The best part of any movie ever is that scene in the cemetery at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Every aspect of film cooperates to deliver an inarguable three-minute snippet of pure genius: Tuco knows the location of the graveyard, but not the name on the headstone under which is buried a fortune in Confederate gold. Clint Eastwood knows the name, but up until this point did not know where the graveyard was. Every event in the film has been leading inexorably up to this point, and the greatest film score in history is playing behind it.
Similarly, the best part of college basketball is that scene at the end of the ACC regular season when Duke and UNC play, after the Wolfpack has faded back into regional obscurity (watch that clip again: symbolically, perhaps, a dog scurries away at 0:43). Every moment of the season has led us here, and various sundry other clichés. The stories, which have woven together like fine tapestries all year, finally take their place on the wall above the hearth of the 2012-13 season, etc. etc. bar-none the Finest Rivalry in Sports etc. etc.
Which all can and will be discussed by folks with better working knowledge of basketball and a more complete understanding of Tobacco Road history, so I’m going to focus on taking a bright spot on this years Carolina team and making it just a little bit brighter. We’re finally going to give P.J. Hairston what he deserves: a monochromatic animal nickname!
In 2010, Harrison Barnes rolled into Chapel Hill surrounded by a Tasmanian Devil tornado of hype, bearing the “Black Falcon” moniker. The story goes that he wanted a nom de guerre along the lines of Jordan’s “Black Cat” and Kobe’s “Black Mamba,” and someone who works for ESPN obliged him (the part about him wanting said nickname might make it invalid, though, based on my understanding of the rules of nicknaming).
In January of 2011, the creator and proprietor of this very website, the benevolent Odin to Tobacco Road Blues’ Asgard, dubbed Ryan Kelly “The White Raven,” which put him (intentionally or not) in binary opposition to Barnes, because Kelly had gone to Ravenscroft, a Raleigh school with a similarly passerine mascot.
Which brings us to now. With our Black Falcon gone, Duke’s White Raven stands as the only animal-man in the triangle, exploring the duality of light and dark, good and evil.
P.J. Hairston’s rise to popularity and overall excellence was predicted on this very website, and it is now time to bestow upon him such a nickname, to let him know he has arrived.
Firstly, is P.J. a bird? The answer is no. Does he soar? Sure, but he plays gritty, he plays low to the ground, he spends as much time sliding on the hardwood as he does gliding to the basket. P.J. plays yeoman’s basketball. He plays hurt and gets concussions, and absolutely he sinks those long three-balls, but he’ll rebound with players twice his height as well.
Secondly, does a White Raven even exist in nature? The answer is yes. The white-necked raven is indigenous to the mountainous regions of Southern Africa. It is a scavenging bird of prey, a scoundrel of the air. Most reasonable people dislike the white-necked raven.
Thirdly, does this real-life white raven have any natural predators, perhaps a non-avian one that could serve as a nice basis for Hairston’s very own nickname? Why yes, and thank you kindly for asking such a specific and leading question. The white-necked raven faces great danger from an animal called a Marten, which invades its nest and feasts upon the raven’s eggs. The Marten is a small but ferocious mammal, a close cousin to the badger as well as to the most accurate animal descriptor for Mr. Hairston: the wolverine.
So is he a wolverine of the light or a wolverine of the shadows? Is he Chapel Hill’s White Knight or is he Dean Dome Batman? I’ll answer that question with another question: when the White Raven is flying around, riding the thermals upward into the sky, what does he fear? Ryan Kelly will score lots of points on Saturday, I don’t think anyone has doubts about that. He’ll score lots of points and play phenomenal basketball and Duke will be the complete, excellent, terrifying unit that they were at the beginning of the season. But P.J. Hairston will do work, he’ll hit threes but he’ll also dive over scorers tables and scrap around under the paint and steal the ball from Seth Curry and get fouled about 17 times by Mason Plumlee, and he’ll exhibit great quantities of what they call grit. It might not be enough to win the Tar Heels the game, but at some point P.J. Hairston is going to sneak into the White Raven’s nest and eat some eggs.
P.J. Hairston is in the starting lineup now because he excelled in the shadows, and by becoming an idea he forced a mythologically obstinate man to change the way he coaches basketball.
He is the hero that UNC deserves and needs. A silent guardian. A watchful protector.
The Black Wolverine.
(Goosebumps, right? I got goosebumps)