It’s hard to put into words the effect that sports can have on UNC’s campus. Every victory and every loss, no matter the sport, can carry an immense weight within the student body. But there’s a special relationship between the school and maybe her greatest love, basketball.
The electric feeling that accompanies the start of basketball season begins every year with Late Night With Roy. Coach Roy Williams has been the coach of UNC men’s basketball since 2003 and since that time has lead the school to not one, not two, but three national championships! Roy is literally the human embodiment of sunshine on a cloudy day; I’m not even exaggerating when I say that. I once ran down Franklin Street and saw him, and when I asked him for a picture, it was hands down one of the best moments of my entire time at UNC. People have stickers of him and his many iconic catchphrases on their laptops. That is how much UNC students love our head coach. This year’s Late Night With Roy was no disappointment, leaving everyone ready for another season of Carolina basketball.
You can go all over the country and everywhere you go there will be people who know about Carolina basketball. Some consider it the best basketball program in collegiate history, and I tend to agree; although, it should be noted I’m slightly biased. One of the defining characteristics of Carolina basketball is its infamous rivalry with a school right down the road, Duke University. The week leading up to any Duke game, but especially the home game, is charged. Professors will talk about it in class and I even once had a professor wear a “Dook sucks” shirt to class. That’s how invested people are in this game. It’s not just about beating Duke, which is important, but also about carrying on the fanfare that our school is known for come basketball season. I’ve seen some losses in my time, but I’ve also seen some hype victories over Duke.
The tradition is when we beat Duke, win a national championship (which I’ll talk about later) or win any other big game, we rush Franklin. Franklin Street is the main street running through downtown Chapel Hill, right next to the university. People will stream from restaurants, bars, frat houses and apartments, and the ones lucky enough to watch in the Dean Dome will run a mile uphill to all celebrate together as a school on Franklin. People burn furniture (unsafe but, for some reason, so fun), chant school cheers, hug strangers, get lifted up on people’s shoulders and sing the alma mater until we’re hoarse. There’s only one thing that trumps beating Dook, and that’s winning a natty.
Unfortunately, not every UNC student gets to witness a basketball natty; although, it’s important to note that I’ve heard that every student since the 1990s has gotten to witness a national championship for at least one UNC sports team. But I was lucky enough to be here in 2017, when we won the men’s basketball national championship. It was by far the best night of my entire life thus far, and it probably will never be beaten. After witnessing us lose in the finals the year before on a heartbreaking buzzer shot, that year the stakes were even higher. When we won, it was like time stopped for a heartbeat. I’ve never seen so many elated people. Rushing Franklin is always magical, but this one time it was euphoric. I really just can’t put into words what that night meant, but if you were lucky enough to be there too, then you can relate to the otherworldly feeling I can’t really relay. Everyone should get to feel how our student body felt that night.
But UNC basketball is about so much more than national championships and Duke games. It’s a way to bring the school together. Being in the student section at a game and singing the alma mater – life really doesn’t get much better. It doesn’t matter if people think we’re the best, whether we win every game or if we produced the best basketball player ever (I’m looking at you, Michael Jordan). There’s a reason basketball and UNC have always had a special relationship. It just brings joy to students during the hard times that come with studying for exams and doing mountains of homework. UNC basketball is the best kind of escape.