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Dean Smith: A Matter of Character Circa 1969

Let me add my two cents to the legacy of Dean Smith.

When I was still matriculating at my alma mater — Clemson University — it was not at all uncommon for the Black students to cheer for a visiting team that had at least one Black athlete. So you can imagine how excited we were when Coach Dean Smith brought the Tar Heels to our arena, Littlejohn Coliseum.

Charlie Scott was the first Black scholarship athlete at UNC and had already established himself as a genuine super star. We were so excited that we did something quite daring and bodacious by going to the tunnel that led to the visitor’s dressing room. Being daring and bodacious was of course what it took to get through Clemson back in those days.

As we neared the UNC dressing room we were met by Coach Smith and expected the worse. To our pleasant surprise he not only warmly greeted us, but invited us into the visitor’s dressing room. There we met our hero Charlie Scott and had an enjoyable and encouraging conversation. We were all sons of the South and so we therefore   connected with Scott who was a gracious and gentle soul.

The kind gesture by Coach Smith made an indelible impression on me and my dear friends, including the future Dean Floyd, M.D., renowned school principal Titus Duren and State Legislator Luther Taylor.

Sometimes, it’s the big things that make a difference. Oftentimes, however, it’s the little things.

It therefore comes as no surprise to see the flood of accolades about Smith. It has been said that a person’s true character surfaces by what they do when no one is looking. By that standard, Dean Smith was a man of great character and a kind spirit.

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