Austin Rivers must’ve known I was there because he tied the perfect bow to the end of a trip that started in Hoboken, New Jersey and ended with a once-defeaning crowd of 21,750 eerily silent. The buzzer beater that won it for Duke set off hysteria for the party behind Duke’s bench – Doc Rivers and his crew – but for the rest of us there, it was more quiet than the school’s library. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts the last few days, you know I was in New Jersey for the launch of the Air Jordan 2012, and that Jordan Brand also brought me down to Chapel Hill to see one of the biggest rivalries in all of basketball up close and personal.
In a city where all the waitresses say “Y’all” and the entire campus seems to have a dress code on game days (only Carolina blue); in an arena where the one Duke fan amongst us had to keep his composure to stay safe; and in a game that mattered so much people in the Raleigh airport, on the plane home and in a Starbucks off campus were still talking about it the next day, all we needed was one shot to shut everyone up. I’ve never heard a crowd grow so quiet. But that’s what happens when a team recovers from their point guard (Kendall Marshall) having a first half handle that was more slippery than a naked stripper to go up double-digits, only to slow up at the end and let a freshman steal it.
On the way out of the arena, one kid hopped out of a white sports car amidst a maze of university blue and started chanting “AUSTIN RIVERS…” I thought his car would get keyed.
The whole day was surprising. After we left New Jersey and landed in Raleigh, we had a private tour of the basketball facilities. The championship rings. The coaches’ offices. The players lounge (Tyler Zeller was in there lamping out… it must’ve helped because he went off later that night). The weight room and practice gym (where they say all those legendary alumni summer battles take place). The Ernie Williamson Athletics Center, a Carolina basketball museum where they had everything from actual recruiting letters to Michael Jordan to Eric Montross‘ player exclusives. We met up with Rasheed Wallace - he was in town for the game. We checked out the locker room, and it’s absolutely massive. Bigger than any NBA team, and because of this, certain guys take advantage of it. Tyler Hansbrough still has his own unmarked locker in there, and only recently allowed one of the walk-ons the chance to share it with him.
It all had a 007 feel. We joked you needed fingerprints to open every door, and in a way you almost did. At one point, half the media group got separated and had to wait 15 minutes for someone to come around and pick us up. We checked out the Dean Dome, completely empty outside of some workers, Shammond Williams working out (random), and all of the team’s custom Jordans. I would’ve posted some pictures of the ID notes each player put on his sneakers, but they told us not too. Let’s just say some of them wouldn’t exactly be politically correct.
It was all so eye-popping that I don’t doubt the stories they told us. One in particular stood out. When James McAdoo came on a recruiting visit, he watched an alumni game, walked around for a few minutes and then committed on the spot. How can you not? The place is a basketball shrine.
Everything about the trip was perfect, right down to the food. A few hours before Duke/UNC tipped off, we went out to eat at a place just off campus called the Top Of The Hill Restaurant. I had some of the best cajun grilled salmon I’ve ever had.
As for the Air Jordan 2012 launch from earlier in the week, you may have already seen our recaps. But that was just as crazy. We all were picked up from The W in Hoboken, and brought out to some unknown location (we later found out it was Teterboro Airport) to meet up with the greatest sneaker designer ever, Tinker Hatfield. Once there, Jordan Brand gave us a presentation and explained what makes this sneaker stand out (you can find all of the details for the shoe here).
[RELATED: Photo Gallery - Air Jordan 2012 Launch]
After the initial Q&A, we all received custom Jordan bags filled with goodies inside (towels, shorts, socks, shirts, jackets and of course, sneakers) and headed out to the court to go through an actual NBA workout with Chris Paul‘s trainer, Idan Ravin, and play some ball in the new kicks.
Finally at the end of the five-hour event, we mingled in the back for an hour or two, checking out all of the different AJ 2012 colorways, and actually getting a chance to ID our own pair (I went with a design centered around a red/orange/yellow and black colorway). For some of our longtime Dime readers, you might remember Christian Grant-Fields. He was in the house. So were media members from just about everywhere in the basketball industry.
After leaving early Monday morning from Baltimore, I didn’t make it back until yesterday afternoon. Running on about 10 hours of total sleep since Sunday, I nearly collapsed three or four times last night – even missing large chunks of the Boston/Los Angeles game – and yet it’s such a downer being back. I even miss the Chick-fil-A and the fast food breakfasts; If you know me, you know I need my full meals.
Hit page two for another gallery from Jordan Brand on the launch of the Air Jordan 2012.