Years from now, I’ll probably have to be reminded how this past season ended. It’s hard to imagine, but there will come a time when I’ll have to look up the final score of this season’s national championship; a time when I won’t be able to perfectly visualize the move that Armando Bacot was making when the floor gave way and his ankle followed suit. Someday I’ll need to be reminded that the Heels took a fifteen-point lead into the halftime break. I’ve had a lot of head injuries, so that time may come sooner for me than it will for you, but eventually the last game of this past season won’t sting.
That’s the cruel benefit of passing time; with one hand, the months and years that slip by will ease the ache of past heartbreaks, both communal and personal. Unfortunately, this gradual healing can only come at the cost of specific memories. This is not to say that healing and forgetting are one and the same, but there’s a relationship between the two that is hard to ignore. In most of the healing I’ve done throughout my life, there’s been at least a side portion of forgetting (intentional or otherwise). It’s an odd give and take, but there are many things that will slip away unnoticed if we don’t specifically hold on to them.
I may forget a three-point loss to Kansas in a title game. Hopefully in the near future, I will have the benefit of other title games that are more worth remembering. I may forget the names of the Jayhawks that celebrated at the expense of my Tar Heels; I will never forget the names of the Iron Five who carried a February bubble team to the final game of the season. I’ll never forget the Caleb Love three over Mark Williams to send the Blue Devils home in the Final Four. I’ll never ever forget the “unacceptable” thirteen-point molly-whopping the Heels delivered in front of fawning fans in Cameron Indoor to end the regular season. I won’t forget the first season with Coach Davis at the helm, but not because of the end result of this season.
I’ll hold on to the rivalry wins. I’ll hold on to the reminder that “it’s live action out there,” as well as the tears of joy in postgame celebrations. I’ll remember the growth of this team that lost by double digits to Miami, Wake, Pitt, and Duke in the span of a month before finally putting the pieces together. I’ll remember the journey that the Heels took to get to perhaps the most improbable national title game in Carolina history (certainly in my memory, but that’s the thing, isn’t it).
I’m not saying to forget how the season ended; no conscious effort will be needed. I’m saying that it’s likely that someday we’ll look up and realize that we can’t remember exactly which year the Tar Heels fell three points shy of a national title. Time will cloud the details until only the brightest spots will cut through. That’s why I’m writing now, with the benefit of a busy six weeks separating me from the raw reality that was the wrong color confetti falling from the ceiling in New Orleans. The quiet of early summer offers a peaceful moment or two for reflection in between flurries of activity; a respite in which to fully heal any heartbreak or sprained ankles.
If we cling to the memories we want to keep, those bright spots may stick around. At least for me, this won’t be the year that Carolina came up short. Ask me in a decade about 2022, and my mind will immediately go to the Final Four, then the Iron Five. A first-year coach and a one-year transfer. A force of nature on the glass, a backcourt that never quit, and a rangy veteran eraser on the stat sheet. A loss at home, a win on the road, and a tie-breaking win to go to the national championship.
A great day (or year, or lifetime) to be a Tar Heel.