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Bill Kirby Jr.: Billy West takes us on a trip down Tobacco Road’s memory lane

The Cumberland County district attorney and avid sports fan offers a poignant perspective of basketball coaching legends and athletes.


Many of us know Billy West as the Cumberland County district attorney.

He’s a sports fan, too.

And quite the golfer, with eight Cumberland County Golf Championships in 1994, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2017 and 2019.

And you’ll likely find him this day on the final round of the 86th Masters glued to his television and watching every drive, chip and putt at Augusta National Golf Club.

While his alma mater N.C. State didn’t qualify for the NCAA national basketball championship, West was like most of us on April 2 watching the University of North Carolina go head-to-head in the semifinal round with Duke in what would be an 81-77 Tar Heel victory that would end Mike Krzyzewski’s 42-year Blue Devils coaching career.

The game gave Billy West pause.

“I just spontaneously decided to write this really for me and my family and friends,” he says. “My wife convinced me to post it on Facebook following Coach K’s final game.”

West followed his wife’s suggestion and posted his thoughts on Facebook. He says he was overwhelmed that his words reached more than 500,000-plus readers.

“As I watched Coach K shake hands with Hubert Davis last and tell him “to go win it and finish it off in style,” I had an unexpected rush of emotion,” West wrote on the Facebook post. “It was not anger that UNC had won, it was the realization that an era had ended. Not the era of Coach K, but the era of Tobacco Road legends that had dominated the sport, and in many ways gave an entire state its identity.

“Legends like Everett Case, Frank McGuire, Vic Bubas, Bones McKinney, Norm Sloan, Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, Dave Odom, Roy Williams, and Mike Krzyzewski. It was an era that meant so much to so many. Many of us chose our favorite color as a young child or what college we would attend based on these Tobacco Road rivalries. TVs being rolled into our classrooms were a staple of ACC tournament Fridays. Families were divided and friendships were formed and strained over the intense rivalries in this era.

“There were players and coaches we loved, or we loved to hate, and there are too many of them to list,” West wrote. “This era produced the greatest collegiate player ever in Shelby’s

David Thompson, and the greatest basketball player of all time in Wilmington’s Michael Jordan. Both the wins and losses in this era brought many to tears. Michael Jordan’s jumper, Lorenzo Charles’s dunk, Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beater, and Randolph Childress’s ACC tournament performance are memories engrained in the mind of every fan from this era. These moments and countless others brought pure euphoria to the fans of the winners while producing feelings of disgust for those who had to watch their rival win a big game or championship.”

Quite a reflection.

Quite a perspective.

West is a county prosecutor, but he could have had a career in sports journalism, too.

He’s surely accurate in taking us back to David Thompson, who led N.C. State to the 1974 NCAA national title under the late coach Norm Sloan. He’s right about Michael Jordan, the Wilmington native who led UNC to the 1982 title for the late coach Dean Smith’s first national championship. Right about Christian Laettner’s final-second shot over Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight that helped Duke to the crown. And right about Randolph Childress leading Wake Forest to the 1995 ACC tournament title.

West’s memory is keen, too, about Everett Case, the old N.C. State coach, and Frank McGuire, who would coach UNC to the 1957 NCAA title, when our hometown adopted Joe Quigg would score the winning free throws in a third overtime to beat Wilt Chamberland and the Kansas Jayhawks for a 32-0 season. And on target in remembering coaches such as Vic Bubas at Duke, Horace “Bones” McKinney at Wake Forest and the late Jim Valvano, who was like a kid on Christmas morning when the late Lorenzo Charles scored the winning basket for the Wolfpack’s NCAA championship in 1983.

‘Thanks for the memories’

“With the advent of the transfer portal and the NCAA’s name image likeness rules, college basketball, the ACC and especially the Big 4 are forever changed,” West wrote in his Facebook post. “As much as we want it to continue, this era ended last night (April 2) and is never coming back. Coach K was the last of these legends, and with the changes to the sport, we will likely not see another. So to Coach Smith, Coach Valvano, Coach K and many others from so many of us that grew up in North Carolina during this era, thanks for the memories … they will last a lifetime.”

West wrote his Facebook post as UNC prepared for the NCAA championship game with Kansas on Monday night, where Kansas overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to defeat the Tar Heels, 72-69, in Hubert Davis’ first head-coaching season with the Tar Heels.

“To Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels, and this is a first for this diehard Wolfpack fan, go ahead and do what Coach K said and “win it all and finish it off in style” and bring this era one more championship,” West wrote. “After the clock hits zero, cut down the nets, … after all, it’s a tradition started by N.C. State’s Everett Case, the father of the ACC. It would be a fitting end to one of the greatest eras in the state of North Carolina and all of sports.”

Perhaps it wasn’t the “fitting end” for UNC or Hubert Davis or Tar Heels followers who live and breathe “Carolina” basketball. Or the “fitting end” for Mike Krzyzewski and his young Blue Devils, who wanted so desperately to give their coach of legend a sixth national championship and a coaching farewell to remember.


There will be other coaches.

There will be more game-winning baskets.

There will be another generation of sports heroes and heroines to come along, and for generations beyond.

But just as West so insightfully reminds us, Dean Smith, Everett Case, Frank McGuire, Bones McKinney, Jim Valvano, Mike Krzyzewski, David Thompson and Michael Jordan are sports legends never to forget, and they will live forever when we tell the stories of the games they coached and played along a place called Tobacco Road.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Billy West, Tobacco Road, basketball