(DURHAM, NC) Ever wished you could do something crazy? You know, just let yourself go. Well, for my son Clancy’s 14th birthday I gave him craziness for one night. It was a gift born of dilemma.
Last Saturday night I was assigned to cover the Duke-North Carolina game for Sports Illustrated. The job conflicted with Clancy’s birthday. My career forces me to miss a lot of things. But I make a point not to miss my kids’ birthdays.
So I asked Clancy if he wanted to spend his birthday with me on the job. He’s not a basketball fan. In fact, he’s never been to a game. But he wanted to meet Jabari Parker. So he packed his overnight bag and we made the three-hour journey to Durham.
The game was nationally televised on ESPN at 9PM. We arrived three hours early. The Duke-Carolina rivalry is so hot that Duke students spent two weeks camping in tents outside Cameron Indoor Stadium in hopes of getting in. The makeshift tent city is called Krzyzewskiville.
Duke-NC games have been sold out since Ronald Reagan was president. A friend of the program “found” me a last-minute ticket for Clancy. Once inside Clancy received a press credential so he could hang out with me during the pre-game. First I showed him around Cameron Indoor Stadium.
He even got to spend a few minutes with Dick Vitale, who put on a blue wig and revved up the Duke student section. “That guy’s “awesome,” Clancy said.
As game time drew closer, Clancy decided he didn’t want to be separated from me. My seat is on press row. His ticket was way up in the stands, amongst a bunch of strangers. We were discussing options when a couple girls standing directly behind my seat offered to let him stand with them.
The two girls were part of the Cameron Crazies who had camped out in the tents. Their bodies were painted blue. But they liked my Sports Illustrated story on Jabari Parker and Coach K. So did all the Crazies standing around them. “We’ll make room for your son,” one of them said. “He can squeeze in.”
Clancy wasn’t sure. But I assured him it was the chance of a lifetime. How many 14-year-olds get to stand with the Cameron Crazies for the Carolina rivalry?
“What a cool birthday,” one of them said to Clancy.
Fortunately, Clancy brought earplugs. It was as loud as rock concert. In fact, when the entire student body sang along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” as it pumped through the sound system, I felt like a teenager in 1981 at a Journey concert. Even I was singing with the Crazies.
Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world.
She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere
Just a city boy
Born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.
When Duke plays North Carolina it is so much more than a basketball game. It’s pageantry. It’s a spectacle. It’s a night to remember.
By halftime the Crazies were telling Clancy he has to attend Duke when he’s old enough for college. The ESPN guys sitting next to me had offered him a seat on press row. And Jabari Parker was having the best game of his life. At one point he hit a 3-pointer, kissed his hand and waived to the fans as he ran past us on press row. It was a true Kodak moment.
It got so loud that even earplugs were useless. The noise cut through them.
In the end, Duke won 93-81. And Jabari Parker finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds. Clancy attended the post game press conference with me.
Then he hooked up with Jabari’s parents – Sonny and Lola.
But there were so many demands on Jabari’s time that I never got to introduce Clancy to Jabari. I felt horrible. He wanted to meet Jabari more than he wanted to see the game.
It was well after midnight when we got to our hotel. The lobby was full of Duke fans, celebrating and carrying on. I was on deadline and Clancy was exhausted. Se went straight to our room. I settled into a chair and began writing in hopes of filing a game story by 2 a.m. Clancy took off his Duke shirt, put on his pajamas and went to bed.
I had almost finished my story when I got a text message from Jabari. “What room are you in?”
I texted back: “Are you in the hotel?”
His parents had told him how much Clancy had been looking forward to meeting him. At Jabari’s insistence, his parents drove him off campus to my hotel around 1:30. Jabari was in the lobby. I woke Clancy. “Jabari’s here.”
He sprung from bed as if it was Christmas morning and put on his Duke shirt. I headed out the door to meet Jabari in the lobby. But by the time I reached the elevator he was coming through the stairwell door. He had a big smile on his face. I led him to our room.
“Hey little man,” he said.
Clancy lit up. This was better than meeting Santa Clause. Jabari sat on his bed and talked to him – kid to kid. Then he signed a bunch of magazine covers for Clancy and Clancy’s friends from church.
After the visit, we walked Jabari back to his parents’ car. By that time it was about 2 a.m. The lobby was empty except for the desk manager and a security guard. They were both speechless when Jabari walked past with a 14-year-old friend.
After the Parkers drove off, Clancy couldn’t sleep. He’s a Duke fan for life. He wants to apply to the university. He wants to be a Blue Devil. I told him that some day Jabari could write him a reference letter.
I telephoned my editor in New York and told him I had to write a new ending to my story. I finally filed at 3:30 a.m. Clancy finally nodded off. He was still wearing his Duke shirt. Crazy.
Here’s my story.
Jabari Parker's star shines as Duke powers past North Carolina