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UNC Basketball: Grateful

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and we’ve had over 700 days of absence.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Far be it from me to take anything for granted. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, all things considered, since the world went topsy-turvy and everything shut down for a while. I’ve kept my day job (unintentionally adhering to the advice of folks who don’t love my writing), I’ve remained healthy, and I’m still even almost completely sane. I’ve watched friends be furloughed, remain furloughed, and eventually lose jobs. I’ve had friends fall ill, and weather the storm all alone for fear of spreading the sickness to anyone else.

It’s humbling to be reminded of how much we have, and how easily it can disappear. Anyone who’s been following the semi-personal blog I’m lucky enough to publish here on a mostly-weekly basis will remember that I grew up here. I attended the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school system throughout my formative years. When I left Chapel Hill for college, I was called back to my roots on a regular basis by clear blue skies and the loaded tots at Linda’s.

Attending public school in Chapel Hill was fantastic during tournament season. Some teachers would put the ACC Tournament games on in class, abandoning lessons for the day to focus on something that really mattered. One time in high school, I skipped class to watch one of the triangle teams finish a nailbiter on the first day of the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t the Heels; I was skipping class to root against a team. There were TVs in the common areas of the school, generally dedicated to displaying cafeteria menus or announcements, but some saintly figure had changed the input to the ball games. As the broadcast took a breathless commercial break, I was finally able to pull my attention away from the screen, and was startled as I immediately made eye contact with my high school’s resource officer. He simply nodded and turned his attention back to the TV, a gesture I took as tacit permission to watch the game finish before rejoining my classmates.

That’s a very long way of making a short point, I realize; but I think it highlights exactly what makes this time of year so fun. It’s a communal experience—rooting for underdogs with players you’ve never heard of; pulling on threads of storylines to find new teams to root for; the perennially fruitless filling of brackets that wind up busted before closing time on Friday. I live with an odd cognitive dissonance in that football is hands down my favorite sport, but March Madness is far and away my favorite sporting event. There is nothing else in the sporting world that compares to the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament; this is a hill I will happily die on. I look forward to it every year.

This year, however impossible it still seems to be, we have a tournament. It didn’t really hit me just how much I missed last year’s Big Dance until I teared up watching Greg Gumbel read the names of mid-major schools that hadn’t crossed my mind in years, if ever. It’s been a year since everything ground to a shuddering halt; two since we had a day of basketball that stretched from noon to midnight. Regardless of what happens with Wisconsin, or Baylor, or whomever else the fates send Carolina’s way, I will watch rapturously as Luther Vandross sings ‘One Shining Moment.’

The Heels, along with 67 other hopeful teams, are dancing once again. I’m just thrilled to get to watch.