Dean Smith Center

As Carolina basketball continued its long run of success in the 1970s, many fans and alumni clamored for a new venue that would seat more people than Carmichael Arena. Fund-raising began as early as 1980 and would result in more than $34 million in private contributions. The building was to be named for coach Dean Smith, who initially resisted the idea until he was convinced that having his name on the arena would help with fund-raising.

The Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center opened on January 18, 1986. The first game was a 95—92 victory for UNC—Chapel Hill over Duke. The state-of-the-art building held more than 21,000 fans, more than double the capacity of Carmichael. Students and alumni quickly took to referring to the domed structure as the "Dean Dome."

It its early years the Dean Dome also hosted a wide variety of popular concerts. University administrators initially began booking concerts to defray operating losses from the expensive new venue. Many of the largest touring acts in the late 1980s and early 1990s performed in the Dean Smith Center, including Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, and the Grateful Dead.

With the fans spread out in the more spacious Dean Smith Center, the building received some criticism that the game environment was quieter than students and fans had been accustomed to in Carmichael. Some players and fans compared it unfavorably with the notoriously raucous atmosphere in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. One of the more stinging criticisms came from Florida State University basketball player Sam Cassell, who said, after a 1991 game, "This is not a Duke kind of crowd. It's more like a cheese-and-wine crowd, kind of laid back."

In 2018 the Dean Smith Center court was named for men's basketball coach Roy Williams.


Date Established: 1986

Date Range: 1986 – Present

Basketball coach Dean Smith in the nearly completed Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center at UNC, 1985. Photograph by Hugh Morton. Hugh Morton Photo Collection, North Carolina Collection Photo Archives, Wilson Library.