HOW BILLY CUNNINGHAM CAME TO DEAN SMITH’S DEFENSE

Cunningham and Robert McAdoo welcomed Smith, who died yesterday at age 83, back to the Dean Dome in 2007.

By Harry Allison

Success didn’t come quickly for Dean Smith as coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

cAnd Billy Cunningham, whom the Sixers drafted in 1965 and went on to a Hall of Fame career as a player and the coach of the 1983 NBA champion Sixers, saw it all.

Frank McGuire left the Tar Heels a probationary mess when he came to Philly to coach the Warriors in 1961, and his successor’s first five seasons were modest: 66-47, 41-29 in the ACC, zero postseason berths.

In January 1965, 12 games into his fourth year, the team bus returned to Woollen Gym after Carolina had been pummeled at Wake Forest.

On a nearby tree, Smith had been hung in effigy. Cunningham, Smith’s first true star, bolted the bus, raced for the tree, and pulled down the puppet along with teammate Billy Galantai. “The players are to blame for how poorly the team has played,” Billy C. said. “Not coach Smith.”

“I was just glad the students used a dummy,” Smith would often joke, “and not the real thing.”

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