Larry Brown remembers his mentor, Dean Smith
In the world of sports, we often throw around words like “elite” and “legendary”.
There are some rare occasions when those words are appropriately used.
And there are fewer instances still in which those words grossly fail to describe their target.
When speaking about coach Dean Smith, there are no words to adequately describe his lasting impact on the world of basketball and the lives of players and coaches he touched during his lifetime.
Smith passed away last Saturday at the age of 83.
According to a family statement provided to the University of North Carolina, Smith battled dementia for years, and “passed away peacefully” in his Chapel Hill home with his wife and five children at his side.
Smith will most likely be remembered for his accomplishments on the court, but he made a significant impact off of it – especially in the Civil Rights Movement.
Sometime in the ‘50s, Smith and a pastor from an inclusive Baptist church dined with a black student at a restaurant, despite it having a policy of not serving African-Americans.
Smith and his staff also broke the color barrier at UNC by recruiting the Tar heels first African-American athlete in 1967.
SMU head coach Larry Brown was on that staff.
But that wasn’t the full extent of their relationship, Brown also played for Smith during his time at UNC.
“The last few days were kind of tough,” said Brown. “But then I started to read all the wonderful things people were saying about him. He was a great man, a great teacher and an unbelievable coach. And his impact on our sport is going to be long lasting and I hope I can continue to share the things he taught me with to our guys. “
It’s undeniable – anyone who ever worked with Smith agrees that he was a special person.
“The more you got to be around him the more you realized how much he cared about you,” said Brown. “And I think he made everybody from the first guy on the team to the last feel like you were his favorite. That takes a rare individual to do that.”
Brown has spoken about Smith’s influence on his coaching style, but that’s not where his impact ends.
“I try everyday to be like him and I fall short everyday,” said Brown. ”He didn’t have a lot of time for people outside for the program except for when there were some causes that he really believed in. He devoted all his time to his players and their families”
In 2013, Smith received a Presidential Medal of Freedom because of his civil rights work.
Smith once wrote: “We’re human beings first, coaches and players second, and in the ‘60s we had to strike an extremely delicate balance between the two.”
On the Sunday after Smith’s passing, President Barack Obama issued a statement – part of which that read: “America lost not just a coaching legend, but a gentleman and a citizen.”
“I think he was the greatest coach of a team sport there ever was because of all the things he did for his players and how he prepared you, not only for the sport you played but how to live your life,” said Brown. “Not a day goes by, not a practice goes by that I don’t try to be the things that coach Smith taught me.”