For the uninitiated guest, the walk up Skipper Bowles Drive and into the Dean Smith Center "" UNC's beloved "Dean Dome," home for the school's basketball teams and commencement ceremonies "" is a bit underwhelming. From the outside, it's another blocky brick relic of 80s-era architectural efficiency. Once inside, the worn, brownish concrete and fading Carolina blue paint complete the visual buzzkill...
And then you catch sight of that court.
It's only polished hardwood and Carolina blue, the same as the hallways that were putting your gameday high to sleep a second ago "" only now you couldn't possibly imagine college basketball in any other color. You've seen the stills and the videos, decades of archived footage punctuated by legendary names from Phil Ford, James Worthy, and Michael Jordan to Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, and Tyler Hansbrough.
Those first three played in the Carmichael Auditorium, of course, but it looks exactly the same.
From the museum next door to the promotional movies shown during TV timeouts and down to that Carolina blue, the Dean Dome experience is a baptism in the Tar Heels' rich basketball tradition.
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An important part of taking in this college basketball mecca, of course, is what you intake before finding your seat. As luck would have it, Chapel Hill is smack-dab in the middle of barbeque country, meaning there's no need to lean on the usual concession stand crud for sustenance.
If your game, unlike this unfortunate writer's, falls on any day other than Sunday, you're heading a few minutes off the beaten path along Route 2 to Allen & Son Barbeque for the cream of Chapel Hill's barbeque crop. Should the Sabbath stymie that plan, Carolina Brewery on Franklin Street makes a praiseworthy sandwich ($9 with fries) with the added bonus of a microbrew ($6) to wash it down.
Not a barbeque fan? Shame on you. Still, Franklin Street's the place to get your pregame grub on.
It's tempting to take a little dig at the UNC faithful here. Even in the face of that beautiful court, with the voices of Jordan, Dean Smith, and an all-star lineup of alumni echoing through the building during pauses in the action, it's a little too quiet in there at times""especially for a packed house.
(More on that in a bit.)
But between that number 23 jersey hanging from the rafters, alongside a host of other names who dominated the NCAA in their own eras, and the Tar Heels' four national championship banners, there's nothing to say about the Dean Dome's atmosphere except that it's rare air in there. A ticket to a Carolina game is, simply put, an invitation to breathe in basketball history.
Established in 1789, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the oldest public university in America, which means you're walking (or driving) through living history as you make your way around the campus. So there's that.
Thing is, it's practically a sideshow. The Dean Dome would get full marks for its neighborhood even if everything more than a quarter-mile away was an uninhabitable wasteland, thanks to the building just two doors down: the Carolina Basketball Museum.
A list of every piece of Tar Heel history held in that first-floor shrine in the Ernie Williamson Athletics Center would run for thousands of words without communicating anything about what it's like to see, for instance, a glass-encased letter from Dean Smith to Michael Jordan, circa 1982, in person. From national championship rings to Eric Montross' massive game-worn shoes, it's all there.
If you pass up a free trip through the museum, you're just not getting full value for your ticket.
(More on that in a bit, too.)
A message for Carolina fans of all ages, from the most baby-faced freshman to the most senior alumni: Come on, people.
If your building is incredible enough to capture this proud Virginia graduate's heart for three hours on a Sunday night, it should get you loud and on your feet for more than a John Henson dunk.
Down at one end of the floor, the students are standing and shouting, but that's pretty much it, and you can see that at any college arena in the country on any game night. The crazies down Tobacco Road are in a higher, more enthusiastic class of fan base.
Of course, it's hard to mark a full building down too much.
There's $10 parking all over the place, from the Franklin Street garages to the lot outside Boshamer Stadium, the home field for UNC's baseball team. After the whistle, it's surprisingly smooth sailing to get from the campus streets to Interstate 40 after the final whistle.
Inside the arena, there's reserved handicapped seating around the top of the lower bowl.
Historic as the Dean Dome may be, a ticket to get in packs an equally epic punch to your wallet. The Tar Heels' conference matchup against Maryland had an $85 price tag for a seat at the tip top of the upper level. For UNC's season-ending showdown with rival Duke, that same spot's going for upwards of $300.
If you're up for it, there's enough to see and do in and around the arena that you won't feel cheated. But, at the average price, you've got to be all-in for the experience. It's not a casual weeknight trip.
One point for each trophy in the case, if you will.
Alternately, split it as a point each for the aforementioned Smith-to-Jordan letter, the original copy of Jordan's letter of intent committing to play for Carolina, and the center-court hardwood cut, framed, and transported from St. Louis to commemorate the Tar Heels' 2005 championship.
On a completely different note, the fourth point would be for pistachios. Bravo to the Dean Dome's concessions for offering a means of fighting the in-game munchies without choking down junk food.
Bland arena, annoying fans who think they're better than everyone because they couldn't get in to Duke. The student section sits in the second level. This is a venue for old people who don't really care. Very expensive tickets for an arena that seats 18,000.
6203 Millhouse Rd
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
460 W Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
423 W Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
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