© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Charlotte Area News

Remembering 'The Indelible Mark' Dean Smith Made On North Carolina

People lined up to enter the UNC-CH's basketball arena to attend the memorial service for Dean Smith.

The line outside UNC-Chapel Hill’s basketball arena snaked around the building and down the street Sunday. It’s a familiar sight on game days. But the thousands who turned out Sunday were not there to watch basketball. They were there to remember the man who built North Carolina basketball: Coach Dean Smith, who died two weeks ago. 

Don Weathers and Bill Harris have been coming to Carolina basketball games for so long that it takes a second to do the math. 

"40-something, 50-something, 60 years, whatever!" Weathers said with a laugh. Harris chimed in, "A long time."

The two roomed together at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1960. A year later, a young man from Kansas became head coach. His name was Dean Smith. And over time, Harris said that coach and his university became inextricably linked.   

"Chapel Hill has always been the state university, so I think it's always had a place in people's heart," he said. "But basketball brought it more to the forefront. That's the change that we've seen over the years."

From 1961 to 1997, Dean Smith coached the Tar Heels into one of the best programs in college basketball history. At his memorial Sunday, the team’s former radio announcer, Woody Durham, hit the highlights. 

"His teams won 879 games, 13 ACC tournaments," Durham said. "He made 11 Final Fours with the Tar Heels and won two national championships."

Eric Montross was on the 1993 championship team. He said when most people hear Smith’s name, "the first thing we think of is a magical comeback, a championship, or a victory over our rival. But more impressive than those on-court achievements is the indelible mark he has left upon society."

President Barack Obama has credited Smith with pushing forward the Civil Rights movement by recruiting UNC’s first African-American scholarship athlete and helping to integrate a Chapel Hill restaurant.

That first athlete was Charles Scott. Shortly after, Bill Chamberlain was debating where he’d go to school.

"Quite frankly, it came down to Dean Edward Smith," Chamberlain said. "He stood for the right thing for all people in all venues."

On a recent Charlotte Talks, Chamberlain, who was from New York, said Smith gave him the confidence to move South.

"My senior year I was in class when they announced on the PA that they did assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King in April of 68," he said. "Everybody was saying, you sure you want to go down South, Bill? Yes, I wanted to go where I was interested in the man that was the coach, and the place was North Carolina."

That part of Smith’s legacy is a major reason J.T. Faison drove an hour and a half from Clinton Sunday to attend the memorial.

"Dean didn't see color," he said. "Dean was a true man, and that's what I admire about Dean. Not just coaching, but the way Dean treated people. He treated people with respect, the way that he wanted to be treated."

Faison and thousands of others came from all across the state to pay their respects. Donna Walton and her family drove from High Point.

"I thought it was important for me and my husband, but just as important for my children because he was such a good person," she said. "His beliefs and values went far beyond the basketball court."

Neither of Walton’s two kids had been born when Smith retired. But 14-year-old Brooke said getting to know Smith has been a family affair.

"I learned from my older brother and my mom and my whole family, of course," she said. "They just taught me everything about him."

Her brother Kris is 15, and he has a simple answer for what Smith means to him.

"He is Carolina basketball," he said.

Many of the program’s greatest stars said Sunday that Carolina basketball is family. Former National Player of the Year Antawn Jamison called Smith a second father. 

"I have four kids of my own, and the things that I preach to them and the things that I tell them are the things that he taught us during my time here at Carolina and beyond that," Jamison said.

One of those lessons was selflessness. Mickey Bell played for Smith in the mid 70s, and he remembers how Smith started a tradition: pointing to the player who passed the ball to set up a teammate.

"Just think, that simple gesture epitomized what Coach Smith was all about," Bell said.

Dependability was another thing Smith taught, said another national player of the year, Phil Ford.

"Whenever I needed him, he was there," Ford said. "I mean he was so supportive on and off the court."

And "loyalty" is the word former All-American Brad Daugherty settled on.

"When all your other friends, like cockroaches when the light flipped on would scatter, the one man that was going to be standing there right beside you no matter what was Coach Smith," Daugherty said.

Carolina’s current basketball coach, Roy Williams, coached under Smith and said he shared the greatest gift you can give: knowledge.  

"I would like to encourage all of you to tell people what they mean to you," he said. "At the private service with the family and the lettermen, I told them a story that I never told Coach Smith that I loved them. And I've regretted that."

But Williams said he’s finished with grieving. It’s time to celebrate Smith’s life.

Smith’s daughter Kristen concluded the memorial.

"We hope that you'll think of something that Dad did, a value he exemplified, a characteristic you admired in him, and try to strive to do the same thing," she said.

She said that will be the greatest way to honor the legendary coach.