Since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953, the North Carolina Tar Heels have enjoyed a level of success that is unmatched by their counterparts. The public university in Chapel Hill has won NCAA championships in seven different sports, including more than 20 titles in women’s soccer. Alums such as Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan aren’t just famous competitors who have donned Carolina blue; they’re two of the most popular athletes of the last century. Unsurprisingly, the school has become one of the most celebrated institutions in all of college sports.
While other teams at the university have claimed more banners, the men’s basketball program grabs the most headlines. Naismith Hall of Famer Frank McGuire led the Tar Heels to a national championship in 1957, but it was the arrival of coach Dean Smith in 1961 that led Chapel Hill to national prominence. In a 36-year career with North Carolina, Smith guided the school to 23 straight NCAA tournaments (1975-1997), 11 Final Four appearances, and national titles in 1982 and 1993. When he retired in 1997, Smith was the all-time leader in wins among basketball coaches with 879 victories. All-Americans such as Bob McAdoo, James Worthy, and of course, Michael Jordan went from playing for North Carolina to enjoying mighty fine careers in the professional ranks. Fittingly, it’s another one of Smith’s former players who would bring championship clout to the program in the new millennium.
A member of the 1968-69 Tar Heel team and an assistant coach from ‘78 to ‘88, Roy Williams may understand Carolina’s proud winning tradition better than anyone else. Since returning to his alma mater in 2003, Williams has led North Carolina to numerous ACC regular season titles, multiple Final Four appearances, and national championships in 2005 and 2009. Under Williams’ watch, members of the Tar Heels aren’t just finding collegiate success, but they are also parlaying their Chapel Hill experiences into spectacular achievements at the next level. Danny Green, a member of the 2009 title team, won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 to join Jordan and Worthy as Tar Heels who have won titles in both the NCAA and the pros.
In 1986, the team began playing home games at the Smith Center. Since then, the “Dean Dome” has been hailed as one of the most electric environments in all of college basketball. While fans flock to take part in the midnight madness celebration to kick off the start of each season, Tar Heel nation truly comes alive when crosstown rival Duke University enters the building. Sometimes called the “Blue Blood” rivalry, the two schools have squared off against one another since 1920. In fact, the first game ever played at the “Dean Dome” was a matchup between the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils (take a wild guess at who won that battle).
With more than 200 ACC titles, the University of North Carolina challenges opponents in virtually all arenas. In doing so, the excellence of the Tar Heels has grown into something far larger than a regional phenomenon. Put simply, all-around championship triumphs have made Chapel Hill a household name nationwide.