Charlotte, N.C. — The trash talk started months ago in the Charlotte Bobcats’ locker room.
Gerald Henderson got the upper hand a month ago. Brendan Haywood’s hoping he’ll have it for at least a week come late Saturday night.
It’s Duke versus UNC, the central topic these two teammates will never agree on.
The Tobacco Road rivals turned teammates play the Wizards Saturday night in Washington D.C., but when the last second of the clock ticks off, their minds will wander south to Chapel Hill, where their alma maters tip off in what they both say clearly is the greatest rivalry in sports.
“There’s nothing like it,” Henderson said. “Nothing.”
That’s about the only thing these two agree on when it comes to this rivalry, though.
“We’re always going back and forth about Duke and Carolina,” Henderson said. “But we’re a better team than them this year for sure, so he don’t got much to say but we’ll see what happens on Saturday.”
Both can agree, though, that their DVRs will be set well before leaving for D.C., so they can go back and watch the game in its entirety.
However, when it comes to the site of Saturday night’s game, the Dean E. Smith Center, the dissension’s rekindled.
“It’s definitely a wine-and-cheese crowd,” Henderson said. “They do their student sections a little different than ours. They have their alumni and their boosters sitting closer to the floor, which is cool. But it’s a great atmosphere in there no matter what. It’s a big-time atmosphere. Obviously playing in Cameron is way better, but you have fun in there, too.”
Although Haywood’s favorite moment in this rivalry comes in Henderson’s gym, hitting two game-winning free throws in Cameron Indoor Stadium in 2001 to sink the top-ranked Blue Devils, it’s no comparison for Haywood.
“The Carolina crowd is definitely different than the Duke crowd. If you want to call that ‘wine and cheese’, I don’t know, but I like our crowd. They support us. I like the stadium,” the former All-American center said. “That Duke stadium’s old, man. ‘Bout time to get a new one.”
There’s clearly no agreeing here. Just like there isn’t when it comes to the game that never happened — a matchup of the Duke and Carolina pros that was supposed to happen during the NBA Lockout called “The Kings of Tobacco Road” but never ended up taking place after the lockout was settled.
“All the stats would lead to Duke pros doing better in the pros, especially right now,” Henderson said. “You can look up how many players we’ve got from Duke that are in the NBA right now. Points, total points, salaries, too.”
“I don’t know if you have any statistics for that but you just look at the superstars that have come through the league from Vince Carter to Michael Jordan, Antawn Jamison, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace. You can’t even compare those guys to those Duke guys,” Haywood rebutted, right before issuing the ultimate rivalry trump card. “We got Michael Jordan. Until they got somebody who can even come close to that type of level, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation.”
The guys with the lighter shade of blue would have more chemistry on the floor, too, according to Haywood.
“Unlike Duke, Carolina’s a family,” Haywood said. “All the guys always go back in the summer.”
It’s this same dynamic that plays out among their Bobcats fan base: united in support of their professional team while still struggling to displace a distaste of three to four years in the making.
No one knows that better than Henderson, whose most infamous moment in the rivalry is seen in every rivalry teaser. It was the shot heard and seen around the state. The play no Duke or Carolina fan will ever agree on when Henderson fouled Tyler Hansbrough hard with 14 seconds remaining six years ago in the Dean Dome, fracturing Hansbrough’s nose and forever embedding the image of Hansbrough bleeding down his jersey with a crazed look on his face.
“People bring it up all the time. It’s part of that rivalry forever,” Henderson said. “It was an unfortunate incident, but it happened so it is what it is.”
Any perceived animosity from Bobcats fans doubling as North Carolina supporters has since departed, though, and Henderson’s enjoyed playing in the state where he played his college ball, providing him a loyal fan base from the start that he wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“Since I’ve become a Bobcat, [Carolina fans have] become friends of mine, too,” Henderson said. “So it’s kind of funny how that’s worked out, but it’s a pretty cool thing especially just to have Duke fans here as well. So I kind of get a double dose.”
Haywood’s just hoping Henderson doesn’t get another double dose come Saturday night.