Today is not December 28, 1973. It is February 22, 2014, the day when a sell-out crowd and then some will fill the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill to celebrate the magnificent life of one of the all-time great college basketball coaches, Dean Smith. Stories and remembrances have been written many times since his passing two weeks ago. He was remembered in this space on February 9: Dean Smith’s shadow will remain forever. He’s graciousness on Dec 28, 1973 will remain a fond memory with me.
As a long-time fan of NC State Wolfpack basketball, Dean Smith wasn’t admired in my early years as he has been in his later seasons for his coaching ability and his approach to life in general. He was the enemy, the one who somehow, someway taught Larry Miller to increase the speed of his hands so he could easily steal pass attempts by the other team. All he asked of his players was to be a little more aggressive and overplay tendencies of the opposition. His success in the late 1960s started to diminish the Everett Case place in Atlantic Coast Conference history, and that was disappointing to all Wolfpack followers. Only with State winning the 1974 and 1983 national titles and a few ACC championships in the 70s and 80s did the jealously subside a little.
There was something he did late in 1973 that will never be erased from my memory. Much of my family was spending Christmas in Hollywood FL with my Dad’s brother and his wife, Nat and Marilyn. The UNC Tar Heels were scheduled to play at Biscayne College on Dec 28. A call to the Biscayne Sports Information Office secured a couple of press passes for me and my brother, Brooks, under the guise that as sports editor of the NC State school newspaper and with UNC’s game after set against the Wolfpack in the Big Four tournament, watching that game would be a good way to write an advance story though the Technician, the NCSU student paper, would not publish again until well after the Big Four. There was no story written, but we went to the game.
UNC dismantled Biscayne, 112-72, in front of 2,000 people. Notes were taken, and we were headed to the door when Jack Williams, the UNC Sports Information Director, asked if he needed to make Dean Smith available for a post-game interview. Of course, we replied thinking it would be along with the other local reporters. Smith soon walked through the locker room door, turning right for us and ignoring momentarily the other reporters to the left. “Do you think a game such as this prepares you to play your next game against NC State (or something as that)?” he was asked. His team was ranked 4th in the nation that day and the Wolfpack was only 5th, but only because of a loss to UCLA a few weeks earlier. “Yes, every game we play prepares us in some way for our next game. Playing State will be tough; Norm has a good team (or something as that),” he said. There were two or three more questions and answers, but the interview was soon over. As he turned to walk away, he thanked me for coming and wished us safety back to our destination.
Dictionary.com word of the day
glitterati (plural noun) [glit-uh-rah-tee]: wealthy or famous people who conspicuously or ostentatiously attend fashionable events