What’s this – another sports scandal at UNC?
Yep, and this one from five decades ago. Oy.
A packet delivered to the desk of Associate Athletic Director Martina Ballen has reopened an unsolved mystery that had lain dormant since 1966: Whatever happened to those pictures of the 1966-67 Tar Heel men’s basketball team that disappeared from a glass case in Carmichael Auditorium?
We now know what happened to the pilfered pictures, but there is no indication of whodunit.
Don’t look at me: I wasn’t even in Chapel Hill that day. Or that year. Besides that, I was 9.
Ballen, senior associate A.D. and chief financial officer, told me she received the pictures and an anonymous, explanatory, apologetic letter by mail last week.
“I have no idea why he addressed it to me, other than sometimes I get general things when people address letters to the business office,” she said. “My administrative secretary, when she brought it into my office said, ‘We’ve got a letter for you. You’ll never believe this.’ She started reading it. It was totally unusual. They are original pictures with the photo-stamp on the back by the photography company.”
In addition to being authentic, Ballen said, the photos were “well-preserved,” which makes any amateur sleuth think the thief possibly had them in a shrine at his crib. He definitely did not have them thumb-tacked or scotch-taped to his bedroom wall.
The six pictures were identified as being of head coach Dean Smith and four of his players – Rusty Clark, Larry Miller, Bob Lewis and Bill Bunting. That team finished 26-6 and made it to the national semifinals.
For a reason inexplicable even to Steve Kirschner, UNC’s associate athletic director for communication, Miller in the pictures is wearing number 32 instead of the number 44, which he immortalized for Tar Heel fans.
Clark is wearing number 41 instead of 43. “I don’t know why they’re wearing those jerseys,” Kirschner said, “but that’s definitely Larry.”
To me, the unexplained faux pas makes the pictures even more valuable, sort of like a 1913 buffalo nickel with a three-legged buffalo on it. One of those bad boys goes for a lot of money today. How much would a well-heeled Rams Club member be willing to peel off for a picture of Larry Miller wearing No. 32?
The thief didn’t think of that. He instead returned the pictures, according to his letter, after he started worshipping a deity besides Dean Smith and UNC basketball.
In the letter, the picture-taker wrote, “Dear Mrs. Ballen, In 1966-67, I was a college freshman and a huge UNC fan. One Saturday, I was walking through Carmichael Auditorium and one of the display cases was open. In the display case were pictures of the current UNC team, including pictures of Larry Miller and Bob Lewis. I took the pictures. Since becoming a follower of Jesus, it has bothered me terribly. I found those pictures and wish to return them to the University.”
Kirscher said no effort will be made to pursue the picture purloiner – “Those are stock photos. We’re good,” he said.
The case is now closed.
That’s ironic because, had it been closed that Saturday in 1966, the pictures possibly never would’ve been plucked.