- Jay Red Eagle
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - We don't often think of fairness as a subjective, fluid commodity in life. From the time of Socrates on down, fairness and justice have been staples on how civilized humans lead a good and virtuous life.
Yet fairness and justice not only fail to prevail much of the time, but can take on different definitions depending on your perspective, despite our supposed best efforts to the contrary.
I had never been to Asheville, but saw in one of the pamphlets in my motel that people came here in the 19th century to "bask in the crisp mountain air." Which was true, it was chilly, but the air seemed cleaner and fresher to walk around in, if that makes any sense, at least to someone that spends 99 percent of his time at sea level.
Unfortunately, there wasn't too much history in the area, but I did notice an advertisement for Harrah's Cherokee
, a mountain casino
resort on the lands of the Cherokee Nation (with Styx in concert next month
I was immediately appalled. The Cherokee had sold out and put a casino
on their lands. You get enough history lessons from me, but the story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears
is one of worst chapters in American history from beginning to end.
We know the basics, and we feel sorry for the Cherokee now, but nothing changes what happened. The Cherokee lifestyle was gone forever. The lesson here: we feel sympathy to a point, when it's convenient for us to. When it's not, we overlook it or - worse - walk right through it without even sensing its presence.
So being appalled didn't stop me from going to Harrah's and playing some blackjack
(poorly). I knew the hypocrisy of what I was doing. But it was fun, so I did it anyway. I did, however, immediately feel remorse, so I made my way down the street to what should have been my real intended target: the Cherokee Museum, with a stunning amount of historical records from the Cherokee people.
As I got to the entrance, an older Cherokee man and young Cherokee woman sold me the ticket. Surely, these were two people that would be helped financially by the casino
down the street, and who I am to be indignant about how other people better themselves?
The museum also showed that nothing is as black and white as it seemed. There were some Cherokee that thought blending with the white men was the best option. Many left for the West early before they had to be forced out and it caused a rift between the two factions that lasted more than a century.
But the fact remains, although there were many people that felt the Cherokee were horribly and irreparably wronged (including the Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Marshall), eventually they were virtually eliminated from the earth and there wasn't enough pressure to stop it.
It was actually a beautiful day in Asheville, the first time I had seen the sun in days, which made it perfect to take a walk around a really nice campus.
UNC-Asheville's opponent on this day was Bluefield, an NAIA school with only 900 students on the West Virginia/Virginia border. The most interesting thing about them was their assistant coach.
Mister Jennings. If you're my age, the name brings back some wonderful memories of Mid-majority past. East Tennessee St. was the Murray St. of the early 1990s, at least for a while. Even more so, it's not like there was ESPN3 back then. Jennings - with a wonderful nickname to boot - was a legend that very few people got to see, a diminutive point guard that reminded people of Muggsy Bogues, only with a deadly shot from the outside. This Sports Illustrated article from 1991
(ETSU was ranked No. 10 in the nation at the time) is a must read if any of this is new to you.
The Buccaneers went to the NCAA Tournament four straight times, finally getting their Red Line Upset after most of their stars had graduated (including Jennings) in 1992, shocking Arizona as a No. 14 seed.
Jennings, now in his mid 40s, played in the NBA for a bit, and looks like he could still show up some skills if asked. Alas, as I expected, the Rams could have used him. Neither of the starting guards - Andrew Wilson and Kearsten Marion (I'm sure he never got made fun of with that first name) - stood taller than 5-foot-7, and as in the last time I saw a non-Division I team
, it was no contest in the paint, UNC-Asheville did whatever it wanted to whenever it pleased.
The competition was subpar, but I was impressed by Keith Hornsby and Jon Nwannunu. Hornsby was quick, could finish in the paint, and could shoot #superhoops. Nwannunu was not huge by Division I standards, but had a knack for the ball, and could also score in the paint. The Bulldogs led 37-13 midway through the first half and the rest of the game was a glorified exhibition (which it was for Bluefield anyway, as this game didn't count toward their record, which is a bizarre NCAA/NAIA quirk that I don't understand).
UNC-Asheville won't rise to No. 10 in the nation. In fact, it had a 5-7 record coming into this one, but as two-time defending Big South champion, they may be a team to keep an eye on in March. It already has an RLU this season, at St. John's last week.
It was my first look at Kimmel Arena, which hosted the Big South Tournament last year, superbly documented by Matt Cayuela
. It had a decent crowd for playing what amounted to a guarantee game on a Sunday afternoon. I thought there was a huge deal on T-shirts for $6.95 and ran to the cashier in the souvenir shop with it, only to have him tell me sheepishly that I was looking at the item in front of the T-shirts.
He felt bad about the error and offered me $2 off the regular T-shirt price, and I took him up on it. See, the nice guy does get the sale. Sometimes.
Jennings stayed calm as the score got worse and worse, and it basically became showtime for the Bulldogs. Nwannunu had an omgdunx and the crowd erupted, smiles were everywhere, and there was still 10 minutes left to play. Bluefield was getting frustrated, and Wilson drove the lane and fell hard to floor, but there was no call.
Wilson rolled around in pain and could not get up immediately, yet UNC-Asheville - even with a massive lead - played on. Deonte Hallums showed his displeasure by basically tackling Marcus Neely to get the game stopped. Words were exchanged, but that's as far as it got.
Leading 92-66, the Bulldogs got the ball back and could have run the clock out, but Zach Davis - who hadn't scored to that point - drilled a superhoop at the buzzer. The crowd again exploded. I looked quickly to Jennings and the Bluefield bench. I thought I saw a quick shake of the head, but if I did, it was short-lived, the two teams shook hands cordially (there were even a few hugs from some of the players that knew each other), and went on their way.
We often talk about the struggle of virtual poverty below the Red Line, not having the advantages that other teams do, and being treated as inferior because of it. That lack of respect eats at us, because the teams in Our Game are trying just as hard, they just might not be as talented or big or athletic.
However, it's not always that simple, especially when the tables are turned as they were at Kimmel Arena on Sunday. Just as it's important for them to be able to walk in our shoes, the opposite is also true.
Power is a heck of a drug. Many seemingly good people have wilted under the pressure that comes with being superior. To a point, that's OK, we fight our whole lives to have some kind of supremacy over our little worlds.
But it's always important to remember where you came from and the people that may be undergoing the same struggle.