I’ve jumped around at dozens of home games, had my picture taken with Roy and was in Detroit for the lopsided National Championship win in 2009. But the one thing I hadn’t crossed off my Carolina basketball bucket list? Visiting the mecca of memorabilia adjacent to the Dean E. Smith Center.
SIMPLY THE BEST
Opened in 2008, the Carolina Basketball Museum documents the 100-plus year history of one of the best – actually, the best – college basketball programs in the country. Inside its doors, you’re quickly ushered into a small theater where a countdown to game day begins, and you hear the roar of the Dean Dome crowd. It’s electrifying. The anticipation builds as greats like Vince Carter recall the atmosphere of playing at home. The film that follows is six minutes of some of the most goose bumps-inducing, ESPN Top 10-worthy dunks, steals and memorable moments. Whether you’re a casual fan or a lifelong Tar Heel, you can’t help but be pumped at the museum.
Like any exhibition, this one is best enjoyed over a few trips to really see everything in the 8,000-square-foot space. Luckily, admission is free, so you can pop over whenever you need a fix of Carolina hoops. My mom, a fellow UNC grad, and I made our first pilgrimage before a game in December. We marveled at the old uniforms, ticket stubs, magazine covers and more recent items of lore, like Tyler Hansbrough’s face mask and Kendall Marshall’s kicks.
Then we saw him. Standing in front of the section that pays tribute to his time on the court at Carolina, there was the legend himself: Phil Ford. After a moment of hesitation, we joined the small line. My mom was giddy as she told Phil that she was a freshman during his standout senior season – he won the John Wooden Award and was named the National Player of the Year by several organizations. Phil high-fived me upon hearing I was one of a dozen Tar Heels in my family and posed for a photo. On a high after our brush with basketball greatness, we made a beeline for Dean Smith’s recruiting letters to a high school Michael Jordan and that infamous note from a disappointed Mike Krzyzewski wishing Michael the best in his college career.
With the museum closing an hour before tip-off, we had to cut our time short and we exited right by the cut-down nets and massive trophies from ACC Tournaments and NCAA Championships. We barely scratched the surface – missing the interactive displays on subjects like Dean Smith’s Four Corners – but still left in awe of the Carolina dynasty.