There I was, twelve-year-old, gangly me on February 24, 1976, in my Ft. Bragg house, sitting at my kitchen table finishing up my math homework—when my father, a military man, walks in and says, “get in the car. We are going to Raleigh to see UNC versus NC State.” What was a regular Tuesday afternoon turned into a dream come true.
Even today it still feels like a dream.
In those days, there was no internet or cable TV. Most people had three channels and there was usually just one ACC game of the week on Saturday at 1pm. Pilot Life, which was the forerunner of Jefferson Pilot (now Lincoln Life) was the sponsor. I still remember the song that played on the introduction to the game, “Sail with The Pilot.” The announcers were Jim Thacker and Billy Packer. Any time a game was on, people watched. And if you were lucky enough to go to a game, you went. And you cherished it.
As I sat in Reynolds Coliseum on NC State’s campus that Tuesday evening, I kept saying to myself, “I can’t believe I am here.” This is where David Thompson, the greatest college basketball player of all time, used to play just a couple years prior. I sat behind the basket on the floor. I can still feel the emotion of it all.
I remember the players. The best player for North Carolina was Phil Ford. Other North Carolina players included Dudley Bradley, Walter Davis, and Mitch Kupchak (now GM of the Los Angeles Lakers). The North Carolina coach was Dean Smith. NC State’s elite player was Kenny Carr. Other players included Phil Spense and Al Green. The coach of NC State was Norm Sloan, who had been the head coach of the 1974 National championship team.
In this game, Phil Ford was leading scorer and UNC won 91-78. The headlines the next day read “There is no Carr like a Ford.”
As an adult, I’ve taken my family to a lot of games. We go regularly and we enjoy ourselves, but nothing will match that game I saw as a kid. Part of it may be that I’ve grown up, but college basketball is a far cry from what it used to be. It’s a business now—it’s a minor league for the NBA. Players are being drafted as freshmen and sophomores, so there is no time for fans to get to know anybody. There is no loyalty. There is no heart.
I’m not criticizing the players. They can only control what they can control, and if someone can go to the NBA and make money, then by all means, he should go for it. I am for high school players having the option to go pro out of high school, though I do I think they should go to the NBA D-League, which is better suited as a minor league than the college teams are.
But my point is that college basketball lost its heart somewhere between that memorable night in Reynolds Coliseum and today. I’m not the only one who thinks so—look at how low the ratings are now. Have you notice how many people only really pay attention to college basketball during March Madness?
I see the same thing happening to some businesses, where management forgets what they got into business for in the first place. They get in their own way with corporate-speak and with too many rules. Simple, little problems get hard to solve because there are rigid processes that everyone has to go through, no matter what. There are real people with real needs who want to do business with the company, but nobody seems to remember them—despite the polished words of the corporate Mission Statement that nobody ever reads.
I wish those companies and the people who run them could go back in time to that moment when their work really meant something. Maybe they could apply that perspective to their business today and get back to helping people and enjoying their jobs.
Me, I don’t want to forget in the first place. Every day, I think about why I got into this business. Maybe I can’t give the people I work with the magic of sitting in the Reynolds Coliseum with my dad in 1976, but I strive to get close. My business has heart.