Basketball Culture Wars
The longtime or especially astute readers all know I'm a University of North Carolina alum and an ardent Tar Heel basketball fan, and I can't help but notice how closely this election parallels the UNC/Dook rivalry in basketball, especially after today's announcement of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. Maybe this is a stretch, but follow me.
Smith versus Krzyzewski
Dean Smith is a liberal who participated in the civil rights movement, opposes the death penalty and the war in Iraq, and once allowed a player to skip practice to protest against the UNC cafeteria workers' low wages. He's also talked and written candidly about how his Christain faith has shaped his worldview.
Coach K is a Republican who likes to tell offensive jokes and has succeeded in part because of dirty tricks and media manipulation. He coaches his players to play dirty (slapping wrists, taking bullshit charges, etc.) and dares the refs to call the foul, which seems pretty similar to me to the Karl Rove tactics of distorting opponents' positions and spreading rumors and daring the media to call him out on it. These strategies work by intimidating referees through constant yelling and cursing and causing journalists to fear that they might confirm the "liberal media" image that the right-wing has created for them.
Kansas versus Alaska
Obama's grandparents are from Kansas, as are Dean Smith and longtime UNC coach Bill Guthridge. Of course, Roy Williams also coached at Kansas for many years, as did former UNC player Larry Brown. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius is a strong Obama supporter.
Duke has had two star players from Alaska: Trajan "Alaskan Assassin" Langdon and Carlos Boozer. McCain's recently announced running mate, Sarah Palin, is the governor of Alaska and ran the point for Wasilla High, leading them to the "small school" state championship back in '82.
Jordan versus Wojo
No UNC player, with the possible exceptions of Lennie Rosenbluth and Phil Ford, is more associated with UNC basketball than Michael Jordan. He famously hit the game-winning jumper against Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA title game, the same year as Palin's high school championship (meaning that Jordan is older than she is!). Jordan is known for his incredible work ethic, but on the court, his gracefulness often makes it all look effortless. He is also seen by some as a transcendent post-racial figure, someone whose popularity has helped to pave the way for the first black president.
Christian Laettner is probably the iconic Duke basketball player, but no one symbolizes Duke more to me than Steve "Wojo" Wojciechowski, the scrappy Polish-American point guard who now sits next to Coach K on the Duke bench. Although I've never seen Sarah Palin play basketball (and, really, probably only a hundred or less people have), I like to imagine that she is a similar player to Wojo, succeeding through gritty hard work and not above a cheap shot or two, if it gets the job done.
Unitary Executive Theory
Current UNC Coach Roy Williams has surrounded himself with two assistant coaches in Joe Holladay and Steve Robinson, who have over fifty years of coaching experience between them. He has the confidence to listen to their ideas and trusts them to run elements of the team's practices. Similarly, Obama has selected Joe Biden, who has served for thirty-five years in the U.S. Senate, to be his running mate, and is known for being a respectful listener who asks acute questions of his advisors.
With the recent appointment of Nate James as assistant coach, Coach K's three assistants--Chris Collins being the other--are now all former players of his, none of whom have much coaching experience. This sort of cronyism and insularity is all too common in George W. Bush's administration, and McCain's selection of a comically inexperienced Sarah Palin is an indication that he may also tread down that same path.
The Audacity of Hope
To me, the choice is clear. I hope my fellow Tar Heels share my vision and help Obama win North Carolina in November! If the Heels get to shake Obama's hand in a post-championship visit to the White House next spring, I will be able to die a very happy man.
Go Heels! Vote Obama!