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COLUMN: Momentum Swings To The Surreal

Heights Senior Staff

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 23:01


Graham Beck / Heights Editor

In a matter of seconds, excitement turned into terror, a superstar turned into a son, and a basketball game turned into life. 

Patrick Heckmann took the pass on the wing, juked past his defender, and drove into the paint for a contested two-point layup. Bodies collided, the ball hit off the backboard, took one bounce on the rim, and then fell into the nylon waiting below. 

Ryan Anderson went to pick up his teammate who had just made the bucket, and Heckmann jumped right back up to go to the free-throw line for the and-one. Similarly, North Carolina’s Dexter Strickland and James Michael McAdoo went to extend a hand to P.J. Hairston to pick their teammate up off the floor.

But Hairston didn’t get up. 

Instead, the 6-foot-5 sophomore laid face down on the court, his body extended over the baseline. His legs were moving, but everything else seemed bleak.

The Tar Heels’ trainer came over to attend to Hairston. Soon, head coach Roy Williams was also kneeling down next to his sharp-shooter, as Hairston remained face down. 

Then he rolled over onto his back, which gave those around him a sigh of relief that he could move on his own power. His face, though, grimaced with a look of excruciating pain. He clutched his hands together over his face, then covered it, as if it could erase what had occurred in the last 60 seconds.

Soon, Williams extended his hand to pick Hairston up like his teammates had tried to before, likely thinking he had just gotten banged up like he might on any other play. 

But Hairston wasn’t ready. He closed his eyes tightly, his face contorting in pain, as his trainer and coach looked on.

Meanwhile, the music at Conte Forum continued to play. Players went back to the bench, talked if they could, maybe even listened to what their coach or assistant coach had to say. But through it all, they couldn’t help looking down to the baseline to see Hairston still lying there. 

He was supposed to get up.

Finally, more than two minutes after he first went down, Hairston gave a slight nod to his trainer, and began to slowly ascend. His eyes still squeezed shut, Hairston sat up with the help of Williams, placing his arms on his knees as the trainer supported his back. The crowd gave a small  round of applause, and players began to walk back onto the court, thinking Hairston was about to walk it off and the whistle would soon blow to resume the game.

Still, as he sat there, all Hairston could do was look down in pain. Seconds later, likely with some convincing, Hairston reached out his arms so that Williams and the trainer could pull him up to his feet. His face remained the same, in agony.

His feet planted firmly on the ground, Hairston was lifted up by the men on his left and right. It looked as if he was some top-heavy doll being pulled up from the ground. 

The crowd gave a louder round of applause now that Hairston was on his feet, and two of his teammates came over from the bench to become his human crutches. They began to lead Hairston back over to the UNC bench, as his head sulked down, too heavy to hold up on his own.

The three Tar Heels took two steps before the trainer came over telling them that Hairston should be headed in the other direction, to the locker room.

When they started to turn around, Hairston nearly went crumbling down back to the floor. He began to fall backwards and to the right, as his teammates held on tightly for extra support. Hairston buried his head into his teammate’s left shoulder, if only because it was still too heavy to hold up on his own.

A second later, Hairston had seemingly regained his power, and began to walk off to the locker room. His head sank down, looking like he was a marionette and someone forgot to pull up the string attached to his head. Slowly with his teammates, Hairston took it step by step toward the sideline. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. But on the next right step, Hairston stopped, and looked up. His face showed a mixture of pain and wooziness. He couldn’t walk any further. The trainer came over to the fallen, heavy head and helped Hairston to sit back down.

By this point, Hairston’s mother, Wendy, was on the court to tend to her son. She bent over, trying to talk to Hairston, and placed her hand on his arm, as they just began to wait.

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