One of the greatest basketball players in Atlantic Coast Conference history will visit Mount Airy Saturday.
Phil Ford, legendary point guard for North Carolina and the school’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer, is scheduled to sign autographs at Lowe’s of Mount Airy from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“He’s the number one Tar Heel for a lot of people in this area,” said Neil Cothren, the manager of the home-improvement and hardware store at 692 S. Andy Griffith Parkway.
Ford, 55, a Rocky Mount native, was a sensation while starring for the UNC Tar Heels for four seasons in the mid-1970s under coach Dean Smith. He averaged 20.8 points per game during an era that Cothren reminded was before the introduction of the three-point line and shot clock.
“He was way before his time,” Cothren said.
With 2,290 career points, Ford’s record as Carolina’s all-time leading scorer held up for more than 30 years before being surpassed by Tyler Hansbrough in 2008.
“I saw Phil play,” said Cothren, an admitted “Tar Heel nut” in his 40s who recalls the excitement of Ford bringing the ball down the court during ACC games. When late in a contest in which North Carolina had a sizable lead, Ford often would hold up a familiar signal for the team to employ a four-corners offense to run out the clock.
“And you knew it was over,” the Lowe’s manager added.
Ford, a three-time All-American, started for the U.S. basketball squad that captured the gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics and was rookie of the year for the National Basketball Association in 1979 with the then-Kansas City Kings. Ford played with four different teams during a pro career that lasted until 1985 and also has twice been an assistant coach in the NBA.
He has maintained ties with UNC basketball over the years, including serving as an assistant coach in the program and as a color commentator for Tar Heels games. Ford presently works for the Educational Foundation, a fund-raising arm of the school’s athletics department.
Cothren explained that the North Carolina basketball icon is coming to the local store as a result of a longtime association with Lowe’s which stretches back to the early 1990s. This has included past involvements by Ford with a paint supplier and presently Werner Ladder Co. Over the years, he has attended grand openings of Lowe’s stores and similar events.
When Ford became available for an appearance at some outlet in the region, Cothren said a Lowe’s official who knew of the local store manager’s passion for Tar Heel basketball helped steer the former point guard to Mount Airy.
“I actually talked to him today,” Cothren said Thursday, explaining that Ford had called to confirm his Saturday appearance, in which the first 300 people in line will receive his autograph on an Werner Ladder/Lowe’s cap. Ford will set up shop in an area near the store’s appliance section which will be suitably decorated in Carolina Blue for the occasion.
Cothren, who said it was exciting to hear Ford’s voice on the telephone after seeing his many performances on the basketball court, was quick to inform the former player where he stood among his years of sports memories:
“You were my hero back then.”
Tom Joyce can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.