Thursday, April 10, 2014

Living…On Life’s Terms

As published in The County Times ( in March 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The Atlantic Coast Conference started with a seven-school gang - Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Wake Forest and Maryland – in 1953.  There have been a few membership tweaks in the 60-plus years since, but with the exception of South Carolina (who departed in 1971), all original members remain today.  They feel as familiar as old sneakers and, with rivalries six decades long, possess the hostility of ultra-competitive brothers.

The old, tightly woven family is about to change.  With Friday’s loss to Florida State in the conference’s basketball tournament, Maryland’s run in the ACC is essentially over.  Starting with the 2014-15 athletic year, Maryland will take up residence in the Big 10 Conference. 

This is not new news, of course, but the reality is now undeniably real.  The end of the football season stung a little.  But with basketball being the ACC’s primary identity, the curtains falling on Maryland’s ACC basketball association is a lot more uncomfortable.  Maryland’s Big 10 move is a money-grab, an irresistible chance to patch the athletic department’s financial hemorrhage and reside in a more lucrative neighborhood.  Such is life in college sports today. 

So it is what it is.  I don’t like it, but I understand it.  Will I come to hate Michigan or Ohio State – Big 10 crown jewels – like I hate Duke and North Carolina?  I doubt it - but maybe that’s good for my overall health and mood.  My wife is nodding her head.

Still, despite the known reality, this hurts.  I suppose you harbor disdain for your brother…until life parts your paths.  The freshly sounded final buzzer on Maryland’s ACC basketball membership left me awash in nostalgia.  Racing through the significant memories (some good, some bad), I realized this spring marks the 40th anniversary of Maryland’s 103-100 overtime loss to N.C. State in the 1974 ACC title game, perhaps the conference’s greatest game. 

That ’73-’74 Maryland squad, with players like Len Elmore, Tom McMillen and John Lucas, was Maryland’s most talented if not its all-time best.  The loss was particularly painful because, in 1974, at-large NCAA tournament bids didn’t exist (unreal…and unjust).  N.C. State, by the narrowest of margins, went on to the big dance and, eventually, the national championship; the Terrapins swallowed hard and went to…College Park (home).  

The memory of that team reminded me of Comcast’s fabulous “My Life” piece on John Lucas.  Lucas, an All-American and the first overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft, is a fascinating subject.  Racked with drug and alcohol addictions, his vagabond NBA career is a tale of unfulfilled promise, the standard-bearer for a drug culture that infected sports in the 1980s. 

In the “My Life” feature, Lucas identified several causal factors for his disease.  Having always dreamed of being an NBA player, he struggled with the “now what?” after being drafted by the Houston Rockets.  Lucas also feared failure, life without sports and getting older.  Sounds familiar, huh?  For Lucas, cocaine made all those worries and all that internal conflict subside – temporarily.

Lucas summarized his one-time mental state with this profound statement: “An addiction wasn’t my problem, life was my problem…I couldn’t live life on life’s terms.”  Individuals exert tremendous influence on their personal odysseys, but a vast component of contentment and happiness is dealing effectively with inevitable unknowns or the random cards that life deals.  To a person, we all struggle with this challenge to some extent; John Lucas succumbed to it – but only temporarily.

This spring wasn’t just the 40th anniversary of that epic Maryland-N.C. State game; March 14th marked the 28th anniversary of John Lucas’ sobriety and a second, “clean” act that has included tremendous work with athletes afflicted with addiction.  When asked what saved him, Lucas noted the love of others and that, “I’m very honest with myself; I’m always under self-examination as to what my motives are.” 

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “…with every sunset we get a little older and a little less honest.” John Lucas is getting older, but he remains brutally honest with himself.  It’s a trait that has sustained his wellness.  It is also darn good advice.

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