The true measure in grading the success of Friday's events aboard the USS Carl Vinson will be if basketball fans around the nation emerge from their obsession-induced fog long enough to fully appreciate the sacrifices of the United States military.
"We provide entertainment," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during Thursday's Carrier Classic press conference on the flight deck. "Those men and women for our military are sacrificing. We're not sacrificing."
Consider this aircraft carrier's travels over the past 22 months. After a four-year overhaul, the USS Carl Vinson deployed from its homeport in Norfolk, Va. on Jan. 12, 2010 – the same day as the devastating Haiti earthquake. The ship was order to assist in relief efforts and its nuclear engine allowed it to reach the Caribbean in short order.
"We got down there very fast with 19 helicopters, and for three weeks, we provided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and tried to mitigate the immense suffering of the people of Haiti," USS Carl Vinson Captain Bruce Lindsey said. "In fact, my surgeon on board operated for 40 hours straight."
Due to the long overhaul, roughly two-thirds of Lindsey's crew had never been out to sea before. The average age of sailors in the Navy is 21 years of age, and Lindsey estimated that two-thirds of his sailors are under the age of 22 – essentially the same age as the players that will take the flight deck court on Friday.
After returning home in the spring of 2010, the USS Carl Vinson was deployed again on Nov. 30, 2010 and sent to the Persian Gulf. Last May, it was widely reported that Bin Laden's body was lowered to sea from the aircraft carrier's deck.
While Lindsey and his crew were unable to comment on that burial, they were able to talk about the magnitude of the Carrier Classic.
"A game on the flight deck shows the rest of the civilian world that we're just like you guys – we just work in the military," Flight Deck Petty Officer Isaac J. Paddock said. "We go to war when we're asked to, but at the same time, there's always a down time. We relax, we have fun. We'll help you when we can and we're more than excited to have this on the flight deck. It's great."
Paddock hails from Dayton, Ohio, but grew up a Michael Jordan fan and wore out a black Jordan basketball in his youth. He is one of many sailors on the USS Carl Vinson that is fired up about the matchup between the Tar Heels and the Spartans.
"I've been excited since Day One," Paddock said. "When I heard that possibly Magic Johnson, James Worthy and the President were coming, I jumped up and said, ‘Where can I get tickets?' This was months ago, and they said, ‘Whoever wants to go to the game, come over here and sign up.' And I was the first one. I ran over and put my name on the list."
And while Williams and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo were talking about their own excitement for this opportunity – the ninth-year UNC head coach said "it's the neatest thing" that he's ever been involved with – Lindsey put on his fan hat and declared that he would be pulling for North Carolina.
The carrier's commanding officer moved to North Carolina during his senior year of high school and graduated from Reidsville High School. Lindsey's parents own farmland in Caswell County and his daughter Blair is currently enrolled at UNC.
"It's a celebration that this is the United States of America and we can do some darn good things," Williams said. "We can say ‘thank you' and we can feel good about each other."
Lindsey estimated that roughly 0.01 percent of the U.S. population that is fit to serve is currently enlisted in the military. The other 99.9 percent will respond with an appropriate applause on Veteran's Day.