"To most, the 'Greatest Show on Earth' means the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus."
To most, the “Greatest Show on Earth” means the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. To me it meant the Dixie Classic, indisputably the greatest holiday basketball tournament ever played. For three days in late December in those long-ago 1950s—always the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday after Christmas—12,400 fans piled into N.C. State’s William Neal Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. They took their seats about noon, and except for a supper break stayed there through four games until nearly midnight. They returned the next day for ten or twelve hours more, the third day for still more. There were twelve Dixie Classics in all, from 1949 to 1960, each pitting North Carolina’s Big Four college basketball teams—Carolina, Duke, State, and Wake Forest—against four of the rest of the nation’s best. Beginning in 1954, I saw five Classics, witnessing the very best—Lennie Rosenbluth and Hot Rod Hundley, Jumping Johnny Green and the Big O himself, Oscar Robertson. The Dixie Classic was, without doubt, the great event of my youth; it taught me the power of mythology, but it also taught me math, geography, history, sociology, and religion. It was, quite simply, incomparable.