"It fascinated me that superstars of my time...could saunter around campus in their frayed jeans and drive their beat up VW bugs one day, and the next, the day after graduation, acquire their agents, negotiate their multi-million dollar contracts for the NBA, and begin to think about their Wall Street portfolios."
Reston, soccer player UNC, broke record for goals against State in Oct. 1962
It was impossible to live in North Carolina for 13 years without being captured, largely by osmosis, by sports, especially basketball. I once had a conversation with the legendary UNC basketball coach, Dean Smith, and I confess that I never saw a colder set of eyes. The giants of the floor boards walked among us Lilliputians on campus, followed by their gawking groupies, and when we played Duke, it was hard to imagine this as an institution of higher learning.
It fascinated me that superstars of my time like Mitch Kupchak and Al Wood could saunter around campus in their frayed jeans and drive their beat up VW bugs one day, and the next, the day after graduation, acquire their agents, negotiate their multi-million dollar contracts for the NBA, and begin to think about their Wall Street portfolios. Later, I would put a different spin on this subject of bizarre transitions by writing about Maryland and NBA star, Tom McMillan, moving from his slam dunks and graceful hooks for the Washington Bullets to stump speeches in a run for the U.S. Congress. (He won handily. He had also been a Rhodes Scholar.)
I have my own little postage stamp in the annals of Carolina sports. On the soccer pitch in Chapel Hill, on October 12, 1962, against the woeful farmers of N.C. State, I scored five goals to capture the university’s single-game scoring record and went on to be All South, scoring 13 goals in that eight game season. I wore That record holds today, fifty years later, and you can imagine my pleasure when the present UNC soccer coach wrote an email to me recently saying his current scoring star had just graduated and did I have another year of eligibility? Of course, the record is a phony, because after I left, the game of soccer turned defensive and much more highly skilled. Now, it’s rare when more than a few goals are scored on either side. The game was much more exciting in the old days, and much more gratifying. In 2011 UNC was the number one soccer team in the nation.
"[His book] touches on some of the great themes of literature---love, waste, regret."
-George Will in the New York Review of Books on Collision at Home Plate
It amused me along the way to turn to writing about sports as a break from the weightier subjects I was dealing with. I was joining a tradition of writers I admired like George Plimpton, John Updike, and David Halberstam who had done the same. In the 1990s, as counterpoint to Galileo and the Crusades, I wrote joyfully about two World Cups of Soccer. The first in 1994, was about a goalie from Colombia who had ties to the drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar. Colombia that year had a terrific team and was a dark horse to win it all. But when during the game against the United States, a defensive player named Andres Escobar (no relation to Pablo) mistakenly kicked the ball into his own goal, Colombia lost. Two weeks later, Andres Escobar was assassinated in Medellin. It was thought that drug lords had ordered his murder because of their betting losses. And then in 1994 I went to Iran to write about how the players of the Islamic Republic of Ayotollah Khomeini were preparing mentally and spiritually for their match against the Great Satan, the United States. In Lyon, France, Iran won that game 2-1.
With my 1990 book called Collision at Home Plate, I added baseball to my sports oeuvre. For that book, I penned the best dedication of any of my books. It was to my wife, Denise, “for all the cheers and boos.”