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Sloppy basketball is beside the point on aircraft carrier

With President Obama, the first lady and members of the military in attendance, the game and the score (North Carolina 67, Michigan State 55) were secondary to honoring the military.

November 11, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Michigan State's Branden Dawson , (22), battles Nor Carolina James Michael McAdoo (43) and John Henson (31) for a rebound under a twilight sky during the first half of the Carrier Classic on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.
Michigan State's Branden Dawson , (22), battles Nor Carolina James… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Coronado, Calif. -- If the game was a little sloppy, if there was some bad shooting and slipping and sliding along the court, that wasn't the point.

Also not the point was that top-ranked North Carolina beat Michigan State, 67-55, in the season opener Friday.

The point was that President Obama and his wife, Michelle, attended the game, which was played on the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. The point was that service men and women from all five branches of the military stood in proud anticipation of being honored at a basketball game, the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic.

"This was a hell of a memory maker," Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. It was his athletic director, Mark Hollis, who had the idea for this moment years ago after making a visit to troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Carl Vinson, which had brought aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti and buried the body of Osama bin Laden at sea in its most recent work forays, was spit-and-polish spiffy Friday.

Weather cooperated by providing just a little sun shortly before tipoff about 4:20 and then a purple and pink sunset when the game was interrupted for a moment, as happens every night at sundown, as the colors are lowered and all the members of the military stand and salute.

"It's the neatest thing I've ever been a part of," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said.

The Tar Heels overcame an early 17-12 deficit — with the help of 17 points from Harrison Barnes and 12 points and a career-high nine blocked shots by John Henson — and ran away in the second half, leading by as much as 59-38 with about 10 minutes left in the game.

"It was just so weird to see the president of the United States in the front row," Barnes said.

Although most of the fans represented the military or were fans of North Carolina and Michigan State, there were some representatives of fame, such as Pamela Anderson and basketball player O.J. Mayo. Brooklyn Decker, an actress and model and the wife of tennis player Andy Roddick, participated in a halftime shooting contest.

But no fan was more important than Obama. He sat with his wife on one side and Medal of Honor recipient John Baca on the other.

Michelle Obama seemed to cheer more enthusiastically for Michigan State, but when the crowd of 8,111 did the wave in the second half, the Obamas didn't join in. At the end, both teams gave the members of the military a standing ovation.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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