels. An outdoor basketball court was constructed at the church he attended. The court color? Carolina blue. Hundreds, if not upward of a thousand people gathered to refurbish a community center in an underprivileged neighborhood. The t-shirts to commemorate the event? Carolina blue. Close friends and family built a house in Honduras, a place that Ty often visited on mission trips. The paint color? Carolina blue.
It may seem trivial to some, but as time goes on, I’m still reminded of Ty through this irrational affection we shared for the Heels. I imagine he was punching holes in the wall after Kris Jenkins ripped our hearts out in 2016. I imagine he found his fair share of Kentucky fans to terrorize after Luke Maye hit “The Shot.” And I imagine he was dancing around a shrine of UNC gear as that same team finished the job and achieved “Redemption.”
Here’s a kid born and raised in Tennessee, with no direct connection to Carolina, but was and is a Tar Heel in every sense of the word. Family, huh?