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Tar Heel Great Needs Your Prayers.

Bill Chamberlain, UNC basketball great, needs your prayers.

Whether you're a Heel, A Wolfpack, an Eagle or a Blue Devil, won't you hoist up a three-point prayer for No. 31?

Chamberlain suffered cardiac arrest last week and is recuperating at an area hospital.

His wife asks that you wait until receiving the O.K. before visiting.

I certainly wanted to visit, since Chamberlain was one of my heroes growing up.

So was Charles Scott, Larry Miller, Dick Grubar, Lee Dedmon, Kim Huband - heck, just about everybody who wore a UNC uniform from 1968 to 1972.

I'll bet you I'm the only person in the recorded history of humankind who chose his high school basketball uniform number in honor of Rusty Clark. In most pictures of the Richmond Senior High School Raiders from that era, that's me lounging on the end of the bench wearing No. 43. (Ok, it was in honor of Richard Petty's Plymouth, too.)

Chamberlain may have been one of my favorite players to ever wear Carolina Blue, but I was not one of his favorite columnists - at least not initially.

In an early column at the News & Observer in 1993, I tried to draw a connection between three high-profile dudes in North Carolina who in separate incidents had misbehaved. The connection was, I later realized, spurious, unfounded, dumb.

How'd I come to realize that?

Because of a thoughtful letter to the editor written by Chamberlain, calling the connection spurious, unfounded, dumb.

I saw him on the corner of Hargett and Fayetteville streets in downtown Raleigh soon after his public rebuke of me, and I strolled up to tell him I agreed with his assessment. He was skeptical, but I assured him that when one messes up as often as I do, you appreciate when someone corrects you.

Especially when they don't call you a @#$%&^*!!!

Chamberlain was a gentleman, and he and I have since shared, if not a friendship - I am too much in awe for that - then a friendly relationship with several mutual friends.

Chamberlain works as an emergency management

training officer for the North Carolina Department of

Public Safety, ensuring that emergency responders are

where they're supposed to be when an emergency


That they were where they were supposed to be last week may be what saved Chamberlain's life.

He had his heart episode on a job where, fortunately for him, the state requires its employees to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Chamberlain, from New York, was the second African American scholarship basketball player at UNC. He grew up in Harlem, a few blocks from Charles Scott, who was the first.

At a time when there were fewer than 60 black undergraduates on campus, Chamberlain was not content to be just a jock, a Big Man on Campus, a wheel.

According to a 2015 story on the website, Chamberlain was a member of the fledgling Black Student movement:

"After a cafeteria worker hurt himself, he was sent home and later fired.

"Bill Chamberlain and others heard about this situation. When they investigated this incident and several others, Chamberlain and his colleagues found that many of the Black workers on campus worked 39.5 hours, but did not have a compensation package.

"Chamberlain presented this to head coach Dean Smith. Dean Smith was the first person to sign the petition."

A strike ensued, the website reported, which led to the workers receiving a benefits package.

That, as much as for his shooting, rebounding and defensive skills, is why Chamberlain received the 2017 Lassiter Lee McKissick Trailblazer Award from the Black Alumni Reunion last October.

So, fans of the Tar Heels, of humanity, of decent human beings, send up some prayers, Hail Marys, jump shots - whatever you believe in - on behalf of No. 31.




Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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