Today, President Barack Obama will honor 16 individuals with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, including former North Carolina head basketball coach Dean Smith. Due to health reasons, Smith will not be attending the ceremony in Washington. He will instead be represented by his wife, Dr. Linnea Smith, his children, long-time coaching assistant Bill Guthridge, and current UNC coach Roy Williams. If anybody would be fine with not being there to receive such an individual honor, it would be Smith. As a basketball coach, he taught his teams to be unselfish on the court. As a private citizen, Smith was legendary for trying to avoid the limelight and always squirmed uncomfortably when others tried to publicly praise him. Selflessness is a core value to the Hall of Fame coach.
Dean Smith is mostly remembered for his great coaching record over 36 seasons at North Carolina. He took the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours, winning two national titles, and when he retired in 1997, he held the men’s basketball all-time wins record of 879. In addition, almost all his players graduated and under Smith’s guidance the North Carolina program was never investigated or sanctioned for NCAA rules violations. All in all, it is arguable that Smith was as successful as any college basketball coach in the history of the game, considering the consistent excellence his teams achieved for such a long period of time and the universally-recognized classy way that he ran his program. Let’s not forget that he also coached the 1976 United States Olympic Team to the gold medal under intense domestic and international pressure after the controversial U.S. loss in the 1972 Munich Olympics. In those days, the United States was still sending college players to compete against foreign professionals. All that success over so many years made Dean Smith a popular leader in the sports world for the better part of three decades. But that isn’t why he is being honored by President Obama today.