The ACC is the beating heart of Greensboro, North Carolina, and March's tournament is its most identifiable attribute. One cannot be talked about without the other. They are two dependent clauses joined in spirit. On Thursday, the city stopped when UNC played Louisville -- even in a hospital.
The first sign that this was not normal came early in the day. Waiting in a small, dimly lit room I overheard a nurse say loudly "Can you please translate? I'm not sure what he's saying" to a 20-something, gesturing to an elderly man sitting on a bed removing his shoes.
"I'm sorry, we're Bosnian. His English is not good. He asked if he would be awake to watch the basketball. The Tar Heels."
In a calm reassuring voice the nurse responded,
"Tell him a double-bypass is very serious surgery, but he's in good hands. He's scheduled to go in a 12:30, I'm not sure he'll be up to see it all but your anesthesiologist will be in soon -- you can ask him."
Basketball dominated everything. From the surgeons in the halls talking about seeding, to the security guard in the parking lot wearing a small, but noticeable N.C. State pin on his lapel. One nurse had been on shift since 4 a.m., but wasn't going to leave and miss any of the game.
"I'm not going anywhere. I live in High Point. By the time I get home it'll be 4:45, I'll miss most of it. Think I'll just watch the game in the hospital. I'm off tomorrow, so I'm hoping Carolina makes it through and I can watch with my kids."
At tipoff there was a palpable excitement in the previously demure waiting room. A small crowd huddled around a lone iPad. It was hogging the area's one free power outlet, and nobody cared. The state trooper who owned it told me why he was there a few minutes before tipoff.
"The streets are dead today. Everyone's at the coliseum. It was either watch it here or try to go to Starbucks, but their WiFi is too unreliable to stream it.
Strangers gathered, united in one thing: They all wanted to see Carolina win. The huddled group rotated members regularly, people leaving to see loved ones when their buzzers went off. Some returned after meeting with surgeons. Others were gone for good. Those that came back had one question, "Did I miss anything good?"
The Tar Heels pulled away late after several Louisville mistakes. People tried to mute their cheers when reminded they were in a hospital, but it did little good. Shortly after the game ended a woman was wheeled past the waiting area in a wheelchair, her left leg in a cast, wearing a Tar Heels T-shirt.
"Did you see they won?" a doctor passing in the hall asked.
"Yes! I'm so happy. I was supposed to be there today, but this happened," she said, pointing to her leg. "It's okay because they did it. I'll be there tomorrow night."
The Bosnian man wasn't conscious enough from his anesthetic in time to see the Heels win, but his son later told me he let his dad know what happened. The pair watched highlights on his phone. They'd already planned to watch the game Friday together, but just needed to make sure it was okay with the nurses that he stayed late with his dad.
Something told me there would be no problem.