Michael Jordan and the North Carolina Experience

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Michael Jordan's 1982 NCAA Championship shoes
Michael Jordan’s 1982 NCAA Championship shoes

Growing up as a kid in Australia, I was never a basketball fan, let alone a Michael Jordan fan. For me it was all about Rugby League and Cricket. We didn’t have cable TV back then and basketball courts were few and far between.

I was only 9 years old when Michael Jordan won his first National Championship playing for the University of North Carolina, and 17 when he won his first NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls. I don’t recall any memory of either of these milestones, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I first became exposed to the man they call “Air Jordan” and the feats he could display on the court.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan’s famed #23 hanging from the rafters

I’ve always been a sports fanatic, and as I got older I started to watch pretty much any sport at the highest level. I just love watching the best athletes train and perform. I do remember purchasing all of Michael Jordan’s videos about his life and career, and watched them over and over again, really appreciating him for the superstar that he was.

Not only is he arguably the greatest basketball player ever, but he has probably become the biggest brand in all of sports. Not bad for a scrawny kid from small town Wilmington, North Carolina who failed to even make his own high school team.

But Michael Jordan would go onto learn that it’s ok to fail in life, because in the end, that’s how we succeed…

The Carolina Experience

In 2004 we relocated to live in North Carolina through a teaching program Caz was sponsored by. As it turned out, the headquarters of the program was based in Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina.

Whilst we were based 30 minutes down I40 in Raleigh, more often than not we would would hang out in Chapel Hill on a weekend. It soon became one of our favorite towns we’ve visited, and it’s easy to see why it’s consistently rated as one of the best places in America to live and as being one of the best college towns in the country.

University of North Carolina campus
University of North Carolina campus

Sometimes a love for a place is unexplainable because its a connection you find with the energy that vibrates from there. And there is plenty of energy in Chapel Hill. A college town; a major US basketball college town. In fact one of the best basketball colleges in the country. It is the place Michael Jordan says ‘made him who he is today’.

It is almost impossible to live the expat life in North Carolina without becoming a fan of college basketball. The Raleigh triangle area is home to not only UNC, but also Duke University and North Carolina State University, all of which have long standing traditions in basketball.

College basketball in North Carolina just gets under your skin. It’s fans are passionate and intense, and in fact the UNC v Duke rivalry is considered one of the biggest in all of sports.

UNC Basketball Museum

Carolina Basketball museum
The last two National championship trophies

To get a feel and understanding of the tradition and passion that is Carolina basketball, visit the awesome and free Carolina Basketball museum. It has interactive displays on all the past and present  stars, including Michael Jordan, the championship trophies, and a 6 minute introductory movie simulating a game in the Dean Dome.

During his career in the NBA, Jordan wore his Carolina shorts underneath his Bull’s shorts for good luck. The common thread mentioned throughout the museum by the players is…“I would not be who I am today if it was not for Carolina basketball”.

Pre Game Hype

Game day in Chapel Hill is something special. And we recommend you make a whole day of it to take in the hype and tradition…

Sutton’s Drug Store

Start your day off with breakfast at this Franklin street institution. This is a true local hangout, even for the players. It’s a step back in time just like the museum, with lots of memorabilia on display hanging from the walls and ceiling. And the food is pretty good and cheap too…

Sutton's Drug store in Chapel Hill
Sutton’s Drug store in Chapel Hill

Walk the Campus

The campus is one of the most picturesque in the country. Take a gentle stroll around the oldest state university in the land and get a feel for what it would be like to be a student. See it’s historic buildings, oak tree lined parks, and beautiful gardens.

On game day it will be a buzz of activity and finish with a visit to the basketball museum. From the museum you can catch a free campus bus back up the hill to Franklin street.

University of North Carolina
University of North Carolina
University of North Carolina
Kalyra at the University of North Carolina campus
University of North Carolina
The old well on campus

Explore Franklin Street

We love Franklin street. It’s at the front of the college and is the street where all the vibrancy lives through it’s many restaurants, cafes, bars, and of course the ubiquitous Carolina blue merchandise stores. It’s very walkable and has a nice charm about it.

Franklin street, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Kalyra in her Carolina blue on Franklin street

Top of the Hill Bar and Brewery

This bar is another institution on Franklin street. Top of the Hill Bar and Brewery has won 16 medals in the World Beer Championships and is recognized as one of the best breweries in the US.

It’s elevated position above the main junction on Franklin street provides for nice views and people watching below, and is the best vantage point for insane post game celebration madness on the street below…

Top of the Hill Bar and Brewery Chapel Hill
enjoying a few beers at Top of the Hill

At the Game

The Dean E. Smith center, or Dean Dome, is the home to Carolina Basketball and provides an electric atmosphere. The 20,000 plus capacity is consistently sold out and know matter where you are, you can see and feel the experience.

We were very fortunate to get court side seats at a game which was a memorable experience…

North carolina Basketball
court side seats yay!
North carolina Basketball
Caz and kalyra with team mascot
North carolina Basketball
student section

March Madness

In the four years we lived in North Carolina, the Tar Heels won two National Championships. The experience of watching two Final Four’s in a bar in Chapel Hill with thousands of other students and die hard Carolina fans is like nothing we’ve experienced elsewhere.

And the post game celebrations on Franklin street are legendary. Thousands of students spill out of the Carolina blue bars and nearby campus buildings and jump over street bonfires kept aflame by t-shirts and torn down signs and whatever else you can thrown in there.

It’s an insane party. A street party to rival all parties. Twice now we’ve been cheering wildly at the bars, jumping over the fires and the crashing frat parties afterward. To be a part of that is one of our most fun and memorable travel experiences.

North carolina Basketball
inside Ham’s Bar and Grille, Franklin street
North carolina Basketball
ready for game time at Ham’s bar
North carolina Basketball
celebrating the win on Franklin street

As I write this, Carolina is only hours away from playing Kentucky for a spot in this years Final Four and a chance at a sixth National title. We’ll be watching anxiously from Australia, with vivid pictures in our mind of the craziness going on in Chapel Hill.

Let’s hope we get to add another championship banner to the rafters next week…

North carolina Basketball
The Championship banners

Are you a sports fan? Are you a Michael Jordan fan? What memorable sporting experiences have you had either at college, or on your travels around the world? Please leave a comment below…

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