Legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith died last week at the age of 83. Smith coached 36 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is remembered for his commitment to social progress and graduating his athletes at a very high rate. Outside of his winning prowess, Smith’s legacy is one of honor and class. Former NBA player Shane Battier, who was recruited by Smith, but eventually settled on rival school Duke, recounts his memories of the man in today’s featured Big Think interview:
“His legacy is not championships. Obviously, he won a bunch of championships and a bunch of games, but I believe his legacy is the men that he produced. And if you’re talking to one of his players, to a man he’ll tell you that they’re better fathers; they’re better husbands; they’re better people because of coach Smith.”
Battier follows up this short introduction with an anecdote about when he was being recruited by schools during the 1990s. Despite his respect for Smith and UNC, Battier decided to commit to rival school Duke. Battier says he was afraid to call Smith and break the news. Smith reacted with grace and gravitas:
“He said, ‘You know Shane, you’re one of the classiest young men I’ve ever had a chance to recruit. I’ll be cheering for you except when we play Duke. And you’re going to do fantastic.’ And he followed that up with a fantastic handwritten note to my parents and a fantastic handwritten note to me that I still have in my house. It just sums up the class of the man.”
Of course, being good-natured and composing handwritten notes doesn’t automatically make you beloved. Smith’s larger actions, such as handing out the first conference scholarship to an African-American player, defined who he was. A staunch desegregationist, Smith was a fixture in the community and a champion for his players. Nary a bad word has been uttered or written about the man because nary a bad word has been deserved. Smith’s later years were marked by the ravaging dementia that had claimed his mind, but Smith’s legacy was and remains as vivid and bright as ever.
If you’d like to learn more about Coach Dean Smith, check out this fantastic article published in ESPN Magazine in March, 2014.