CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The Carolina blue skies Sunday perhaps couldn’t be more fitting as outpouring of emotions and reflections began to flow regarding the death of legendary basketball coach Dean Smith.
Smith died Saturday night in Chapel Hill, the college town where his teams became known for their consistency and class. He was 83.
While the core of Smith’s legacy is bound to revolve around basketball, it comes with many parts.
“He’s so much involved in my life,” NBA player Antawn Jamison once said of Smith, pointing out how much former players valued the relationship with their coach.
“We lost one of our greatest ambassadors for college basketball for the way in which a program should be run,” current North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We lost a man of the highest integrity who did so many things off the court to help make the world a better place to live in.”
Smith, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, was at the forefront of so many issues that at times even his team’s fiercest rivals were forced to recognize the impact he made.
“Dean possessed one of the greatest basketball minds, and was a magnificent teacher and tactician,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “While building an elite program at North Carolina, he was clearly ahead of his time in dealing with social issues. However, his greatest gift was his unique ability to teach what it takes to become a good man. That was easy for him to do because he was a great man himself.”
Smith recruited Charlie Scott as the first black player at North Carolina. He pushed hard to support educational initiatives and he wasn’t afraid to take a stance.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford, a former athletic director at North Carolina, pointed to Smith’s role in race relations and education as being pertinent though perhaps often overlooked because of what the Tar Heels accomplished on the basketball court.
“We’ve known for a while this day would come, but it still hits hard,” Swofford said in a statement Sunday. “Sometimes the word legend is used with too little thought. In this instance, it almost seems inadequate. He was basketball royalty, and we have lost one of the greats in Dean Smith.”
Michael Jordan sank the shot that won Smith his first national championship in 1982. Now owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, Jordan said Smith was the most influential person in his life other than his parents.
“More than a coach,” Jordan said in a statement released Sunday, “he was a mentor, my teacher, my second father. … Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it.”
While many high-profile personalities have acknowledged Smith’s role, it was behind the scenes where he might have done his best work. You could ask Smith about the role one of his student managers had within the program and he would provide details and descriptions — something you might expect would be reserved for a game plan against Duke.
Many of his former players and colleagues said Smith’s memory and his ability to recall names and details was an unbelievable asset — though at times it might have worked for or against them, depending on the situation.
In basketball terms, he time and time again has been described as an innovator.
His Four Corners offense was executed so well that it often distinguished the Tar Heels because of their efficiency. It also led to rules changes, such as the implementation of a shot clock for college basketball.
When the 3-point shot became part of the game, Smith devised plans to make the best use of a strategy that would enhance play.
The arena where the Tar Heels play is named the Dean E. Smith Center — often referred to as the Dean Dome.
Since retirement, Smith stayed clearly in the background, yet until recent years he would be visible upon occasion on game days for an annual reunion or special situation. His appearances were about the only thing that could trump Jordan.
Even as recently as last week, when the “I am a Tar Heel” tribute was played on video boards during a timeout at the Smith Center, when Smith’s image
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