The year 2005 was hard on a basketball-loving Illinois girl living in North Carolina. Especially when red wine and legendary, but retired, UNC head coach Dean Smith entered into the mix.
The University of Illinois, under the leadership of Bill Self, was having a spectacular season. The team started March Madness with just one loss and they were expected to move easily into the NCAA Championship game.
That February, just before the tournament started, my advertising agency had been invited to attend a black tie benefit for the Carolinas chapter of the ALS Association. My boss had wine flowing early in the night — and I was grateful thanks to nerves involved in attending my first black tie event in my 28 years.
And also because I had learned Dean Smith would be there.
I spotted him early in the night and was anxious to talk basketball. Instead, I kept drinking to work up more courage. Finally, the moment presented itself.
“Dean Smith!” I said, shaking his hand. “I’m Melody… I’m from Illinois.”
And then the most jackass series of sentences fell out of my mouth.
“Have you been seeing our boys play this year?”
“What do you think of Bill Self?”
“How do you think we’d stack up against North Carolina?”
I wouldn’t shut up. At all. I know I mentioned former Illinois coach Lon Kruger. I was likely making no sense whatsoever. And he took it like a champ — because after all, he’s Dean Smith. All he did was laugh and smile at me with nods and comments like, “Yeah, Illinois is a great team this year.”
Weeks later, I was laying in my living room watching the Championship game between — who else — Illinois and UNC. It was a nail biter and as it was coming down to the last few moments, the camera panned to Coach Smith and Michael Jordan, who were sitting in the crowd watching the game together. I cringed. And then continued to watch as Illinois lost to the Tarheels by 5.
Years later, I took a job at the University of Kansas. Where Bill Self is currently head coach. Where Dean Smith played basketball under the legendary Phog Allen. Who played under the inventor of basketball, James Naismith.
Turns out, karma is a bitch.