April 13th, 2012
I've joked several times over the past couple weeks with TheBlackFalcon.net's creator and Editor-in-Chief Jordan Rogers about the name of this site. When we launched this past fall, the vast majority of Carolina fans knew exactly who/what you were talking about when you mentioned The Black Falcon. It was more than a nickname. It was a phenomenon. Amateur entrepreneurs pumped out a large handful of Black Falcon t-shirts, which Harrison Barnes himself was seen wearing on multiple occasions. It generated its own Tumblr meme that could be considered the modern day equivalent of the legendary "Sheed Facts" from the infancy of the Internet.
To understand why ― what started off as a less than subtle attempt to replicate Kobe's Black Mamba nickname ― this was able to become the most embraced nickname in recent Carolina history1 one must look at the context in which it emerged. The nickname took off around the middle of the ACC schedule last season. In the months prior the Tar Heels were off to a shaky start after the dumpster fire that was the 2009-2010 campaign. UNC had dropped from the rankings after being ranked #8 preseason and the player hyped as the next Kobe Bryant was scoring about 13 PPG with a pretty dismal shooting percentage.2 After UNC was pounded by an unranked Georgia Tech, suddenly the thought second straight NIT appearance entered the minds of Carolina fans as if the Duke fan base had hired Leonardo DiCaprio to place it there. In fact the first people I ever saw use The Black Falcon nickname to refer to Barnes were the patrons of Duke's message boards.3 To them, calling Barnes the Black Falcon was a way to mock the player who had spurned them via Skype, essentially creating way of calling Barnes a bust and an impostor who was the product of self-generated hype.
Then things changed. Barnes hit the game winning shot against Miami in a game in which he was otherwise mediocre. Then he broke the twenty point barrier against NC State. If you're reading this you probably know the rest. Barnes continued to emerge and with him so did the Black Falcon. The name was wrested from the hands of the dookies and came to represent a metamorphosis rather than a disappointment. Instead of an overhyped frustration, the Black Falcon was a force of nature that had learned to soar. Suddenly Barnes' ceiling seemed as if it could only be seen with a telescope. Down one with seconds on the clock? The Black Falcon pulls up and nails a dagger three. About to be upset by Clemson in the ACC tournament due to some team-wide apathy? The Black Falcon soars and drops forty points to fuel an overtime win. During the last two months of that season Barnes seemed every bit as unstoppable as player of the year candidates Kemba walker and Jimmer Fredette. The Black Falcon was ascending the college basketball food chain and making a push towards being named top predator.
The sting of UNC's loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight was mostly alleviated by the fact that alongside Zeller and Henson, Barnes would be passing up a top three pick in the NBA draft to chase a title at UNC. At the time it seemed to seal his legacy. The Black Falcon would be perched atop college basketball swooping down to snatch up accolades and ultimately a national championship. There was never a doubt that he would live up to these expectations. After all the metamorphosis had been completed, Barnes WAS the Black Falcon.
Or so we thought. Barnes did not have a bad season by any means. He averaged over seventeen points per game and shot a better percentage from the floor. He didn't hit as many game winners but Carolina was rarely in situations where they needed a game winning shot. Barnes was a very good player with stretches of greatness. But he was never dominant; he was never truly the Black Falcon.
During those stretches in which Barnes did take over, many people liked to say that Barnes was going into "Black Falcon mode". The problem was that as previously discussed the concept of the Black Falcon was one more of metamorphosis into a dominant force rather than a transient period of transcendent play. Furthermore if we were to assign the latter meaning to the term, then Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock spent more time in Black Falcon mode during the NCAAs than Barnes himself.
The obvious question then follows: why was he unable to truly be the Black Falcon? One argument could be made that he consciously suppressed it so as to maintain team chemistry and balance (after all he had teammates like Henson and Zeller) but the last couple games without Marshall poked some major holes in that theory. Many want to blame Barnes' focus on his "brand" for his failure to achieve the dominance we expected. I however think that all the brand talk is just another symptom of the underlying issue rather than the main problem itself. Both are fueled by Harrison thinking and planning his way through things.
Given stories like Antoine Walker it's hard to fault a future professional basketball player for such personality characteristics. Barnes is not likely to be broke at age thirty-five. On the basketball court however it seemed Barnes almost had a play-by-play, move-by-move script he was trying to follow. He had rehearsed these moves countless times in the gym, so it only made sense to replicate them on the court. When he was in a zone or being guarded a certain way, he could look like the college version of Kobe, because he had spent countless hours learning Kobe's moves. When taken out of his comfort zone however he still continued to try and execute the same rehearsed moves rather than playing more instinctually.
When Barnes was the Black Falcon in the last two months of the 2011 season he still had the same versifier array of moves. The difference was that instead of choosing what move to use and forcing it, he more simply attacked in the moment and then instinctually went to the move that was most effective. It seems like a simple thing to fix, but speaking from experience sometimes just stopping thinking is the hardest thing to do.
The fact the Black Falcon was conspicuously absent this past year does not mean I blame Barnes for UNC falling short of the final four. This past year was snakebitten by injuries and Barnes was solid but unspectacular in UNC's two most dominant games down the stretch (Duke at Cameron and Creighton).
Barnes now leaves Carolina without a championship and with a growing cadre of critics. His jersey will be honored in the rafters and he will be remembered as a very good player. However I'm not sure he will be remembered as the Black Falcon the way Hansbrough will always be Psycho T. Just as Superman will always be Superman and no one else can be superman, Hansbrough will always be Psycho T, and no one else can claim that title. Barnes ended up being more like Bruce Wayne. When Bruce Wayne is in the Batsuit he is Batman, but only at that time. Further, it is possible for someone else other than Bruce Wayne to be Batman were they to gain access to all the utilities and resources Batman had. In the same way it seems the Black Falcon title is one that does not necessitate a specific owner (obviously Barnes will keep the nickname and continue to use it in the NBA to build his brand. And it is certainly possible he will truly be the Black Falcon again in the future). Barnes was the Black Falcon for two months in the spring of 2011. But the point of the extended superhero metaphor above is that there could be another Black Falcon for Carolina in the future.
I guess that's why after thinking about it, I don't think this website should change its title. The Black Falcon is a legacy, not a person. And this website's title is now honoring that legacy... not necessarily Harrison Barnes.
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