OF ROOFS, CEILINGS AND CHAMPIONSHIPS

April 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

Fair warning.  This is nothing to do with energy.  It is also an ode to UNC, basketball and Michael Jordan, in no particular order.  Would I have penned one had Duke taken one to the bank and Christian Laettner (he of The Shot in the NCAA’s) had said something equally mysterious as did Michael Jordan, who knows?  I suspect a lot would have depended on whether what he said was open to generous interpretation; the ordinary gets few key strokes.

Ceiling is roof

Michael Jordan, speaking to a UNC crowd during a recent basketball game half time, in exhorting the football team (yes, I know that does not appear to compute, but that is the way it came down) to greater heights, famously uttered the phrase: “The ceiling is the roof”.  Coach Williams’ response is quintessentially him: ‘He’s Michael Jordan, anything he dadgum wants to say is OK with me.’  So carefully calculated Hillbilly, so mountains of western North Carolina, and so much a part of Williams’ ‘aw shucks I just roll the ball out’ persona.  That might have caused him to be underestimated in the early years, but three national championships later, any underestimate is perilous (OK, we are talking boys playing a game here, so peril may be a bit over the top; like the alleged death threats by Kentucky fans against the referee of their elite 8 game loss).  I have always thought that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Austrian accent was more pronounced after he started running for office.

The best basketball player ever out of Carolina, and possibly anywhere, has rights.  These rights include well intentioned malapropism.  But was it that, really?  Many, including the aforementioned Coach Williams, have opined that this was a garbled version of “the sky is the limit”.  A keen observer will note the absence of either of the words sky or limit in the original quote.  I think even Mrs. Malaprop (“The Rivals” 1775) would posthumously agree that her trademark foible required at least a reasonable facsimile of the emasculated word to be present.  So, I think we can safely discount malapropism.  The problem with interpretations of utterances is that one is compelled to consider the source.  Henry Higgins (just saw a rollicking version of My Fair Lady at Playmakers on UNC campus), the eminent linguist of Bernard Shaw creation, would no doubt have been credited with an esoteric, and even possibly a “loverly” *, interpretation.  But we will attempt a less fanciful explanation.

Had this been said by star quarterback Andrew Luck, he of the 3.48 GPA in Architectural Design from Stanford, how would we have interpreted it?  That is what I have set out to do.  Begin with the notion that in a room, the ceiling is the high point.  The roof is above that.  Clearly, the roof is a physically higher level of attainment than the ceiling.  In a multistory building, it gets better. The roof could be hundreds of feet above a given ceiling.  Thus, “the ceiling is the roof” is a metaphor for not settling for the most visible high point.  Is this what MJ meant?  I, for one, am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Vikram Rao

*Wouldn’t it be loverly in My Fair Lady (1957), written by A. J. Lerner and F. Lowe

 

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