The defining moment of the Kentucky-North Carolina basketball rivalry is easy to pinpoint.
It came in the 1977 NCAA Tournament. There were 22 seconds left in the NCAA East Regional championship game when Dean Smith charged all the way down the basketball floor of the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.
The North Carolina coach had watched Kentucky power forward Rick Robey knock down Carolina guard John Kuester with a forearm. Losing 75-72 with 22 seconds left in the game, Kentucky's only chance was to foul.
Right there on the floor, Smith verbally rebuked a surprised Robey.
In contemporaneous news accounts that followed UK's painful 79-72 loss, Robey described what happened.
"On that Kuester foul, Coach Smith came up to me and called me 'a cheap son of a b----,'" Robey said. "He said, 'All you do is throw elbows.' I told him to look at the films and show me where I ever threw an elbow meaning to hit somebody."
When Smith met the press after the game, he denied that he cursed at Robey. "I did not swear. I do not swear. Every other bad habit, I have, but I don't swear," Smith said. "I was badly misquoted. My mom and dad will be mad if they hear I said those things."
For decades, basketball fans in Kentucky seethed over the nerve of Smith chastising a Wildcats player.
With the 2014-15 Tar Heels in Rupp Arena on Saturday to face the Wildcats, Robey, a 58-year-old realtor in Louisville, said he spent last week being asked about the confrontation with Smith all over again. "A guy came up to me today and said, 'I see we're playing your buddy's team Saturday,'" Robey said Friday, laughing. "I just said, 'That was just part of the game. And it was a long time ago.'"
Some 37 years later, Robey still says Smith called him an S.O.B. that day in Maryland.
"There's no question what I heard," he said. "He called me a 'cheap-shotting son of ...'"
Smith, now 83 and suffering from dementia, was always depicted in the media as an unusually refined person for a college basketball coach. Yet he apparently had a weakness for lecturing opposing players.
The famous dust-up in the 1995 ACC Tournament between Smith and current Texas coach Rick Barnes, then the head man at Clemson, was ignited when Barnes saw Smith point a finger at and then rebuke a Clemson player after he'd fouled a Tar Heel. At halftime of the 1977 ACC Tournament championship, Smith is said to have confronted Virginia forward Marc Iavaroni and accused him of dirty play.
I asked Robey if he and Smith ever crossed paths following their verbal confrontation.
After Kentucky won the 1978 NCAA Tournament, Robey and four of his UK teammates joined other college all-stars (including Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson) on a U.S. team for a World Invitational Tournament. It involved three round-robin games against foreign national teams. One of the games was in Rupp Arena, another in North Carolina's Carmichael Auditorium.
"I was in the gym there at North Carolina, for practice," Robey said. "And Coach Smith came up to me and said, 'Rick, I didn't say what you said I said, but I'm sorry for whatever it was I did say.'"
As I told you in June, Todd Svoboda, backup forward and folk hero on Rick Pitino's 1993 Kentucky Final Four team, is battling an aggressive form of bone cancer. His fight began when the former UK and Northern Kentucky big man found a lump behind one knee.
The good news it that Svoboda, 43 and a married father of three, has wrapped up his chemotherapy treatments. He's gone back to work at Lexmark and will spend Christmas at home with his family.
"I went through six rounds of chemo," Svoboda said, "and there were quite a few emergency room visits in between them. They told us seven to 10 days after a treatment is when your immune system is most vulnerable and that certainly proved true for me. It was rough."
In January, Svoboda, who is married to former UK gymnast Franci Niles, will go back for a scan to see if he is cancer-free.
"I'm really looking forward to this Christmas with my family," Svoboda said. "And we're hopeful that January will bring good news."