Home > Friends of SMP, Sports > The most critically bad team ever

The most critically bad team ever

It’s basketball season, and a young man’s thoughts often turn to… well, the most god-awful, yet entertaining team ever seen at the University of North Carolina. Nope, not the 8-20 team that imploded in front of our eyes a couple of years ago. I’m talking about the rec-league basketball that I started as a freshman: Critically Caucasian.

Like a lot of teams in the UNC intramural league, the best part of the team experience was the naming process. Navy ROTC had a team. The name? Shooting Seamen. The year after the Mavericks only won handful of their 82 games (aka, the Quinn Buckner lost season), there were two teams named the Dallas Mavericks. There were always creative slams against Duke – about a dozen or so each year.

So, for those of us who can’t “ball,” coming up with a name was paramount. The main reason for this is that every team manager took part in a league-wide meeting at the beginning of the season. At the end, the intramural director would call out each team name to get the schedule and rules packet. The roll call was the defining moment of the season (at least for me). If you got a chuckle in that room, it was like knocking them dead at a Friar’s Club roast. Tough crowd. Discerning. Jaded. And “Critically Caucasian” always got the best laugh. Every year. For four years.

Now, you might ask yourself — assuming you’re still reading this — just how god-awful was the team that I’m still writing about the team name. Pretty damn bad. The name wasn’t just catchy. It was pretty accurate. Take my freshman year, for example. At an even 6-0, I was not only the starting point guard but I was the tallest guy on the team and had to anchor the lethargic 2-3 zone defense. Magic Johnson switched from point guard to center in the 1980 NBA finals (after Kareem got hurt) and earned his place among the greats. I did it… and it was just pitiful.

None of us had played any ball out of rec league. None of us had played the “big” high school sports like football or baseball. We were tennis players, golfers, trivia club geeks. But, we had moments. During our sophomore year, Kevin accidentally clothslined an opponent in the lane (who was driving “off the bounce” as Len Elmore would say). For a second, Kevin celebrated like Chuck Bednarik after obliterating Frank Gifford. Then, he realized what he had done and helped the guy up. Another time, we actually had two non-Causcasian football players who took part on the team, pushing the “irony needle” to maximum limits. Didn’t help significantly, although we got “mercy ruled” a lot less for a while.

Oh yeah… the “mercy rule.” At UNC, if a team got ahead by 40 points at any time, the game was over. For good reason. One time, we played four regular season games and a plalyoff game. Five games… four mercy rules. You getting the picture? We were bad.

By my junior year, however, things got a little better. My buddies Neil and Russell (aka, b-moore) joined the squad, each at about 6-3. Sure, they had a combined weight of about 270, but it was height. And Neil had a friend whose name escapes me, but he was about 6-1 and strong (muscles were a relatively new concept as well). Add to that some of the veterans — a feisty Kevin, a scrapping Tony, a hyper and well-coifed Nipsey — it was good enough to be competitive.

And it finally happened. Woolen Gym. A crisp winter day. Playing the American Gladiators, we were tied at the end of regulation. Neil’s friend, what’s-his-name, fouled out after the first OT… Russell was a no-show due to a school assignment (the doofus)… things were on the precipice of disaster. There was no score in the second OT, so we went to the third. Bear in mind, this is rec-league, so the OTs were 2 minutes long because folks were waiting to play the next game. Seriously, folks were lined two-deep to see the ending — composed of the players of the next two teams set to face-off on that court. We had fans, too… usually a long-suffering girlfriend or two, but nothing major. This was the biggest crowd ever at a CC game.

In the third OT, I saw a crack in the defense and drove the lane (again, “off the bounce”). I went up for a layup, and predictably, missed. But, they called a foul, and I got two foul shots. The referee told us that there were only three seconds left (yeah, this is big-time sports: no scoreboard, just a Casio wristwatch). So, I went to the free throw line… tie game… heart pounding… knowing that I could end the humility with one made shot. Maybe two.

You know what? I actually hit both of them. The Gladiators inbounded the ball and threw up a desparation three-pointer from 45-feet that bounced twice off the rim. For a second, I thought God was just toying with me, but it fell harmlessly away. The team immediately mobbed me, and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had in sports. I was hugging people blindly, and then I realized that I didn’t know this dude who was patting me on the back.

“Great job! You’re on our court. We got next game. Get off!”

There was the obligatory celebration on Franklin Street. We drank a few beers, and ambled back to my dorm — Old East, the birthplace of the university. We sat on the steps, recounted the game and smoked cheap cigars. A great night.

Of course, we never won another game. In a way, I’m glad we didn’t. Winning is tough. But losing with a mixture of humor and humility is a better lesson. That was the best group of losers I’ve ever seen. And I’d give anything to get back on the floor with them again. Mercy rule or not, it’d be fun. It always was.

Categories: Friends of SMP, Sports
  1. Nipsey
    December 14, 2005 at 4:44 am

    Just let me know when and where the reunion game will be held, verify that a defibrillator will be on site and fully charged, fill up the oxygen tanks and I’ll be there. In fact, I say we do an entire tour – kind of an awkward, low-flying, poor-shooting answer to the And 1 Tour, with a dash of Old School thrown in for good measure. We’ll do our own underground mix tape of guys dribbling off their feet and wheezing for air. Tell me that wouldn’t be hot.

  2. Pit Row
    December 14, 2005 at 2:26 pm

    If you can react the same way to winning and losing, that is a big accomplishment. That quality is important because it stays with you the rest of your life.
    Chris Evert
    US tennis player (1954 – )

  3. Pieman
    December 14, 2005 at 3:54 pm

    I neglected to mention the one great idea for Critically Caucasian that never saw the light of day. Before sophomore year (I think), I suggested the team wear matching Converse Chuck Taylor original canvas shoes. Not only would we look slow, the shoes would most definitely take whatever spring we had out of our step. We did have matching uni’s with the CC, but I think some nice Chucks would have put us over the top (on what Mike Tyson would call the “Ludacrisp” Scale).

  4. Kevin
    December 16, 2005 at 2:41 pm

    Other memories… the technical I got for wearing an earring right after I got my ear pierced, playing a team of 7 foot tall mid-thirty grad students who took us to the woodshed, and one play where I think 3 or 4 of us missed an uncontested lay-up and subsequent follow-up shots also rank high on my nostalgia meter. If only we had video then … well, probably glad we didn’t.

  1. May 22, 2006 at 8:30 pm
  2. May 24, 2007 at 8:26 am
  3. January 4, 2010 at 1:02 am

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