First Time Meeting With Lee Shaffer
After a particularly dreary day in Kenan Stadium this past fall when Maryland whipped the pants off the Heels, I ambled on over to the Smith Center to get a first look at the '02-'03 basketball team. I had, for the first time in my life, ordered tickets by telephone and was to pick them up at the "Will Call" window. While telephoning ahead did assure me of a decent seat, it did not enable me to avoid a long line since numerous other fans had apparently done the same thing I did. It's one thing to wait until game day to purchase your ticket if you live in the Triangle area but once you move out of the area, there is this nagging feeling that all of the tickets are going to be gone and you will be faced with the unpleasant prospect of either buying tickets from a scalper ( pardon me, they are now referred to as ticket brokers ) or hitting the interstate without having made the game in question.
I was really surprised at the number of people who showed up for the Blue White game. The newspaper said there were in excess of 16,000 which makes it a record for a BW game.
While waiting for them to open the Smith Center, I saw an individual who looked familiar to me. After thinking about it for a few seconds, it occurred to me that it was former Carolina basketball great Lee Shaffer Standing 6'8" makes him standout in any crowd. I had never met LS and I wasn't 100% sure it was him, so I meekly tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was Lee Shaffer. He replied in the affirmative and I then informed him of the Ramfanatic.com web site and explained that he might find it of some interest since I oriented many of my articles to events and personalities of the past. He seemed interested in the subject matter and we talked generally for a couple of minutes.
He then asked if my friend and I had tickets to the game. We told him we did and he asked to see them. Upon examining the tickets , he commented, "Here are better tickets" and reached in his pocket and took out a handful. He advised us to sell out tickets since his were better seats. Knowing his place in Carolina basketball history and the number of contacts he must have at UNC, I didn't doubt him for a minute and we sold our original tickets without any difficulty. LS indicated to us that he would be seated near us and I considered this a particular treat to have someone as prominent as LS nearby, maybe even close enough to enable a little talk about hoops.
I wasn't prepared for the location of the seats once we got into the Smith Center. I usually watch games in the SC up where the "birds are" and I thought, at best, the seats LS gave us would be at sidecourt, maybe even on the lower level. I wasn't prepared to sit on the fourth row, lower level at mid court and LS sat right next to me.
I didn't want to be a nuisance so I tried to avoid initiating too much conversation with LS because he had his wife with him and several people came by to shake hands with LS. After one person came by and exchanged pleasantries, LS asked me if I knew who he was. I told him I didn't and he tried to help me by giving me a hint. The hint was that he was the first recruit Dean Smith brought to UNC. I still couldn't get it much to my embarrassment as someone who is sometimes referred to as a "historian" of UNC sports. Turned out it was Mike Cooke from Mt. Airy and I'm saving that question for use in a situation when I encounter a real UNC sports fan who might put my knowledge to shame.
Another gentleman came by who looked every bit like a former basketball player so I asked LS if he was an ex- player. He said he was not but that he was Matt Doherty's roommate when they were at Carolina. I didn't catch his name. I eased myself out of the conversation since I was a little out of my league and didn't wish to put my paltry knowledge of UNC sports history on display any longer.
For those who don't recognize the name Lee Shaffer, let me fill you in a bit. He was at Carolina from '57-'60 and was an outstanding player. He played on teams right after the undefeated season of '57 and was the ACC Player of the Year in 1960. He made several All-America teams and was a first round pick of the Syracuse Nationals of the NBA. He had a successful career in the pros and played in the NBA All-Star game in 1963 when he scored 12 points.
LS is now Chairman of the Board for Kenan Oil Company and, after two acquisitions in the late 90s, it is now the largest for hire petrol transporter in the country. Makes me feel good to see an ex-UNC athlete do so well in the real life.
Near the end of the Blue-White game I said to LS, "Do you realize that I saw you when you played in your first Blue- White game in Woollen Gym. The year was 1958 when we were both students. He had just started his career at Carolina and I was preparing to leave. He didn't comment but the look on his face told me that he found that pretty remarkable.
I'm going to have a problem adjusting to my seats this year back with the birds but I'll try not to let my brief stay with the "fat cats" spoil games from the higher vantage point. I could even hear the players talk when I was in the mid court seats. Heck, they probably heard me talking, I was so excited about my accidental encounter with a former classmate. It made me almost forget what had happened earlier in Kenan Stadium. ..........Almost.