The Day I Almost Met Dean Smith
A couple of years ago when I was working on the Virginia UNC License Plate Project, I had a need to visit the General Alumni Office. The project was officially initiated and sponsored by the GAA and they performed many of the administrative functions but some of the day to day details were handled here in Virginia.
This was the first time I had visited the Alumni Building and I had asked in advance for instructions on where to park. I knew it was going to be a problem but I thought maybe special arrangements could be made for visitors conducting business with the GAA. I was told that two parking spaces were located in front of the building earmarked for visitors but if they were taken, I should go down to the parking lot behind what is now called the "Alamo" by many,
It didn't surprise me to find that the two spaces were taken when I arrived, so I had my buddy, who had taken the trip from Richmond with me, go into the GAA building to let them know we had made it and to confirm what we had been told to do regarding parking.
When we got to what I think is called the Ramshead Parking Lot which was and I think still is being managed by a private firm, we were told we could not park in the parking lot. I was taken back by the refusal of the parking lot manager ( I had asked to speak with him when the attendant wouldn't let us past the entrance gate ) to let us park in the lot even after I told him that I had an appointment in the Alumni Office and had been told that I could park in what appeared to be "his" parking lot. I was baffled by what I was encountering and I had some difficulty in maintaining control of my emotions. The problem was that the manager had not explained to me why I could not park in the lot when obviously there were empty spaces. Finally the manager relented when I asked the obvious question of whether there were spaces available for parking. The world could see that all the spaces were not taken but I thought maybe they were being held for a group that might be arriving later.
I paid the fee and returned to the GAA Office. When I told the representative who was working with us what had happened, she appeared embarrassed but totally at a loss to explain how this could have happened and she did not try to investigate the matter while we were there.
So it was with this background that I attended to the business at hand and when it was completed, the GAA representative invited me and my friend to have lunch in the Carolina Club. I had read about the Carolina Club and had briefly considered joining so I could show off for my friends when they visited Chapel Hill with me but finally decided I could not justify joining for the few occasions when I would be able to enjoy the facilities.
Make no mistake about it though. I was impressed by the invitation and very pleased that I was going to be able to visit the Club which is limited to members and, I assume, guests of members.
Our waitress was attired in a tuxedo like outfit and for a moment I thought I was in New York City or some other large city where elegant dining is commonplace. I usually am more at home at Bullocks, Allen and Son, or Mama Dips but I will admit I was impressed. We were told to help ourselves at the buffet which was fabulous. As I was moving down the buffet line I notice someone out of the corner of my eye that looked somewhat familiar at first and totally familiar at second glance. It was Dean Smith and my first inclination was to introduce myself just to be able to say that I had personally met arguably the best collegiate basketball coach the world has ever seen. After thinking about it for a second, I decided that to impose on DES's privacy by introducing myself, a total stranger, was not the thing to do. I did, however, whisper to my traveling buddy that the gentleman near us at the buffet was Dean Smith.
In order to appreciate what happened next you need to know a little about my friend. He was the former Chairman of the statewide Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and my former boss. This usually blows people's minds when they learn that he and I actually like each other and have been taking day trips together for approximately 7 years. He is extremely outgoing and has never met a stranger. Some people think I am outgoing but compared to him, I am an introvert.
Back to the story. Immediately after I informed my friend of DES's presence, he goes straight up to him and says, "Hi Coach. How 'you doing." Coach Smith responded in the affirmative and what I witnessed for the next few minutes was simply unbelievable. My friend and DES talked with each other like they were old friends who hadn't seen each other for a long time. DES had always seemed like a rather withdrawn person to me from the times I had seen him on television but I can assure you that is not the way he came off that day. He seemed to be enjoying his conversation with my friend. Phil Ford was at a table nearby and even though he didn't join in the conversation, he did pay attention to it and also seemed very friendly.
My friend finally said to DES, "Coach, I wish you were still coaching us." I couldn't believe what I was hearing because my friend is not a UNC fan even though he has a lot of respect for Carolina but occasionally, he likes to rib me about my loyalty to the school. Coach Guthridge was under a lot of fire at the time and I held my breath waiting for DES's answer. He replied simply, "Well it's nice to let someone else do the work for a change."
I was tempted to but never did approach them while they were talking and many times since then, I have wished that I had. My concern for DES's privacy ruled the day when maybe it shouldn't have.
When we returned to our table and informed the GAA rep. about my friend's encounter, she seemed surprised. I don't think she had seen Coach Smith and remarked to us that she had been working for the GAA for over 10 years and had met Coach Smith only once and that was at an alumni affair in New York City. She seemed disappointed that she had not been a part of my friend's conversation with him.
So you see, I can't tell my grandchildren that I once met Coach Dean Smith but that's not important since I don't have and won't have any grandchildren. The experience of watching him and my friend engaging in small talk that day in the Carolina Club will do for me. Maybe next time such an opportunity presents itself, I won't be so timid. But then again, maybe I will. It just depends.