I remember the moment I became an ABC'er (anybody but Carolina) as clear as if it were yesterday, although it happened over 33 years ago.
It was March 3rd, 1978...
Ripe with a BA from J-school at Morehead State University, I had three days earlier piled everything I owned into my 1973 Chevy Impala, weathered 30" inches of fresh Kentucky snow through the craggy West Virginia coal country, zagged Southerly down Interstate-77, and finally zigged over the foggy Southern Virginia Appalachian mountains.
In a lush green North Carolina valley I finally unloaded my gear to begin my new life, and new job in Greensboro, NC. Though I'd only been there briefly in the month before (for my job interview), it had then seemed to me to be a friendly, habitable place.
This was my first day in my new position as Sales Trainee for a small fast growing real estate publisher. It was around 4:30 p.m. as I sat in my barely furnished office, shuffling papers around wondering what I might pretend to be doing for the next hour or so.
After an eager tap on my door, a toothy well-dressed man slid in, smiling and shaking hands. "Hi I'm Geoff Wolfe, the VP here. I hear you're from Kentucky? Me? I graduated from Chapel Hill, that's as in No..r..th Ca..ro..li..na. Basketball," he offers and grins Cheshire cat-ishly.
"Pleased to meet you, and yes I'm from Louisville, went to Morehead State University. Uh, that's as in Kentucky... as in Big Blue Bas..ket...ball," I chided, eager to see that I'm talking to a basketball fan from another great traditional power. (At that time in March 1978 Kentucky was ranked number 1 in the country, with Twin Towers so big that airplanes could never bring them down).
"Well...", he frowned then looked serious for once. "You know... Kentucky couldn't play in the ACC", he says matter-of-factly. "They're number 1 right now only because they play in such a weak conference. They could never play our schedule."
Then he shot a few 'air-free throws' looking away, he had tuned me out before I could offer rebuttal. He propped his shoes up on my desk. He shoots a three. "Yes".
I gulped. I stuttered. My face flushed and I suddenly could smell my underarms overpowering my deodorant. I was stunned as he played his semi-silent game of air-shoot-ball, complete with the "Raaahh" of crowd approval after each made shot. He made 'em all.
Looking somewhere in the distance, out the window I imagined being back over the NC mountains in Kentucky. I sat silently whiled my brain lurched, nervously 'doing the Math' on what to say to this 4-corner Neanderthal. And one whom, it seemed, owned me...
Finally..."Uh, well... that's bullshit about we can't play in the ACC. Really, that's kinda stupid. No, that's f**&king stupid," I muttered very low and gravely, and mainly to myself (and Geoff).
"Yeah... well, welcome to ACC country", laughed Smith with his stupid grin, still grabbing rebounds and making cheering putbacks. Then, as quickly, he's up and out my door, his arrogance forever starting a fire in my heart known only to a true ABC'er.
One month later I celebrated both Kentucky's fifth Natty against a formidable Duke team, and the news of Geoff Smith's firing... by yelling and hooting it up at the then-and-now famous "Four Corners" bar, in downtown Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
"Hey everybody", I squealed, both job and basketball safe from the idiocy.
"I hear that Kentucky couldn't play in the ACC! Well, looks like we just did!"
I lived in NC for most of the next 24 years, enduring these basketball I.Q. equivalents of four cornered morons, sometimes arguing college basketball along the way. Though I made many friends in NC, I've hated the Baby Blue with a fervent passion since that first day.
I worked at Duke University and the University of North Carolina during many of those years, rarely talking Kentucky basketball with the infidels. I had a Press Pass at Cameron Indoor for many games/years and witnessed my share of thrilling Duke-UNC tilts there. The truth is, just as we do, they both have much to be proud of.
But I was always careful not to root for Duke, only against North Carolina.
And in all that time I've loved the Cats and Kentucky basketball, traveling to see them play wherever and whenever I could, partying years with the rest of Big Blue Nation.
Having lived in North Carolina for so long, I came to know every argument for/against Duke, Wake, NC State and UNC upside down and backwards. But, there's one thing I can say from true life experience, and from living in and being around both basketball crazed states... Kentucky and North Carolina.
"THERE'S NOTHING LIKE KENTUCKY BASKETBALL."