On two occasions, I saw UNC Basketball coach Dean Smith around town in Chapel Hill. One time, I saw Smith and his wife Linnea at the Varsity Movie Theatre. This was different, of course, than seeing him on the basketball court at the Smith Center, along with twenty thousand screaming fans.
At the theatre, he looked at me as if he had seen me before. He had not. It was strange. I am positive that he regarded me with contempt. I thought to myself, at this random encounter, did I remind him of someone who had treated him badly? I was not imagining any of this. The look on his face was unmistakable.
In time, I shrugged it off as just one of those things.
I don’t know how long it was, perhaps six or nine months. In the Whole Foods supermarket on Elliott Drive, I encountered him again, and the same thing occurred. Argh! What’s going on? That sour look on his face was unmistakable.
He looked right into my eyes and his facial gestures and demeanor conveyed the message, “I can’t stand you.” Yessir, message received … again. Dean Smith didn’t like me. No, make that despised me. Does it get any weirder?
I thought about all the ways in which we are each prejudiced, if unknowingly, towards this person or that. On occasion, I’ve come across people whom I did not know in the least and yet I had disdain for being around them. Later, I would rack my brain trying to figure out what it was about them that instantly turned me cold.
Dean Smith chose to retire just before the start of the 1997 basketball season. He then lived as a ‘civilian’ in Chapel Hill for many years thereafter and passed away in 2015. By then, I had been in Raleigh for eight years. I was told or had read many times that he was a great guy, and I accepted that as the truth. I was an anomaly. I don’t know why, and I guess it doesn’t matter.
Bill Guthridge, his longtime assistant, took over as the head basketball coach for three years following Smith. I never encountered Guthridge around town, but he seemed like a great guy as well. He was followed by Matt Doherty for three years, and then Roy Williams for 18. I never encountered Doherty. I encountered Williams more than a dozen times, always pleasantly, most often at UNC sporting events other than basketball. Williams was a true fan himself.
Now, 25 years after the encounters with Smith, I realize we all have our predispositions, and unknown brain functioning that we don’t understand. Dean Smith never liked me, but I liked him, and that’s more than enough.