They came by car, by foot, by golf cart from the parking lots all-around. Old, young, students, alumni, and folks that just love the Carolina Blue came by the thousands to the Dean Smith Center, practically turning Skipper Bowles Drive into a parking lot more than four hours before the defending national champions took the court. One fan showed up at 5:00 on Thursday night to make sure he was the first one in the doors.
What attracts so many people of all different types to Late Night with Roy?
Is it the chance to get the first look at this year’s basketball team? Is it the free admission, letting fans that may not be able to get tickets to a regular season game a chance to watch their beloved Tar Heels? True, on each of those points, we love our men’s basketball and the chance to watch them for no charge. But the Xs and Os don’t explain the 19,000 plus that showed up on a Friday night.
Maybe it’s the volleyball team, in their first appearance at the event since 2013, getting a chance to set an NCAA attendance record against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Maybe it’s Joel Berry and Kenny Williams serving as ballboys, helping each team get the ball to serve. Maybe it’s their PA announcer holding the phrase “T-SHIRRRRRRRRRRRRRTS” over 31 seconds for a giveaway, or Taylor Leath jumping from the back row for one of her 17 kills to push her team over .500 and make thousands of new volleyball fans in the process.
Maybe it’s the women’s basketball team, coming off two tough seasons but finally looking up with a slew of strong newcomers and savvy veterans. Their scrimmage against their men’s practice team, showing what a typical practice may look when the doors are closed. It’s Coach Sylvia Hatchell, dancing behind a screen just like her players before her to light up the crowd.
It’s definitely the dances. Where else can you see Shea Rush slip on a Superman cape, Luke Maye wear a wig, Jamie Cherry don a t-shirt with a glittered number on the back, and the entire men’s team dance to High School Musical? Sure, the guys can be awkward and uncoordinated, but that adds to the charm. And you can’t beat a medley that includes Soulja Boy and Bonnie Hunt.
Maybe it’s the history. Where a legend whose number hangs in the rafters comes back to MC the night. Where his son, a transfer giving up a year of eligibility to wear Tar Heel blue like his father, banks in Walter Davis’ shot to complete the comeback against Duke to the screams and cheers of the crowd.
Tonight, it was definitely the banner. When Theo walked out with that national championship trophy, you knew it was real. When you glanced upward early in the night, and spotted six banners, all in a row, with lucky number seven rolled up on the end, the anticipation only built. And finally, when the banner finally dropped, after the recap video played, and Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt were brought out to join the team, you exhaled, satisfied.
Sure, stats weren’t kept anywhere but notepads, the team wore those weird shorts with the interlocking logo on the front and the game was played at a snail's pace. But those weren't the only reasons why you came. You came to belong, to celebrate, and to have fun. That’s why Late Night with Roy is a hit year after year. It’s fun. It’s sport in its purest form.
And as the folks drive away, caught again in the parking lot of Skipper Bowles Drive, that’s what keeps them coming back, year after year.