Dean Smith’s funeral: My day in Chapel Hill

Dean Smith's funeral at Brinkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill on Feb. 12, 2015.
Dean Smith’s funeral at Brinkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill on Feb. 12, 2015.

I just happened to be in Chapel Hill on the same day as Dean Smith’s private funeral – true, I promise.

I had business there for a website I’m working on. I couldn’t help but notice it wasn’t a usual day.

The Carolina Club and the Alumni Building were teaming with smiling faces greeting you at every turn. Very tall people were walking around. A helicopter was circling above.

The family of Dean Smith wanted this to be a private funeral with family and friends, which included former players, coaches and managers. And it was. The few media at the Brinkley Baptist Church during the ceremony stayed a respectful distance with high-powered cameras.

The time had been kept a secret so a few photographers were camped out near the road in front of the church. I had some time between appointments so I went to the church. I pulled in before I really knew where I was.

I couldn’t back out so a nice gentlemen, probably noticing my leather bomber jacket, asked if I were attending the funeral. I thought about it for a second but, even though I interacted with Coach Smith over the span of two years many moons ago, I knew I wasn’t the kind of close friend the family had in mind. I told him no that I was just passing by.

He directed me to go forward to get out on the other side. I passed by the hundreds of cars jamming the parking lot and the roadside in front of the parking lot. Obviously assuming I had made the cut past the first gentleman, another man tried to usher me to a prime parking spot just behind the black Cadillac beside the front door.

I believe the 90-minute service had been going on for a few minutes and they must have been holding a few prime parks for late arrivers or possibly handicapped people.

Again, I thought for a second and looked at my tennis shoes. If I had a jacket and different shoes, I was dressed well enough. I had on a Carolina blue button down shirt after all but I remembered how Coach Smith expected his players to dress well. I told the man that I was just passing through.

I passed by numerous police officers lining the drive, nodding to them. I managed to take a couple of poor quality pics with my smart phone. And I found my way out, once someone moved a cone for me to exit.

I went to the grocery store parking lot next door and walked out along the street where the photographers were located. I took a couple of better pictures with a better camera, and I left to take a few pictures of where I thought he was to be buried.

I’m still not sure where he was buried or if he was cremated but I took pictures at the funeral home tent at the cemetery nonetheless.

I figured this would be my chance to have some part in it as I’m not big on large public memorials. Usually they aren’t religiously based and when they are, they are a tad over the top for my taste. Plus, someone usually uses the occasion to spread some contentious political view, or it turns into a pep rally – something else I’m not comfortable with when dealing with death.

So, I probably will not attend the public memorial Feb. 22 in the Smith Center.

Most of the people I saw in various spots on campus or at the church will probably not be at that Feb. 22 service. They include Phil Ford, Charlie Scott, Eric Montross, Larry Brown, George Lynch, J.R. Reid, Jerry Stackhouse, Brad Daugherty, John Thompson and dozens more notables, some I recognized – like Coach K, and some I didn’t – such as those others over 6-foot-4.

After the Dean Smith funeral services, friends and family went to the Carolina Club to catch up and reminisce.
After the Dean Smith funeral services, friends and family went to the Carolina Club to catch up and reminisce.

I understand that the day began and ended at the Carolina Club, next to Kenan Stadium. In between there was the service, where Smith’s children spoke, as did current UNC coach Roy Williams and former Chapel Hill mayor Howard Lee.

Dean Smith was and will always be basketball royalty. The court called to Chapel Hill to lay the king to rest will never be larger or more distinguished, especially in regards to the world of basketball.

Like the proverbial fly on the wall, I saw a bit of it and, while I feared being an interloper, ultimately curiosity didn’t kill this cat.

But I wonder what would have happened had I worn a coat and nice shoes.

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