"The way she lived her life embodied the Carolina way." The words of University of North Carolina Chancellor James Moeser wafted in the rarefied ether of Duke University's Cameron Indoor Stadium two days after he'd uttered them, as the gathered throng paid silent tribute this past Saturday evening to Eve Marie Carson, the slain student body president of UNC. She was, by all accounts, an extraordinary person, cut down in the spring of her youth by an act of senseless, depraved violence.
From 5,000 miles away I watched and listened as the silence gave way to an uncertain, but unmistakable, crescendo that signified the onset of a game between bitter rivals and national championship contenders, the importance of which paled in comparison to the tragic loss of life that now colored the entire spectacle before us. The huge high definition picture I gazed into was awash in a sea of blue, a synonym for melancholy. But the hues on the screen were anything but melancholic. They were the gorgeous colors of the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils, symbols of two universities that have exemplified excellence in both academics and athletics for as long as I can remember.
"What is the Carolina way?" I wondered, as the starting lineups were introduced. And then I got a taste, as the arena announcer introduced the coaches as "Mr. Roy Williams" and "Mr. Mike Krzyzewski." And though the two adversaries have had words with one another in the press this year, they shook hands and exchanged what appeared to be sincere and sober pleasantries.
The game tipped off and accelerated instantaneously into an exhilarating, relentless, up-tempo contest of attacks, counterattacks, brilliant athleticism, and inevitable mistakes-- errors that were invariably responded to with discipline, character, and nary a whine or pout. The #1 Tar Heels, sporting black patches with "Eve" stitched upon them, appeared on a mission the first half, forging a double-digit lead as Duke struggled to find its rhythm, rushing their pace and tossing up one errant three-pointer after another.
But the second half was another matter, as Coach K's boys came roaring back with a retooled defense that slowed Carolina's fabulous All-American, Tyler Hansbrough, and an unflagging faith in their long range shooting, that smart-bombed the Blue Devils into the lead with minutes remaining. And when Carolina dug in its Tar Heels at the end to prevail 76-68, the arena filled with jubilation, disappointment, and mutual respect in sizable doses.
As the coaches and athletes shook one another's hands in a ritual that is always moving when done with sincerity, I was struck by how perfect the world seems for at least a few moments when sport is conducted at such a high level of athleticism and that old fashioned word, sportsmanship. Perhaps the memory and specter of Eve Carson influenced the fiber of this game. Then again, maybe what we witnessed was simply the embodiment of the Carolina way.