I grew up on Tobacco Road with basketball in my veins. Living in Raleigh (North Carolina) and then Charlotte (North Carolina), college basketball was a religion that at the time culminated in the ACC tournament. It was do or die because only one team went to the NCAA tournament. I got psyched up every year for March Madness and knew it would reach a crescendo at the Final Four.
When I was about 7, my family went to the Duke Chapel one Sunday and took a family photo. My dad put it on the wall of my room and said he hoped I would go there one day. Sure enough, I did. So did my wife, and I went to law school there, too. As a youngster, I watched some great Duke players, including Gary Melchionni and Jack Marin, both of whom also went on to become lawyers.
Basketball stayed my sport of choice after I moved to Atlanta in 1981. I coached 6-and-under basketball at the YMCA in Decatur, all the way up until my son went to middle school. I got into watching wheelchair basketball through my nephew, L.J. Yates in Charlotte, who was born with cerebral palsy and is legally blind, but is a crack shot with a 3-pointer. I was inspired by him to lead Atlanta’s Final Four.
For many years, my family scheduled our lives around NCAA tournament games in March. Watching on TV, I remember how the games were only on the radio when I was a youngster. My teacher caught me sneaking in a radio to elementary school to listen to one of the NCAA games. Those memories give me a keen appreciation for the Final Four as the world’s greatest basketball event.
This year, March Madness is special. The key is parity — every school has dreams of being in the Final Four. The rankings have large state schools, small schools, private schools, from all over the country. It’s a wide-open field, and all roads lead to Atlanta.
For the first time, the NCAA Division I, II and III champions will be decided after five games played here April 6-8. The National Association of Basketball Coaches will also be meeting in Atlanta. If you like people watching, you will see legendary coaches and former players in Atlanta.
It’s the 75th celebration of March Madness and a real honor for the city to be recognized by the NCAA with its crown jewel. We want to make this the best Final Four ever.
As told to Michelle Hiskey, for the AJC