There is a state in the union truly unlike the other 49, and not because its residents suffer incurable basketball insanity.
Other states have this ailment: Kentucky, Indiana, even parts of California.
But in North Carolina, where Top 20 college basketball teams abound annually like tobacco leaves, partisanship is the criterion for identity. It is who you are. It is the ultimate in basketball insanity.
It is a 9-year-old Carolina advocate refusing to shake the outstretched hand North Carolina State Coach Norm Sloan at a Christmas service. It is Gov. Jim Hunt, resplendent in his State jacket, bellowing his lungs out at a game. It is a war of words carried out in beauty parlors, bars and on car bumpers. It is State's Clyde Austin being asked to comment on the University of North Carolina and replying, "I hate them."
A North Carolinian is, to another North Carolinian, first and foremost a Carolina fan, a Duke fan, a State fan, or, a Wake Forest fan. The question politely asked upon introduction is not, "Where are you from?" but "Who are you for?"
Wake Forest, of course, is considered a rival of the othe three schools. But since Wake's Winston-Salem campus is about 75 miles from the Duke-Carolina State triangle in the Raleigh area, the most zealous games and debates seldom involve the Demon Deacons.
The barbs fly more than ever today because Duke, once the pitiable fat sister, has shaped up into a knockout competitor, placing second in the NCAA Tournament last year. But the heart and soul of the rivalry thrives in the crossfire between North Carolina (NCAA runner-up in 1977) and North Carolina State (NCAA champion in 1974).
When these teams play the result will reverberate for days. Children will lock themselves in their rooms and cry, as Carolina guard Ged Doughton did when he was a boy and Carolina lost, much to the delight of the N.C. State-affiliated children who made fun of him.
"The rivalry is fueled constantly in the neighborhoods where people from all three schools live together," said Sloan. "You'll get it in the grocery store, the barber shop, needle after needle after needle.
"If my children have a teacher who is a Tar Heel supporter, he'll needle my kids. One time a situation like this did raise a question in the mind of one of my kids about the fairness of a grade.
"The thing I'll never forget was the Christmas Eve my family went to a candlelight service and I was introduced to a little boy who I offered to shake hands with.He put his hand behind his back and said, "Ewwww. I don't want to touch him.'"
Only in North Carolina, that stretch of pine trees and tobacco farms between Washington and Atlanta, do three teams the caliber of North Carolina (ranked second nationally), Duke (ranked seventh) and North Carolina State (ranked 20th) exist in one league in halfhour drive proximity, in a state that manages to have 5 million residents but no one city large enough to nurture a pro team.
There is a metropolitan opera in Raleigh, but last Saturday's broadcast was kicked over to another channel, pre-empted by the N.C. State-Virginia game.
Such devotion even permeates such out-of-staters as Virginia's Austin, star guard at North Carolina State.
"Carolina," said Austin, "is just a team I hate. It's like something being nailed in you. It's like a parasite and it'll never get out of me. It's bad to say, but it's there. I'm a Wolfpacker to stay."
A Duke official said that UNC is generally resented for what is thought to be an "uppity attitude," what with all their bumper stickers that say "I'd rather be in Chapel Hill," "I found my thrill in Chapel Hill," and, a favorite, "If God is not a Tar Heel why is the sky Carolina blue?"
Duek people say that Carolina Coach Dean Smith was sitting next to Duke Coach Bill Foster on a plane to Europe and when the sun broke through the clouds and shone on a little town, Smith is reputed to have said, "That town reminds me of Chapel Hill. The sun always shines on Chapel Hill."
Smith claims they weren't even on the same plane. Nevertheless, "The sun always shines on Chapel Hill" because a catch phrase and a thorn in the side of the city of Durham.
When Chapel Hill, a charming college town, suffered a drought in 1975 and had to buy water from Durham, angry letters appeared in Durham newspapers saying no water should be sold to Chapel Hill. There was also a letter sent to Smith from Foster saying, "A little too much sun shining on Chapel Hill?"
No jealousy is greater than that directed at Smith, whose Carolina teams have finished no lower than second in the ACC for the last 12 years. "We have a joke in Durham," said the Duke official, "that we thought basketball was invented by Naismith, not Deansmith. It's almost like having God down the road."
Both Foster and Sloan covet the rapport Smith has cultivated with the press, which has knighted Smith the strategist supreme. It is odd, perhaps, that Smith is hailed the No. 1 coaching wizard when he has not won a national championship and Sloan has.
"A few years ago," said a Duke official, "It was a known fact that Dean and Norm hated each other."
Now there is vigorous denial of this by both Smith and Sloan, but Sloan does admit, "maybe I am a little envious that he enjoys this unbelievable position of prestige. Dean enjoys the reputation of being the premier coach in the league in the ey of the Media. And he is excellent.
"But what they've overlooked is that he's an even better recruiter. He's not working with chopped liver over there. I don't feel I've been slighted. I've probably gotten more recognition than I deserve. Coaches have something to do with how they are presented. I play down coaching. Dean plays up coaching."
It was noted that Carolina guard Phill Ford was always portrayed as a Smith creation.
"I saw Phil Ford in high school and he was awfully good," said Sloan. "I readily admit that I didn't make David Thompson, but didn't foul him up either.
"This is not a criticism of Dean. It's just a difference between us. He enjoys those comments. Other coaches don't. You realize, don't you, that when you get out of this area, he's just another coach."
"Tell the Yugoslavs that," snapped a Carolina official, referring to Smith's coaching victories in the 1976 Olympics.
There are numerous Sloan-Smith stories, but Smith says that the only time he has been irritated with Sloan is when Sloan "announced to his people that I turned him into the NCAA for (violations involving) David Thompson. I'm positive I didn't."
Sloan says he never said that.
Sloan has long lamented that North Carolina sports writers "view the world through Carolina blue eyes." His volatile, up-front emotionalism has made him suffer in comparison to the composed, well-mannered Smith.
As for Smith, the only thing that seems out of kilter about him, as he sits in his spotless office with the baby blue shag carpet, is that he is chain smoking, dousing cigarette after cigarette into a baby blue ashtray that has basketballs and some tournament scores painted on it.
It is said, though, that the only time Smith totally lost his cool was in 1976 when State upset Carolina at UNC's Carmichael Auditorium, and Smith publicly accused ACC service director Marvin (Skeeter) Francis of calling the television timeouts to State's advantage. Smith cited the fact that Francis was a Wake Forest graduate "who has always wanted to see us lose." The ink has been dry on Francis' diploma for more than 20 years.
The rule governing TV timeouts has since been changed so that no one calls them, but instead they come at assigned intervals.
Under the heat of the Carolina spotlight it is notable that Smith, Sloan and Foster have not had their marbles melt away completely. After losing two games earlier this season, Foster had to suffer the indignity of opening up a Durham paper and reading a letter to the editor criticizing his use of substitutes. This wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been signed by Joe Gminski, the father of one of his starters.
Even school colors are scrutinized. Last year Duke was flooded with letters and phone calls complaining that the blue in the center circle and the lanes was coming across on television too light. Dukehs colors are Prussian (or royal) blue and white; Carolian's are baby blue and white. Duke had its floor painted a darker blue last summer.
"Yeah, it's funny the way people are at about those things," said Johnny Moore, Duke's promotions director. "I guess I'm no better. My sister-in-law gave me a baby blue sweater for Christmas. I'll never wear it."
Despite the color of the floor, Duek received 23,000 requests for season tickets this year. Cameron Indoor Stadium seats 8,564 of the most innovative, loud and controversial fans in college basketball. And an extra 50 or so have been known to sneak in the building the day before and sleep in bathrooms and closets in order to gain admission. Others climb in windows.
The crowd is so distracting that Sloan altered his coaching strategy at Duke last year, going to a slowdown offense to try to quiet the crowd and "take them out of the game."
That night Sloan blasted the Duke fans, who had thrown underwear at his players during warmups. Two of State's players had been arrested for allegedly switching prices on underwear and then purchasing the items (the charges against the players were dropped). The Duke crowd was well versed on the incident, as anything off-color involving an ACC player scorches the news wires and backyard gossip networks.
The Duke crowd is so close to the court that N.C. State claims a person spit on Austin as he tossed the ball in bounds and uttered an audible racial slur at him. Digs are not reserved for just State players, of course. For showboat UNC player George Karl there was a shower of hot dogs.
"The Duke situation was really bad and it's gotten worse," said Sloan. "Some of the objects they're thrown are uncalled for. The crowd had been drinking for two or three hours before the game, there was actual physical contact and it was a highly volatile situation."
For making such comments on television, State's Athletic Director Willis Casey was sent a letter from a Duke official, Tom Butters, who demanded an apology. None was made.
Defending the Duke crowd, Blue Devil forward Kenny Dennard said: "It's very unique. This is the only place that that kind of stuff would happen. There are a lot of intelligent people here with original ideas. The studies get pretty intense and going to a basketball game and thinking up all the things they think up is a good outlet for our students.
"This place is just nuts.It's all in fun. It's northing serious. If it affects anybody then that's their own individual problem."
Fans of UNC forward Mike O'Koren were not enamored with Duke fans who proclaimed the All-America forward the cocaptain of their celebrated ACC All-Ugly team.
"I don't know why they have to bring looks into it," said O'Koren. "I like to think of myself as a handsome guy."
For his part, sometime starter Doughton aspires to make Duke's all All-Ugly team.
"I've never played enough to make the All-Ugly team," Doughton lamented. "I'd like to make it, not so much because I'm ugly, but because it would mean I had done something to upset them. It's almost a compliment. I wouldn't want to make it as a bench warmer, being so ugly just sitting there that they had to put you on it."
Carolina fans take pride in the fact that they do not swear or boo in their cheers. Cheerleaders request on a public address system before each game, "Let's show a little class," and there is wild applause. (Carolina always is referred to by its own as the school with class.) Signs are banned in UNC's Carmichael Auditorium.
While fans toss aspirin and verbal grenades, the players are friendly with one another, driving to each other's towns to play pickup games in the summer. Duke's Gene Banks and UNC's O'Koren have made plans to doubledate. Duke's Bob Bender dates Carolina student Susan Salzano, whose brother, Mike, is an All-America football player at Carolina and whose father teaches medicine at Duke.
"Fans ae much more interested in hating players," said Bender, who transferred from Indiana. "We want to beat them but by no means do we hate them.
"The enthusiasm these teams have is really unique. In the Big 10 there are teams with little or no enthusiasm, compared to this."
Dennard questions the ACC madness.
"I like to get off on all the glitter," said Dennard, "but why would anyone want my autograph when there's a doctor sitting next to me? If you go on in life to be vice president of a corporation, it's like that will be almost as good as when you played in the ACC. It's like this is the highlight of your life. It's weird."
Without a doubt, says Sloan.
"There isn't another place in the world like it."