Emerson Rhudy doesn’t even remember writing the tweet.
Nevertheless, it appeared on her timeline the morning before UNC’s ACC Tournament game against Duke on March 10. Rhudy was in Georgia for a job interview. She would be watching a UNC-Duke game by herself for maybe the first time ever, and she was a ball of nerves. The tweet was almost a nervous tic, she reckons.
“I’ll get the ceiling is the roof tattooed on my body if we win this year’s national championship,” it reads. “I’m not kidding.”
That head-scratcher of a phrase had become a rallying cry among fans after Michael Jordan used it in a speech he gave at halftime during UNC’s home game against Duke this past season.
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Fast forward to April 3. Kennedy Meeks blocks Nigel Williams-Goss. UNC beats Gonzaga. And Rhudy’s phone lights up. Friends, and even casual acquaintances, want to know if she’ll follow through with her pledge.
Rhudy, a 24-year-old UNC alumna and current Durham resident, stayed true to her word. We asked her about the tattoo.
Q: Let’s start with the basics. Where is the tattoo, and how did you decide on the design? Did you go for the simple words because it was cheapest?
A: It’s on my upper left thigh, right on where hip meets thigh. It’s as concealable as concealable gets. We get to the tattoo shop, and I said, ‘Look, this is a bet: I just need this phrase.’ I have another tattoo that’s kind of in cursive, and I don’t really like it, so I wanted to do something different. I wrote it down, and that’s what they based it off of. It’s just my handwriting, in all-caps.
Q: What does ‘the ceiling is the roof’ mean to you? What do you want to be reminded of every time you see the tattoo?
A: The number one thing I want to be reminded of is that night and the tournament itself. My best friend surprised me by flying down from New York to watch the game with me. And it might sound silly, but there is some poetic quality to it as a standalone phrase. But I also love that language is kind of a joke in and of itself. None of the words we have are right for what we’re describing, on some level. I texted someone a picture of my national championship mug the other day and they texted back, saying, “The mug is the cup.” And that’s exactly it! The mug is the cup; the fiddle is the violin; the road is the highway. Language is a joke, and the ceiling is the roof.
Q: Inevitably, there will be haters – people who expect you to regret this decision, people who don’t understand why you’d choose to have Michael Jordan’s slip of the tongue etched into your skin. What do you have to say to them?
A: I would say take y’allselves less seriously. I’d also say they’re probably a Duke fan. And it’s my body, and you know, my body is mine. People say I’ll regret it, but they underestimate how sentimental I am. I’m an extremely sentimental person, and I know I’ll always look at it and remember the championship, if nothing else. Although if it were my mom, I’d say I’m sorry. I definitely haven’t told my mom, but if she reads about it in the paper, then so be it.
Q: Did you ever consider backing out?
A: I’m a woman of my word. I’d like to be a person who follows through, and I’m not always – not even almost always – but I said I’d get it, and I did.
Q: The most surprising thing about you getting this tattoo might be that you used to be a big-time Duke fan. How did you become the kind of UNC fan – the kind of basketball fan – who would promise to do something like this in the first place?
A: Last year, my first year as an alumna, I was having a really trash spring from January to June. Having basketball games to look forward to was a big deal, and honestly it was the same this season.
I’ve always loved basketball, but I grew up a bona-fide Cameron Crazie. My dad is a Duke Law graduate, and he definitely raised me as a Duke fan. I had a lot of Duke cheerleading outfits and a lot of Shane Battier regalia – I was obsessed with Shane Battier. And naturally, I very deeply did not want to go to Carolina, but it was the best financial option. I first got really into Carolina basketball when I was watching the tournament my first year at UNC. I believe we only made it to the Elite Eight, but I remember watching it in my dorm and getting really into it and singing the alma mater after games. I said OK, I can get into this. Something about me is that I really like to do things all the way. Hence the tattoo; hence becoming a rabid UNC fan.
I think UNC is a much better institution than Duke. Obviously both are flawed – I have a strong belief that they should pay their college athletes, for example. But I have empathy for Duke fans. I’ve been in their shoes, and I want them to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. They, too, can see the light.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan