Editor's note: Third in a series on what happened after college to basketball players from the eight original ACC schools.
Back when smoking was allowed in sports arenas, coach Red Auerbach signaled to Boston Celtics fans late in a game that a victory was in hand by smoking a cigar. At North Carolina in the early 1980s, coach Dean Smith had his version of a victory cigar.
About the time the pep band began playing the victory song during games in the 1982, 1983 and 1984 seasons, Smith sent Timo Makkonen, a 6-foot-10 center from Finland, onto the Carmichael Auditorium court.
North Carolina won every one of the 41 games in which Makkonen played, even though he managed only 20 points for his career.
Never miss a local story.
"I was always excited to get in, whether it was a minute here or 30 seconds there," Makkonen says.
Nearly three decades later, Makkonen, 49, maintains a connection to UNC's 1982 national championship club.
He is the vice-president and CFO of Cornerstone Management & Consulting in Waterbury, Conn., a company that counts among many operations the management of four restaurants owned by his former Tar Heels teammate Michael Jordan.
Makkonen arrived at North Carolina a year ahead of Jordan in the same freshman class as Sam Perkins and Matt Doherty. James Worthy already was on board.
"Knowing there were some very big names coming in and it's a very large program, I knew there was probably a little bit more limited playing time I would get there instead of going to some smaller school," Makkonen says.
Makkonen, who was an exchange student at Vance Academy in Henderson, weighed the offer from UNC against more playing time at schools such as William & Mary and Richmond.
"I felt, at least inside of myself, that my biggest role was to help the whole team in practice," Makkonen says.
Besides his 41-0 record, Makkonen had another legacy he left at North Carolina. He remains the only Tar Heel to wear the No.51 jersey.