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Aircraft carrier Carl Vinson turned into NCAA basketball court

November 11, 2011 |  9:05 am

Carl Vinson
Just six months ago, the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson had a far more official role: carrying the body of Osama bin Laden to his burial at sea. But on Friday, the ship will be able to claim another first: hosting a college basketball game.

Michigan State and North Carolina will square off at 4 p.m. and President Obama will be in the stands. And Magic Johnson and James Worthy will serve as honorary captains.

The transformation of the aircraft carrier started Wednesday when the same basketball court that was used for the 2011 NCAA national championship game was lifted by crane more than 14 stories and laid piece by piece, until all 258 squares snapped together.

About 7,000 seats were brought in to form an arena and the two basketball stanchions were put in place.

The idea has been 10 years in the making –- the concept of Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis, who was inspired after visiting troops in Afghanistan and Iraq with a group of coaches and athletic officials.

Morale Entertainment, a company that arranges for groups around the world to meet troops, and ESPN are splitting the costs of staging the game, believed to be in the mid-seven figures.

No tickets were sold. Each school received about 400 tickets, Quicken Loans, the title sponsor and State Farm, the secondary sponsor, received some and the rest went to men and women in the military.

Each team will wear specially designed uniforms resembling camouflage gear for the game, and an 86-pound trophy, a replica of the Carl Vinson, has been made.

"It's far superseded whatever I thought it could be," Michigan State basketball Coach Tom Izzo said Thursday. "If you could have seen our players' eyes as we walked [onto the ship Wednesday], it was kind of a dream come true. In a small, small way, we feel we are giving a little bit back."

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-- Diane Pucin

Photo: North Carolina players practice on the basketball court aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. The ship's deck will be the venue for a game between Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina on Veterans Day . Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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