Duke basketball: Tar Heels still can’t count to seven

Duke basketball rival UNC (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball rival UNC (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

When the Duke basketball team hosts North Carolina this weekend, the visitors will notice that there are fewer banners than they display inside their home eight miles away, but they won’t see any that don’t add up.

Children are the future. So it’s vital they know the truth about the past. And with that noble aim in mind, we as fans should ensure youngins on both sides of the rivalry between the North Carolina and Duke basketball programs receive the education that they deserve.

Yes, lessons about fake classes will always be necessary, but the purpose of today’s lesson is to school the youth about one unreal banner.

Why today? Well, with the Tar Heels sure to be out for revenge at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) on the home court of the Blue Devils — who a month ago took a short drive to Chapel Hill to grab a bite of fried ram heart and left Jonesing for Moore — all eyes are again fixated on the sport’s most captivating ongoing feud.

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Therefore, now is as good a time as any to take an honest look at the history books and thereby again set the record straight about UNC’s dishonest counting methods when it comes to national championships. Kids, all we ask here is you read the following true story and then decide for yourselves — ethically speaking — as to how many such banners the Heels should be hanging from the Dean Dome rafters.

Now, boys and girls, if you do need proof of any of the five Duke basketball national championships (’91, ’92, ’01, ’10, ’15) that may have come before your time, then you can quickly find what you’re looking for on YouTube. The same goes for UNC’s six crowns (’57, ’82, ’93, ’05, ’09, ’17).

But what you will not discover, no matter how hard you search, is any evidence of any NCAA title from 1924. For one, the NCAA Tournament didn’t exist until 1939.

Of course, you probably don’t want to just take any living person’s word for all this, and few still living were alive to have seen for themselves what happened with the 1923-24 UNC “White Phantoms” — as folks referred to them back then. No worries, you can check out for yourself what Time magazine published even ten years later on Feb. 19, 1934, about the sport that still called for a jump ball at midcourt after every single made basket:

"“College basketball produces no national champion. A winter sport which in some parts of the U.S. amounts to a seasonal hysteria, it is played almost entirely within regional leagues. The argument of each league that it has the best team in the land is more footless than most such controversies since the strongest teams play on courts of different sizes under rules differently interpreted.”"

Heck, even The Daily Tar Heel has essentially admitted this one Dean E. Smith Center banner serves as a lie and deceives those who don’t know any better. Here’s how former UNC student Powell Latimer addressed the banner confusion in 2009:

"“In our coverage commemorating North Carolina’s 100 seasons of basketball, we’re running the game stories from national championship years — starting today with 1957. That also means that our coverage won’t quite match up with the banners hanging in the Smith Center. We decided just to stick with The Daily Tar Heel coverage of national championship games from the NCAA tournament…”"

Latimer continued with his Duke-like common sense:

"“So we elected not to run the story from the Tar Heels’ Southern Conference tournament victory against Alabama in the tournament finals on March 4, 1924…Since many colleges in the area did not have basketball teams, the Tar Heels routinely played local YMCAs and club teams.”"

Alright, with that background information out of the way, we can now dive into the most absurd aspects of UNC having the audacity to advertise as an official natty its 1923-24 campaign — hip hip hooray, nothing finer than beating the Charlotte YMCA, 32-29.

Listen up, young pupils, the players on that team did not even get word that some new entity was suddenly tagging them “national champions” until roughly 20 years later when most of them were in their 40s.

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You probably want to know what that entity was, right? Well, it was Helms Athletic Foundation, and get this: it wasn’t a foundation at all, for it was a lifelong sports fan who liked to collect trophies and received funding from the Paul Helms Bakery — yes, an expert-on-all-things-bread bakery — in an effort to legitimize his retroactive champion selections.

A blog and an article 10 years ago by Jon Scott, available on A Sea of Blue, a Kentucky site — bear in mind the Wildcats won the Helms trophy for the 1932-33 season but now don’t feel the need to hang a banner in Rupp Arena that would falsely claim it as a national championship — tell you all you need to know:

"“One person who was keenly interested in not only recognizing current champions but going back and recognizing past teams and players was Willrich (aka Bill or William or W.R.) Schroeder…After trying and failing for four years to interest over sixty businesses to underwrite his passion, Schroeder finally found a sympathetic ear in the person of Paul Hoy Helms, owner of the Helms Bakery Company in Southern California…”"

Here’s how Scott summed up the motivation for the hobby (you know, the one that UNC still attempts to legitimize with a banner):

"“Helms also recognized what Schroeder knew, that ‘when a man gives another man a trophy, the honorer is honored along with the honoree,’ and saw that the added publicity and goodwill would be a benefit to his bread business.”"

As if that isn’t enough, here’s something Scott pointed out that seals the deal on the argument that the Helms “Foundation” picks for the national champion, which in 1943 started naming past champions and then continued to do so for decades, is 100 percent bogus:

"“The retroactive Helms choices from that time period did vary somewhat from the NCAA Tournament champion. In 1939, Oregon won the inaugural NCAA Tournament, but the Helms pick was Long Island University. In 1940, Indiana won the NCAA Tournament while the Helms pick was the nearby University of Southern California…”"

Scott continued:

"“Subsequent discrepancies between Helms picks and NCAA champions (in parentheses) included 1944 Army (Utah) and 1954 Kentucky (LaSalle), so there still appeared to be a level of independence at the time to vote for teams that were considered worthy despite not winning the NCAA crown.”"

There you have it, Duke basketball fans and those on the fence about which side of the rivalry to be on (this article obviously isn’t intended for those UNC loyalists who will forever deny understanding the simple logic above).

As you can see, kiddos, you shouldn’t always believe everything Tar Heels — your parents included — tell you about the program’s illustrious history. As you now know, though some Chapel Hill advertisements are true, some fake news is most definitely hanging in the air over there.

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Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more updates, analyses, and opinions regarding bogus UNC banners and all other matters relating to Duke basketball: past, present, future, and in the NBA.