Does this name mean anything to you? To thousands of people it means the world. Sadly, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, he passed away 3 weeks ago. He would have been 84 years old today.
Dean Smith (Coach Smith to those who knew him) was the head basketball coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels for 36 seasons. His coaching accomplishments on the court are widely known and respected. His teams won 879 games, 2 National Championships,13 ACC Tournament titles and appeared in 11 Final Fours.
While those numbers are remarkable, his greatest legacy is who he was off the court.
I’ve often heard it said that “success is when those closest to you say the best things about you.” If that’s true, Dean Smith is one of the most successful people ever to live.
Through reading numerous articles, blogs, tweets and quotes from journalists, players, coaches, staff and others associated with the “Carolina Family” I’ve realized it will be difficult to find another Dean Smith. It will be difficult to find another person who was loved by so many for who he was. Those closest to him truly said the best things about him.
He was extremely humble.
He modeled and expected excellence.
He was a man of integrity.
He fought racial discrimination and helped to integrate Chapel Hill.
He was deeply shaped by his Christian faith and it propeled him to speak out against social injustices.
He had a remarkable memory which helped him to remember people’s names and details about their lives.
He genuinely cared for people. Not just cared about people. Not just cared what he could get out of people. Not just cared when people were useful to him. Not just cared for people when they were around. He truly cared for people. And not just some people. He cared for all the people he came in contact with.
I had the privilege of playing for a high school basketball coach, Ed Wills, who was a manager on the 1993 North Carolina National Championship team. Coach Wills was the one who taught me how to shoot the correct way. He brought to our team years of basketball knowledge. Looking back now, I realize many of the lessons he worked to instill in us were undoubtedly learned while at Carolina. And for that, among other things, we were fortunate and I am thankful. I’ll never forget a few conversations with Coach Wills as he recounted his relationship with Dean Smith. Coach Wills wasn’t a star player on Carolina and to Dean Smith that didn’t matter. Dean Smith knew his name. Knew his family. Knew about his coaching career. Kept in contact with him after he left Carolina. Dean Smith was only a “phone call away.” And Coach Wills was one of thousands who could recount a similar relationship. Remarkable.
In a world where most everyone cares about “being known,” or “knowing the famous,” Dean Smith was a breath of fresh air. He knew thousands of people, and yet the mailman or grocery store bagger felt valued by him.
And what’s remarkable is that he didn’t just show the intention to care about people. He tangibly showed it. He wrote letters. Made phone calls. Remembered names. Gave gifts. Gave of his time.
He wasn’t hurried, distracted or too busy.
He was consistent.
He was a person of power that could have made himself more powerful. Instead, he leveraged his power to help others.
He was present.
Were he alive now, I doubt he’d ever trip over a crack in the sidewalk from staring at the latest status updates on his iPhone. He wouldn’t have been concerned over what was going to happen tomorrow. He would have focused on today. He would have focused on what was right in from of him. Who was right in front of him.
I could obviously go on and on. What a life.
Happy Birthday, Dean Smith!
May more people live with integrity. May more people live out their faith. May more people genuinely care for others. May more people live in the present. And might “I” be a part of those “more people.”
A collection of articles about Dean Smith can be found here.