The ACC has had a few Golden Ages - The Case Years of course, among others -
but really there was no greater era than the early-mid '70s when David Thompson,
John Lucas, and Phil Ford ruled.
Kids in the ACC region learned to curl their legs when they jumped like
Thompson did, and we learned to skip like Ford when we dribbled the ball.Â
There were few things in life more frustrating than UNC with a lead and the ball
in Phil Ford's hands. He almost always delivered, and there was nothing you
His ascent to NBA greatness seemed predestined - he was the first pick of the
Kings, then located in Kansas City-Omaha, and was Rookie Of The Year.Â
Phil Ford was great, and we don't say that lightly.
Then though he had an eye injury, and questions about alcohol surfaced.Â
We remember hearing that Dean Smith called him up when he hit bottom and said
they'd solve it together. We make fun of the UNC family sometimes, but we have
no doubt that Dean did that - and that if he didn't save Phil's life, he at
least put it back on the tracks.
This week, apparently, it jumped the tracks again as
Ford was hit with a DWI charge in Durham.
The temptation, to ridicule Ford particularly for Duke fans who delight in
finding targets during games, may be strong.Â We hope Duke people won't
give into it.
happened with Ford, if the account about Dean's helping him out in an
earlier crisis is true, it suggests that this is a relapse, and for Ford, that
would be doubly tragic, as he had evidently been sober for some time.Â The
questions about a problem like that, or even just rumors about a problem like
that,Â never completely disappear, and now they will resurface with a
vengeance, and thus will affect his career.Â He was mentioned for several
head jobs in recent years; those calls will not come nearly as often now, if at
all.Â In addition, though alcohol consumption is a personal issue and
choice, driving with
alcohol in your system is inexcusable. You don't have to look too far to
find friends who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers.Â Â Julio's
cousin, for instance, was nearly killed when a drunk driver hit her car at 80
mph on prom night. Several years of therapy ensued.Â Â We hear it all
the time but it's worth repeating: it's a crime, and people who commit this
crime deserve to be punished.
That said, and we think we've been consistent about urging fair punishments
for athletes, in a single night Phil Ford may have done a huge amount of damage
to himself.Â He had rebuilt his reputation, become a highly respected
assistant, and had put his life back on course after his apparent struggles
during his career and after it imploded.Â He's let down a lot of
people if these charges stand up, and an awful lot of people, from Dean Smith on
down, have gone to bat for him.Â Considering the nature of the UNC
basketball family, this must be particularly devastating to Phil.
We hope the judge in this case takes all this into account, if Ford is found
guilty..Â Just having this in the papers, having his name dragged through
the mud, is really sad.Â Â
It will surprise a lot of people to learn that we were big fans of Phil as a
college player (though we pulled against him): he had style, verve, daring, and
huge talent.Â Â Basketball was the easiest thing in the world for him;
it's the rest that has apparently been tougher.Â We still think he can make
it, but this situation doesn't help at all.
There was some talk on the board recently aboutÂ Loren Woods, formerly
of Wake Forest. You may recall he came to Duke after having, in Cwell's term,
gotten "kind of mental," which is to say he was ordered to take a
break from hoops to get his emotional life together.Â Coach K made sure the
Crazies understood that he wasn'tÂ a fair target, that there was a level of
cruelty no one should step over.Â One of the nicest moments we've seen in
Cameron was when Woods came in, to warm applause from the Crazies.
We took to calling this the Woods standard. If, say, Ed Cota got caught
shoplifting (pure example, please no inference, ok?), that would be a tempting
target.Â On the other hand, if Phil Ford has a serious problem with
alcohol, that's a life and death issue.Â We hope other ACC fans will be
compassionate towards him.Â Â One of the distinguishing features of the
ACC is a sense of family.Â Admittedly a lot of members in this family don't
like the Light Blue branch, but family they are nonetheless.Â We suspect a
lot of Duke, State and other ACC fans feel knots in their stomachs, as we do
There's not much any of us can do, either about the alleged crime or about
possible damage to Ford's life, health, and reputation, but what we can do is to
not make things more difficult.Â As our eternal model of fan insanity, we
have the bastards at Arizona State who taunted Steve Kerr after his father had
been murdered in Beirut (he was president of the American University
there).Â We hope everyone will keep a dual focus here: on the one hand
justice, with whatever that means in this case, and on a personal level, the
best for Phil Ford. At the very least, he is going to be under an enormous
amount of pressure and might hurt his program at a key time in recruiting (Brian
Morrison said if Ford weren't there
it would affect his decision)..
At the very worst, he may have to deal with an addiction which ultimately
kills, but not before gutting your life thoroughly, great damage to his personal
and professional reputation,Â and letting down a lot of people who went to
bat for him.
This is a deadly serious crisis in his life, in other words, and not an
opportunity to make merry at his expense.Â Alcoholism is a disease, and
ridiculing him for this would make as much sense as ridiculing someone with,
say, AIDS or lung cancer.Â Our thoughts and prayers
are with Phil Ford, and whatever happened in Durham, we hope that he can deal
with it with the same grace and brilliance he once showed lesser, human opponents.