Remembering The Legendary Dean Smith

Sunday morning the sports world woke up to the sad news of the passing of the legendary human being and basketball coach, Dean Smith. Smith passed away in his home Saturday night leaving behind a legacy that extends beyond his home, the halls of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the state of North Carolina, or the sport of basketball.

The legacy that he left transcends sports and the sport of basketball. He was a staunch supporter of the Civil Right’s Movement and integrated the Atlantic Coast Conference when he signed Charlie Scott in 1966 in the heat of the Civil Rights Era and racial tension in the South. He didn’t care about the color of a person’s skin, he only cared about their character and if he thought they could help his team win. He had a line, a moral code and if a player broke that code there were repercussions at times, coming at the team’s expense. He stressed the importance of academics and that no one player was bigger than the team.

He was an innovator of the game of basketball and forced the instillation of the shot clock with his four-corner offense, which virtually assured Carolina victory when implemented upon building a lead. He won just two national titles, in 1982 (beating Georgetown), and 1993 (beating Michigan’s Fab Five), but he made countless Sweet 16s, making it a bad March bet at the ticket windows to pick his Tar Heels for an early exit.

To have the North Carolina pedigree is tantamount to having whatever extra money in your pocket whenever you needed it. Coach Smith had been so instrumental to so many players, and in developing so many coaches, that when they had Dean Smith tribute day (his long-time assistant coaches, and mentorees Bill Guthridge and Larry Brown sat two seats removed from the man in a long row, as Michael Jordan and Roy Williams flanked him) a who’s who of NCAA and NBA basketball littered the photo’s periphery.

“He meant a lot to me. He took a chance and believed in me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” said current High Point University Head Coach Scott Cherry, who played for Smith at UNC and was a senior captain for him on that 1993 National Championship team.

Smith started coaching at UNC in 1961 and retired from coaching in 1997. For 36 years he was a leader of men, a father figure, a teacher and perhaps the greatest coach in not only the history of UNC, but the entire history of basketball as well.

In 1986, they named their brand new basketball arena (the Deandome, the House that Dean Built) the Dean Smith Center, after him, against his wishes. And knowing him, he was eaten up with trepidation at how the move from Carmichael Auditorium might affect his team negatively. He won 879 games and at the time of his retirement in 1997, was the winningest coach in the history of college basketball.  Despite all of his success he never gave into ego’s temptation. And he refused to allow even the best of players, even some known early on for selfish tendencies *cough Jordan* to abandon his team-first concepts.

Dean Smith IS The University of North Carolina, he IS Tar Heel Basketball and he IS a legend. His legacy will live on as long as there is North Carolina Basketball.

To borrow a quote from the classic baseball film The Sandlot, “Heroes get remembered, but Legends Never Die.” RIP Coach Smith. May your skies forever be Carolina Blue.

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