According to legend, early in Dean Smith’s tenure as UNC head coach, the Carolina student section stood and waved their arms in an effort to distract an opposing player from shooting a free throw. Smith stepped out onto the court and demanded that the students stop.
“We don’t do that here,” he said.
Smith also was known to take to the microphone to admonish fans when he felt that their taunts of opposing players crossed the line, famously scolding the home crowd during a 1982 game with Virginia after they cursed while yelling at 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson.
Decades later, in a 2017 home game, Duke’s Harry Giles went to the free-throw line. A highly sought-after recruit and a prime target of UNC’s the year before, Giles had suffered a serious knee injury that cost him his senior year in high school and impacted his play during his one year with the Blue Devils.
Giles would miss 11 of Duke’s games that year and average 3.9 points per game. As he went to the line at the building named for Dean Smith, UNC fans began chanting, “overrated.”
Roy Williams, a Smith protégé, leapt off the bench and angrily addressed the students.
“Stop that s—!” he shouted.
“We don’t need to do that,” Williams said after the game, although his motives may not have been entirely pure. “Every time you yell ‘overrated,’ the other team scores the next basket. They yelled ‘overrated,’ he made the dadgum free throw. We’re intelligent. We go to North Carolina. Don’t piss off the other team by being stupid.”
Much has changed in the Smith Center over the years. When Dean Smith was coaching, he famously refused to let any advertising signs be posted in the building. The first signs appeared four years after his retirement. Now, fans root for the Tar Heels to score 100 points so they can get a deal on Bojangles biscuits and cheer for opponents to miss free throws to take home free Pringles chips.
He was also opposed to alcohol ads on broadcasts of college games, yet the Smith Center began selling beer and wine in 2019.
It’s safe to say that Smith would not be happy to visit the arena that bears his name. He would doubtlessly carp about the ads and the alcohol. A longtime proponent of paying players, he would doubtlessly not be happy with the way the NIL rights and transfer portal have corrupted that idea.
And he likely would have something to say to the fans.
Before Saturday’s game against NC State, the emcee who leads the crowd in cheers prior to the game and during timeouts began hyping up the Smith Center faithful. As he spoke, NC State’s players took the court for the pregame layup line. The Carolina fans responded, predictably, with boos.
“Come on,” the emcee said, imploring the crowd to boo louder. “You can do better than that.”
It was a brief, relatively innocent moment, one that can be seen at virtually any arena around the country — pro, college or even high school. The difference was the location. This was at UNC, home of The Carolina Way — Smith’s view of the program as one of honor, loyalty and integrity. It is a belief that continues to the present day among the UNC faithful and rankles the nerves of fans of other schools as holier than thou.
Simply put, like the waving to distract free-throw shooters, like chants of “overrated,” like promotions tied to rooting for the other team to fail, it’s not The Carolina Way.
We don’t do that here.
Midway through the game, State’s Terquavion Smith went up for a layup and was clubbed to the ground by UNC’s Leaky Black. It was a hard play, a violent result, but not a dirty play. State coach Kevin Keatts said as much after the game and again two days later after reviewing film. Smith went down hard and medical staffs from both teams rushed to his aid. His arm was placed in a protective cast, his neck in a brace. He was lifted on a backboard and taken off the court on a stretcher.
The referees consulted the replay and ruled the play a flagrant two foul, meaning Black was ejected. And the fans at the Dean E. Smith Center erupted with boos. As Smith was being loaded onto an ambulance and taken to a local hospital for evaluation of his neck and arm injuries, the Carolina fans booed. As the replay was shown on the video board, the fans booed. As another player took Smith’s free throws, because he was unable to, the fans booed.
Were they booing Smith or taunting his injury? No, certainly not. They were booing what they viewed as an unfair call in a game in which UNC would go on to shoot its highest number of free throws in 18 years, in a game in which the Tar Heels would shoot 27 more free throws than their opponent, the Carolina fans were booing a call that they thought wasn’t fair.
Is it the end of the world? Certainly not. It’s just a reminder that things change, and they don’t usually go back. That’s even true when you’re traveling along The Carolina Way.
We do that here now.