It's Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament time and I find that I'm ... I'm...
How can that be? I mean, I spent 30 years as a sports writer for The Dispatch, which not only defined my professional life, but handed me some of the best sports-related experiences I'm likely to ever know. I mean, I found myself, at times, in the same room with people like legendary coaches Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski and got to talk with them (however briefly) one on one. I met Richard Petty in the garage area of the Charlotte Motor Speedway as we waited out a rainstorm together. I sat within inches of Arnold Palmer in the press room of the Vantage Senior PGA golf tournament. I even got crushed by Phil Ford, who leaped into me on press row as he tried to chase down an out-of-bounds loose ball. I came up off the floor unhurt and smiling with a true story I could tell my friends.
I can give you hundreds of other stories about the sports heroes I met, all an accident created as a result of a job that put me in a converging crossroads with these people.
So I've been fortunate. Maybe I should be writing my memoirs instead of blog posts.
And you would think that with the ACC tournament here that I would be glued to every pick and roll, every elbow-swinging rebound, every unwhistled foul and non-foul that hurries across my TV screen.
... I remember years ago how excited I got when the ACC tournament came to Greensboro or Charlotte. I reckon I've been to about 20 of those tournaments over the years, paying nothing more for admission than the price of my smoldering patience while trying to get into the media parking lot against all that traffic. That, and the credential around my neck.
Because we were representing a small newspaper, our courtside seat was usually about four rows back and maybe in a direct line with the foul stripe. Not bad, really.
This was back in the days when there were only eight teams in the conference and the tournament began with four elimination games on Friday. That was a killer. The first game would start at noon, with the final game ending around midnight. A 12-hour shift. Then it was hop in the car, rush back to The Dispatch to bang out a story or two, and get a couple hours of adrenalin-spiked sleep before doing it all over again.
Clearly, a young man's game.
So the other day, when the four-game Thursday (the league expanded to an unwieldy 12 teams about a decade ago, forcing an extra day added to the tournament) began, a weird sensation winged by my ear.
I was watching the tournament on television, but it was like my career as a sports writer who once covered this very event never happened. Somehow, I was completely divorced from my past, no strings attached.
I don't know how that happened or what it means. I still enjoy sports, although now armed with a remote control and infinite cable channels, I barely make it from one commercial break to another before I start surfing through the TV lineup. Sometimes I run across an old movie I enjoy and totally forget to go back to the game.
I never saw that one coming.
How do I explain this? There's a freedom now. No deadline. No unnatural hours to keep. A game I can choose not to watch. An incredibly patient wife I don't have to leave behind in my furiously churning wake.
Maybe, at 62, I'm finally rebelling from all those years of structure and expectations. Maybe I've matured. Or morphed.
And maybe I just learned how to breathe again.