Adam Houston column: Lasting memories of Smith came off the court

Published 7:05 pm Sunday, February 8, 2015

There are statistics from the late Dean Smith’s career everyone knows.

Two national championships, 11 Final Four appearances, 13 ACC Tournament titles, 27 straight years of 20-win seasons. The list goes on and on…and on and on and on.

But when the coach is mentioned, those are nothing more than statistics. They are not how Smith is remembered. People talked more about the man Sunday than they did the coach after news of his passing spread.

Michael Jordan called him a second father. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement Smith was “ahead of his time in dealing with social issues” and his best ability was “to teach what it takes to become a good man.” Chip Short, an attorney in Salisbury, called Smith gracious.

Short graduated from East Rowan. In fall 1968, Short tried out for the Tar Heels’ freshman team. His name was not on the list of those who made it.

“I went in to talk to Dean Smith, and it was one of the great memories of my life,” Short said Sunday afternoon. “He was very complimentary. He said he remembered scouting me, which I’m not sure about.

“I just wasn’t very good when it comes down to it. I enjoyed talking with him, though.”

Later, Short was president of his dorm. Smith made a trip around campus showing film of the previous season’s highlights as the season drew closer.

“He came over in the social lounge one evening and had a Q&A,” Short said. “He really tried to get out among the students. I have fond memories of him.”

Smith was also invited to Short’s wedding because he was friends with Short’s father-in-law. The coach did not attend.

“He sent a very nice present, but I don’t remember what he sent us,” Short said with a laugh.

That type of story was told across North Carolina Sunday.

Here is another one.

I am an Auburn Tiger, but I was raised in a Tar Heel family. I went to the Carolina basketball camp in 1998. My mom, thankfully, still has the photo of me with Smith and Bill Guthridge.

This story, however, happened in 1982. I was not born yet. Probably not even a thought.

My dad was in New Orleans for the Final Four. My mother, who worked for CBS at the time, was in Florida for a space shuttle launch. They had tickets to the championship game.

The plan was for Mom, after she was done in Florida, to get to New Orleans and meet up with Dad.

The weather didn’t get the memo. The launch was delayed, and Dad went to the game with a family friend.

A while after Michael Jordan swished the game-winning baseline jumper, Dad was outside the Superdome. Smith was there too, using a payphone.

There in downtown New Orleans — after winning the title that eluded him in six previous Final Four trips, when it would have been easy to leave and celebrate — Smith signed an autograph before hopping in a cab.

That autograph stayed in my mother’s jewelry box for 26 years. It, unfortunately, was there in 2008 when the house was burglarized and the jewelry box, with the autograph in it, was among the items taken.

It was one of only a few items she mentioned after it happened because it was one of the few that could not be replaced — much like the man who signed the paper will never be replaced.

Smith impacted the sport of college basketball in so many ways. Though how he was away from the court is what people remember most.