If you’ve yet to fully grasp how big college basketball is in the Triangle, put on a Duke jersey and walk down Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.
After you’ve recovered from your wounds, you can look up highlights of Duke’s Grayson Allen draining three-pointers (or tripping people), relive N.C. Stateís 1983 title triumph through ESPN’s Survive and Advance documentary, or witness the true meaning of redemption by watching a clip of UNC celebrating their 2017 championship win after falling just short the year before. To the outside world—and to many people here—men’s college basketball is the Triangle sports scene. And with good reason: UNC-Duke is perhaps the greatest rivalry in modern sports, and the Triangle’s hoops squads have produced the likes of MJ and Grant Hill, James Worthy and David Thompson, Jerry Stackhouse and the universally-reviled-except-by-those-who-love-him Christian Laettner, not to mention Dean Smith, Coach K, and Jimmy V.
College hoops may be the main event, but the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes set the standard for pro sports when the erstwhile Hartford Whalers arrived in 1997. Less than a decade later, in 2006, they won North Carolina’s only major professional sports title by defeating the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since then, the team has forced fans to question whether hockey is really a Southern thing; the Canes have missed the playoffs for almost a decade and boasted some of the lowest attendance figures in all of pro sports. But new owner Tom Dundon has fans hopeful that this seasonís team can keep PNC Arena’s obnoxious goal horn sounding into the postseason.
For the National Women’s Soccer League’s North Carolina Courage, glory is something to be lived here and now. The Cary-based team was dominant last season, clinching the NWSL regular season title with four games to spare and making a case for itself as the best team in women’s club soccer by winning the first-ever Womenís International Champions Cup.
The Courage shares its stadium with North Carolina FC, a professional men’s team with dreams of jumping to Major League Soccer. Owner Steve Malik has shown ambition since purchasing the team in 2015 (it was his idea to reestablish a women’s team), and, if all goes to plan, Raleigh will have a major-league franchise and a new $150 million downtown stadium in the next few years. Malik has a lot working in his favor, especially Raleigh’s vast network of soccer bars, diehard club soccer fans, and the fact that seemingly every kid from around here played at least one season of youth soccer growing up.
The Durham Bulls became the biggest name in Triangle baseball—and arguably in minor league baseball generally—thanks to the 1988 film Bull Durham. The team’s blue caps can be seen all over the Bull City, and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park regularly draws crowds of seven thousand. Further east, in Zebulon, the Carolina Mudcats have carved out a place in the Class A-Advanced Carolina League.
You can always find a game of pick-up soccer or basketball around here, and sports that require a bit more planning like hockey or softball have well-established leagues. The large population of college students means that volleyballs and frisbees constantly fly during the warmer months, especially once the semi-pro Raleigh Flyers’ Ultimate Frisbee season kicks off in April. Lacrosse is also fairly popular due to both a large population of Northeast transplants and the success of UNC’s and Duke’s programs.
The Triangle is also a great place to fall in love with a new sport. Durham’s Triangle Curling Club can show you how to become the coolest guest at your next Winter Olympics party. Raleigh Dart League and Triangle Table Tennis offer similarly low-impact but highly competitive experiences for their respective stables of players.
At the other end of the spectrum, rugby has also picked up steam thanks to clubs like Raleigh Rugby FC, Cary Rugby, and a variety of collegiate club teams. Various roller derby clubs also operate out of the Triangle, the most famous being the Raleigh-based Carolina Rollergirls.