NEAR FRATERNITY COURT — As I looked up into Seventh Woods’ armpits soaring high above the sagging rim — and me — at the DKE basketball court, I knew I was toast.
It was my third day at UNC, and to my green freshman mind, strolling into the middle of a crowd of North Carolina men’s basketball players shooting around at a frat party was a good idea.
And an even better idea was to yell, “YOU CAN’T DUNK ON ME.”
I know what you’re thinking: Seventh Woods has been dunking since he was11. Hisearned himnational attention during his first year of high school. If he tries to dunk on you, you’re going to get embarrassed. Holt, are you outrageously arrogant or just crazy?
But you don’t know me. I boast alean, mean 6-foot, 165-pound frame. I won a trashketball tournament in 10th grade. I once dropped four points in a middle school basketball game. Plus — and this might have been the most persuasive factor — my suitemate Andrew dared me to do it.
Add all that up, and I knew that I was about to swat this shot so hard it would land in Carrboro.
So Seventh geared up, pounded the ball off the ground, picked it up and did it again two more times. (In case you were wondering, that’s a double dribble. No wait, it’s a triple dribble. Funny how nobody recalls that particular detail.)
He picked the ball up for the final time and took three steps (which is, by the way, a travel… where are the refs?!). He was barreling down the concrete like a plane down a runway.
When he lifted off, I was confident I could block it. He rose up, and then I hit the peak of my leap. As I began to fall back to earth, Seventh cocked it back for a windmill and climbed to the stratosphere.
Instantly, I realized just how dunked-on I was going to be. Time slowed, and I stared up helplessly amid the glare of dozens of iPhone cameras. My life flashed before my eyes, and I thought of all the people who care for me (a.k.a. just my mom).
Embarrassment may be the most natural reaction to this scenario. National media outlets seemed to think so, at least. After all, getting dunked on is basketball’s equivalent of wearing Crocs in public.
CBS Sports ran the video with the headline,“UNC freshman Seventh Woods shames fellow student with massive dunk.”
I was described variously as “hapless,” “poor” and, perhaps most bitingly of all from USA Today, “random.”
For this hapless, random UNC student, however, getting dunked on by Seventh wasn’t embarrassing. In fact, it was a culmination of a lifetime of Tar Heel fandom.
Growing up a die-hard fan, North Carolina basketball was a religion. Tyler Hansbrough (or Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller … the list goes on) was a figure worthy of worship.
I remember staying up late on a school night to watch the national championship game in 2009, and the disgust I felt when my little brother fell asleep at halftime.
I remember crying whenDook (no, not “Duke”) won the following year in 2010.
I remember breaking up with a high school girlfriend at halftime of a December game against Davidson — and then asking her to leave so I could get back inside to watch the second half.
As a young fan, I saw these players as other-worldly beings who exist in a separate basketball universe. The idea of them as real-life people was foreign.
That all changed once I arrived at UNC. I regularly saw Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley eating Chick-fil-A at Bottom of Lenoir. I saw Snapchats of Luke Maye to his 8 a.m. class the morning after making the shot that sent the 2017 Tar Heels to the Final Four. I saw Joel Berry in a brace after he broke his hand.
These experiences challenged my picture of UNC basketball players as godlike figures. I realized that these guys do everything that normal students do. They use up all of their meal swipes at Chick-fil-A, they drag themselves to class after long nights and they take video games too seriously. If that’s not relatable, I don’t know what is.
Yet, on my third day on campus, I still had no idea that these guys were just that — normal guys.
So there I was, suspended in the air under the basket, armed with New Balances and my romanticized, unrealistic view of North Carolina basketball players.
You already know what happened. Seventh came down, the ball went in, the crowd exploded and my worldview was shattered.
I learned a few lessons that night. Seventh Woods is a human; well, a human who happens to be really, really good at basketball.