There have been many memorable moments for Roy Williams at North Carolina. Here are a few for the Tar Heels coach, who announced his retirement on Thursday:
March 6, 2021: A kiss goodbye
It was Senior Day at UNC and much for the Tar Heels to celebrate after a 91-73 win over Duke. Roy Williams, after addressing the seniors, leaned down and kissed the court — Roy Williams Court — in what some believed was a farewell gesture. Williams would later dismiss that idea, saying “I knew it was the last game in the Smith Center and that’s all it was.”
Dec. 30, 2019: Tying Dean Smith
This was the night Williams won his 879th game, tying Dean Smith’s total number of victories, and it was emotional. After the victory over Yale at the Smith Center, Williams was presented a framed photo of Williams and Smith by Smith’s son, Scott, who told him Coach Smith, who died in 2015, would have been happy.
“I think he would be,” a teary-eyed Williams said at the postgame press conference. “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been able to stay relatively healthy and I’ve had really good kids who made me look good for a long time.”
Aug. 24, 2018: A special honor
The playing floor at the Dean E. Smith Center was officially given the name “Roy Williams Court.”
“It’s very hard to believe,” Williams said that day. “It’s just so flattering. I have to figure out a way to thank all my current and former players because it may be my name on the court but it really honors them.”
April 3, 2017: A third national title
The season was called the North Carolina “redemption tour” after the ultimate heartbreak of 2016, when the Tar Heels lost the national title to Villanova on Kris Jenkins’ 3-point buzzer-beater. The “tour” ended with a 71-65 win over Gonzaga in the 2017 championship game in Glendale, Ariz.
For Williams, his third national meant he had one more than Dean Smith. “I don’t think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him,” Williams told the media. “But we’ve got three because I’ve got these guys with me and that’s all I care about right now, my guys.”
Feb. 9, 2016: A scary moment
It was a sight that horrified those who saw it: Williams suddenly collapsing to the court during UNC’s game at Boston College. Suffering from vertigo, Williams was helped to the locker room for further medical attention as his team tried to play on, winning 68-65.
Williams later said he had been diagnosed with vertigo in Kansas, at the Mayo Clinic and UNC, joking, “I don’t know that the doctors really care that much about me. I just think they don’t want me to die on their watch.” He also added, “I’m not well mentally.”
Feb. 22, 2015: A memorial for Dean Smith
They gathered together at the Smith Center for a final goodbye for Dean Smith, who had died at 83. Many of Smith’s former players and coaches were there and many tears fell.
But Williams did provide a touch of levity. He told the story of Smith taking one of his teams to Central Prison in Raleigh and then deciding to scrimmage against some of the inmates. Williams said Smith told him, “Coach, you referee.”
“We’re very fortunate to be together in a wonderful, wonderful family,” Williams later said.
April 6, 2009: A second national title
The Tar Heels and Williams did it again: a second NCAA title. UNC, with senior Tyler Hansbrough the star, took down Michigan State in the championship game, 89-72.
“Roy Williams is not that good,” Williams said after the game. “But, boy, Ol’ Roy’s got some big-time players and that’s what it takes.”
Sept. 7, 2007: A Hall of Famer
Williams is formally inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was accompanied to the stage by Dean Smith and Larry Brown during the ceremony.
“I’m ecstatic to be here, to say the least,” Williams said. “More than anyone who has stood before you I’m the luckiest guy alive. Lou Gehrig said it and made it famous but I feel it.”
April 4, 2005: A first national title
It finally happened for Williams: a national championship. The Tar Heels, with Sean May scoring 26 points, defeated Illinois, 75-70, at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
As the players gathered around him, rubbing his head, Williams thanked the seniors and the players and downplayed any talk about it being his first title. “They took me for a heckuva ride,” he said on a CBS interview, “What this was was a victory for North Carolina’s TEAM. ... I’m speechless. I usually talk my rear end off but I’m speechless.”
April 14, 2003: Coming back home
The North Carolina kid came home. Williams was named UNC basketball coach with Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge standing nearby at the press conference at the Smith Center.
Williams said it was tough leaving Kansas, which gave him his first head coaching job, saying only a death or serious illness in the family was tougher than telling his players he was leaving after 15 seasons.
“I was a Tar Heel born. When I die I’ll be a Tar Heel dead,” Williams said. “But in the middle I have been Tar Heel and Jayhawk bred and I am, so, so happy and proud of that.”
April 7, 2003: Words to remember
It was at the 2003 Final Four and Syracuse had just beaten Kansas, 81-78, for the NCAA title. Bonnie Bernstein of CBS was interviewing Williams, who was then the Jayhawks coach, and the subject was raised about Matt Doherty leaving UNC. Williams was asked about his “level of interest” in leaving Kansas for the UNC job.
“I haven’t thought about that for one second,” Williams said. “You ask that question as a journalist, that’s fine, but as a human being that’s not very nice because it’s not very sensitive. I’ve got to think in tough times people have got to be more sensitive. I could give a (expletive) about North Carolina right now. I’ve got 13 kids in that locker room that I love.”