FROM JULY 26, 2010
Dean Smith coached his University of North Carolina basketball team many times against Coach Krzyzewski’s Duke team and several times against Bob Knight’s Indiana team and Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky team. He coached at least once against John Wooden’s UCLA team. Coach Smith never coached against me. Even so…
During basketball games, the man never panicked. One game during the 1990 NCAA Tournament, with time running out, and Carolina behind by a point to a team it should not have come close to beating, Coach Smith called a timeout. In the huddle, he just smiled at his players and said, “Won’t it be fun to win this game?” They did.
In another game, this one played in 1974 and before there was such a thing as the 3-point shot, Carolina was trailing rival Duke by 7 points with only 17 seconds left in the game. Carolina won. There was no panic.
But years ago, I drove my 20-year-old Monte Carlo to a Chapel Hill, NC liquor store. I was unshaven and wearing a t-shirt and muddy jeans with holes on both knees. My hair was all over the place from lack of air conditioning in the old car. I pulled up to the ABC store and into a parking space by the front door right next to a sparkling clean and freshly waxed BMW. Standing at the driver’s side door of that Beemer, trying to unlock his car was Dean Smith. In his arms was a rather large bag full of freshly purchased adult beverage. When I got out of my car, the creaking and metal-popping sound of the door of the “Classic-Carlo” caught Coach Smith’s attention. He looked right at me. At first he smiled. Like he always does to strangers. Then I looked at him and his bag of liquor, smiled back at him and said what I thought was clever and friendly and folksy. I thought he would appreciate it.
“Man it looks like I need to go home with you,” I said.
His eyes doubled in size. He struggled with his keys and tried to politely smile again, but the fear and panic showed way too much to allow his usual honest smile. Shortly after that he sped away through that parking lot like a Ty Lawson fast break.
I didn’t mean to frighten the man. I thought he would see the humor. I guess he thought I was as funny as losing to UCLA that one year.