Dean Smith today during a ceremony in Washington received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Smith, who has been affected in recent years by a degenerative neurological disorder, did not attend the ceremony but was represented by his wife, Linnea, and other family members and friends. Roy Williams, the UNC coach who spent 10 years as an assistant coach under Smith, attended the ceremony in Smith’s honor. So, too, did Bill Guthridge, Smith’s longtime top assistant coach.
Smith was one of 15 people who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Other honorees included former President Bill Clinton, television and media mogul Oprah Winfrey and baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.
President Barack Obama, who presented the medals, said the accomplishments of the honorees are a reminder of “the potential that lives within all of us.”
Obama addressed each recipient individually. When he spoke about Smith, Obama described Smith’s emphasis on education – more than 96 percent of his players graduated – and selflessness.
When a UNC player scored, Obama said, Smith taught that “the player should point to the teammate who passed him the ball.”
“With his first national title on the line, he did have the good sense to give the ball to a 19-year-old kid named Michael Jordan. Although they used to joke that the only person who ever held Michael to under 20 was Dean Smith.
“While coach Smith couldn’t join us today due to an illness that he’s facing with extraordinary courage, we also honor his courage in helping to change our country. He recruited the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina. And helped integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
“That’s the kind of character he represented on and off the court.”