Jan. 27, 2000: Wine, cheese and snow
The comment by
guard Sam Cassell
that spectators in
the Smith Center
“cheese and wine
crowd” was not
quoted — and misquoted — but stingingly accu-
rate. Until the “snow game.”
The Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center
hosted its first game on Jan. 18, 1986, a UNC win
over Duke. The arena was testament to a tremen-
dously successful basketball program, the legendary
coach whose name it bore and a fan base willing to
contribute approximately $34 million to fund con-
struction of a new campus arena.
The Tar Heels had won nearly 90 percent of their
games at deafening Carmichael Auditorium over more than
20 years, but Carmichael’s seating capacity was only 10,000.
Demand led to construction of the Smith Center, which accommodates 21,572. Fueling the fundraising effort, a form of seat licensing was
employed, ensuring greater privileges and better positioning according to the size of the
contribution. Consequently, most of the 9,000 seats in the lower level of the dome were filled by
older, more staid donors, limiting crowd noise and a home court advantage.
Then, in late January 2000, amid a four-game UNC losing streak that precipitated its first absence
from the AP poll in 172 weeks, a storm dumped 20. 3 inches of snow on the region. That was more
snow in a single night than in any month since local record-keeping began in 1887. Schools closed.
Power failed. A game at the Smith Center against No. 23 Maryland was postponed for a night.
The next day there was doubt the contest would attract much of a crowd, given the weather and
driving conditions. To bolster attendance, all students who could show a valid University ID were
admitted free. Come game time, 15,455 enthusiastic students and hardy older fans pressed close to the
court. “The atmosphere in this arena tonight is as electric as we’ve seen it,” said Mick Mixon ’ 80, the
radio color commentator.
“The atmosphere was unquestionably different,” agrees Tee Pruitt ’01, then the elected president
“Do I think moving the students down there improved the atmosphere? I do,” Baddour says. “But
of the Carolina Athletic Association. “We were losing at halftime [ 41-34] and had a great second-half
run, and it felt like the crowd really ignited the team to their victory that evening.”
Coaches, players and media observers agreed, citing students’ closeness to the court as a key factor.
Soon enough that enhanced presence became permanent. “The snow game was undoubtedly the
watershed moment in the changes that took place,” Pruitt says. “It opened all of our eyes to what the
building could sound/feel like and gave students and the CAA team a great reason to bring the issue
to the table.”
Cordial discussions regarding seating arrangements and other areas of mutual interest were under
way even before that snowy January night, involving members of the athletics department, the Rams
Club and student representatives. Still, Baddour says the Maryland experience made lower-level ticket
holders “more receptive” to swapping places with students, changes that went into effect under
Coach Matt Doherty ’ 84 and remain in effect under Roy Williams.
I always thought the Smith Center was a hard place to play.” Two national championships later, no
one is arguing.
BOB ROSATO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED/
For this story Barry Jacobs
conducted recent interviews
with Taylor Thorne ’ 49, Don
Anderson ’ 46, Lennie
Rosenbluth ’ 57, Larry Brown
’ 63, Billy Cunningham ’ 65,
Charles Scott ’ 70, Bill
Guthridge, Bob McAdoo ’ 72,
Jimmy Black ’ 82, Ron Morris,
Dick Baddour ’ 66 and Tee
ONLINE: See an archive of
basketball-related stories in the
The Daily Tar Heel has a
100-year timeline, videos
and other features at
BARRY JACOBS is a freelance writer based in Hillsborough who has covered ACC basketball since 1976
as a reporter and commentator.