It Was 20 Years Ago Today

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

Photo by Dan Sears/Courtesy UNC Athletic Communications

One of the wonderful things about sports fandom is that our experiences are both universal and personal. We remember indelible moments in many of the same ways: Michael's jumper. Marvin's put-back. Sean's rebound. Justin's dunk. But we also attach to those memories details specific to our own experiences, whether we were in the building or watching at home, alone or with friends. In Chapel Hill, or halfway around the world.

The widespread availability of video on the internet, through which we can relive our favorite moments, sometimes creeps in to color our initial memories. Maybe you were in Phoenix for the Final Four and you've watched the highlights, but the television cameras don't capture the game from the same angle as your seat. Maybe you were watching on TV, but a YouTube video doesn't come with the same frame as your living room television, so a rewatch is never quite the same.

And of course, even if you're in the same room as your friends or family, the lens of context, the life experiences that each of you bring to the moment are different from person to person. And whether you were courtside or sidled up to a bar, at home or listening in the car, no experience is more or less legitimate than any other. And when those moments do occur, you remember where you were, because they are forever etched in memory.

On October 9, 1997, I was 16 years old, a junior at Eastern Wayne High School in Goldsboro. I don't remember how I first found out that Dean Smith was going to announce his retirement. Maybe Coach Maurice Jackson, a Carolina fan who constantly had the television on in his in-school suspension room, slipped in to class to tell me. But I know that I was, well, shaken.

I was going to play for Dean Smith at Carolina, of course. That was the plan all along. I'd spend hours in the driveway, shooting on the goal that my grandfathers had assembled for me one Christmas Day, both point guard and Woody Durham at the same time: making the shot and making the radio call. Huddling with Coach Smith during a crucial timeout. Missing the free throw but getting the rebound, or the steal. Sometimes missing the shot and whisper-screaming "BUT HE WAS FOULED!!!"

Of course I was going to play for Coach Smith, because he was going to be the head coach of Carolina men's basketball forever. And then the news sort of trickled out, I think —memory can be a fuzzy thing— an unscheduled men's basketball press conference just days before practice was scheduled to begin. It could only mean one thing, right?

I was in art class when the press conference took place. All the local stations were going to carry it live, so Coach Jackson was watching it in his room. Mrs. Lou Ann Smith's class was just on the other side of a partition, and she let me sneak down to Coach Jackson's room. She was and remains a Duke fan, but she recognized the importance of the moment, and I appreciate her letting me slip out.

I sat in silence —one of only two times I would do so in Coach Jackson's I.S.S. room (ha)— and watched with disbelief. Coach Smith was supposed to be at Carolina forever, and then, well, he wasn't.

If you weren't of the age of understanding in 1997, maybe you don't know the impact of this singular day in North Carolina history, in sports history. Maybe you know now, two and a half years since his passing and with so many persons whose lives he impacted having come forward to tell their own stories. At 16, I knew that Dean Smith was more than a basketball coach, that he was a mountain of a man whose impact went far beyond the court, far beyond the building that bears his name and even the state where he worked.

That year I'd joined a band, Annex, and we played a handful of gigs on the Eastern Wayne circuit. Church basements, garages, backyards. A sensitive kid, I wrote songs about girls. Girls I wanted to date, mostly. One song was called 's.a.d.' On the surface, it was about a breakup, a boy who'd been left behind by a girl, heartbroken. The lyrics were plaintive and generic and the music was mournful; I hung out on D minor, then walked down from C to A. "I don't know what to say . . . you've gone away." Vague enough that it could be about anything. It was about Dean Smith. 's.a.d.' was 'sad about Dean.'

But that's my experience, the lens through which I viewed Dean Smith's retirement, again, no more or less important than anyone else's. This morning, we asked Argyle Report readers on Twitter where they were when the news came down. Here's some of what you had to say.

Same news, different lens. All affected, whether we were aware or not. Where were you when you found out Coach Smith had retired? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ArgyleReport.