ACC Tournament… Still a Spectacle to me!

I sit here at the opening session gazing at the thousands of rabid college basketball fans disguised as empty seats inside the Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA, with sadness and a longing for the sheer adrenaline rush of excitement that was the ACC Tournament of my youth. This, obviously, is what we all feared would be the most apathetic group of patrons that have ever descended on the ACC’s version of March Madness. There are dozens of reasons for the decline in interest. The economy is an easy target, the NBA’s One & Done rule has taken the stars, every game is on TV and free to the populous, football is now the nation’s fascination, etc., but for me this event is still the single greatest four day sporting event of my year, for a number of reasons. Not the least of which, is my childhood love-affair with the eight-team hoopfest that appeared in my hometown every March.

As most of you know, I’m a lifelong NC State Wolfpack basketball devotee, and contrary to popular belief (among the Under 40 set), humans actually walked upright in the 1970’s & 80’s and UNC & Duke longed to be like NC State! We were not only relevant, but had the same number of ACC & NCAA Titles as UNC and a boatload more of both than the State University of New Jersey located in Durham, NC, but I digress. The Friday of the ACC Tournament, which was played in Greensboro, NC every year, was the holy grail of sports in the Old North State. Our school teachers would fight over who got to check out the limited number of black & white TV’s from the library and if you were lucky enough to be in those classrooms, you knew school was out at 12noon, because we’d be watching the beloved roundball event of our hometown the rest of the day. If, however, you were not in that lucky classroom, that Friday was the one day that Mom & Dad agreed to allow you to play hooky and stay home to watch the games with them, because they were mysteriously sick and home from work that day too.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that a ticket to the ACC Tournament in the 1970’s, 80’s and even through the early 2000’s was more coveted than a ticket to the Final Four and in our state BIGGER than a ticket to the Super Bowl (because the Carolina Panthers weren’t even kittens at that point). No one I knew could even fathom owning a ticket to the ACC Tournament that was played a driver & 4-iron from the house I grew up in. We were elated to be able to scalp a ticket outside the Greensboro Coliseum for the annual Big Four Tournament, which was played between Christmas & New Year’s between the four ACC schools from North Carolina. The coaches’ hated the event, but it was priceless for hometown fans who would never be able to attend the ACC Tournament two and a half months later in that building, because no one in our social circles could afford to pony up tens of thousands of dollars to their chosen school’s booster club just to be offered the opportunity to purchase another several thousand dollars worth of tickets to the most anticipated basketball event on the east coast. That’s what it was, an event, where if you were seen there, you were the most popular son, father, sister or cousin on the planet.

Those days, sadly, are gone now and another reminder that my childhood is a part of ancient history, but while those memories are just that, every March the smoldering embers are rekindled because of them. My passion is further stoked this year because my beloved Wolfpack is “somewhat” relevant again. We’re an NCAA Tournament “bubble team” for the first time in nearly a decade, new coach Mark Gottfried has signed the #1 recruiting class in the nation with three McDonald’s All-Americans (Hey, Amile Jefferson, we’d sure love for you to make it four!),  and as all of us “irrational” Wolfpack fans with all of our unrealistic expections (so says the blue-centric media), are holding to the belief  that we can spin a little of that Old Pack Magic for our 11th ACC Championship! That’s what this tournament means to me. What happens over the next three weeks on the road to the Final Four in New Orleans is irrelevant over the next four days. The ACC Tournament has been and will always be my absolute favorite sporting event in each calendar year, because it brings back wonderful memories of its’ glory days and my wonderful childhood. Now that I am afforded the privilege of actually attending, I wish more people felt the same way and this building would rock the way the Greensboro Coliseum did years ago.

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