North Carolina History

Gone but never forgotten! Coach Dean Smith

Dean Edwards Smith, February 28, 1931–February 7, 2015

Jordan-Smith kiss
Basketball player Michael Jordan and coach Dean Smith (shown here in 2007) both share the honor of having been inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, which is housed at the North Carolina Museum of History.
Source: Ellen Ozier/Reuters

Love comes in many packages, and the gesture of Michael Jordan kissing Dean Smith exemplifies that: Jordan, who played at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill from 1981 to 1984, loved, respected, and looked up to his coach so much that he recently tweeted as much.

Jordan’s tweet proclaimed that Smith was “more than a coach—he was a mentor, my teacher, my second father.” Jordan and other players say that the most important lesson they learned from Smith was playing “the game of life.”

Duke University’s Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski agreed in a New York Times interview after Smith’s passing: “His greatest gift was his unique ability to teach what it takes to become a good man.”

Champion of college basketball

During his career of 36 years with the UNC Tar Heels (1961–1997), Smith’s key stats included

  • a win-loss record of 879-254 (at the time of his retirement, that was the most Division 1 wins ever; he still stands at number four);
  • a record of 23 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (1975–1997); 11 NCAA Final Four appearances; and 2 NCAA championships (1982, 1993); and
  • an amazing 13 ACC Tournament titles.

In addition, he led more than 50 players to compete in the NBA or ABA and others to play overseas, he ran a program that was never accused of an NCAA violation, and he inspired close to 97 percent of his players to graduate.

Champion of racial equality

While growing up in Kansas, Smith learned from his father to “value each human being,” and in his 1999 book, A Coach’s Life, he recalled that “racial justice wasn’t preached around the house, but there was a fundamental understanding that you treated each person with dignity.”

In practicing that innate understanding, Smith recruited young Charlie Scott in the late 1960s. Scott was a high school guard and forward who played in New York City and Laurinburg (Scotland County) and became the first African American basketball star in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He later played in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Smith also introduced racial equality to his favorite Chapel Hill restaurant, an establishment that his teams frequently patronized. The introduction came one night in the 1960s, when he accompanied a visiting theology student to the restaurant. In Smith’s company, the African American student was served without incident.

Champion, all-around!

Dean Smith will be missed by North Carolinians. He will be remembered for being a true leader, an innovator, a teacher, a role model, and a man of conviction. We thank him for all that he did and all that he was.

Cartoon depicting highlights of Dean Smith's career--ca. 1979.
Dean Smith contributed this piece to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame upon his induction in 1981. The cartoon depicts highlights of his career up to 1979.
Source: North Carolina Museum of History collection, 1981.203.96

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