Just how much of a class act coach Dean Smith was is best described through what happened after he had passed away. Coach Smith loved his players so much that he directed the trust in his will to send $200 to every player who played for him during his 36 seasons, with the message “enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith.”
To this day, Smith is regarded as one of the greatest college basketball coaches ever. He has the ninth-highest winning percentage of any men’s college basketball coach with .776. Over his 36-year coaching career, Smith accumulated 879 wins, won two championships with UNC, and led them to 11 Final Four appearances. The thing he was most proud of was the fact 96.6% of his players graduated from college. He was so much more than their basketball mentor. Smith was the players’ father figure and was very invested in developing relationships with them. Coach took great pride in that.
He was more than a coach – he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life.Michael Jordan, NBA
It’s no wonder players loved him. Whether it was Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, James Worthy, or any other basketball legends that grew up under Smith’s wing, they’ll all tell you the same – we loved the guy and we wouldn’t have been where we are without him. Smith was beloved by all because he was, first and foremost, a class act.
Such a gesture caught his former players by surprise. Serge Zwikker, who played for Smith from ’93 to 97 said “At first I didn’t know what it was, but when it hit me, it put a tear in my eye. Even after he passed, he was still all about his players.” Buzz Peterson, MJ’s former teammate at UNC, was awed by the gesture.
I saw the check, and was like, ‘What? Then I started reading the letter, and I said, ‘Wait now, you’ve got to be kidding me. This is unbelievable that he would do this for us.’Buzz Peterson, ESPN
And MJ? According to his son Marcus, Jordan never cashed the check. He framed it and to this day, he still keeps it in his office, as an everyday reminder of a man who played an integral role in shaping MJ both as a basketball player and as a person.
MJ wasn’t the only former Tar Heel who refused to cash the check. Zwikker decided to donate the money to a good cause, as he wished that the whole thing didn’t go public. According to him, that would’ve been coach Smith’s wish as well.
It’s just not the way he would have wanted it. I know he would have preferred to keep it quiet.Serge Zwikker, ESPN
I believe it wasn’t Smith’s intention for such a gesture to go public, but it did. And let me tell you, I’m glad it did. It speaks volumes to a man Dean Smith was. It’s something all of his players have known, and now the whole basketball world knows it. And it’s something to be celebrated. It’s something to be admired. It’s something to learn from.
So that’s how I see it. As the ultimate lesson by Dean Smith – the legendary basketball coach, and more importantly, a true class-act.