North Carolina

President Obama honors Dean Smith during radio interview

Longtime UNC-Chapel Hill employee Suzanne Rucker,  background, watched as UNC graduate Jan Marable, of Wilmington stopped by the  Smith Center to leave a small bouquet of blue and white hydrangea at the growing memorial Monday afternoon. Smith  passed away late Saturday after an extended illness.
Longtime UNC-Chapel Hill employee Suzanne Rucker, background, watched as UNC graduate Jan Marable, of Wilmington stopped by the Smith Center to leave a small bouquet of blue and white hydrangea at the growing memorial Monday afternoon. Smith passed away late Saturday after an extended illness. hlynch@newsobserver.com

President Barack Obama on Monday appeared by phone on a North Carolina sports-talk radio show and spent about 10 minutes honoring Dean Smith, the iconic North Carolina men’s basketball coach who died Saturday at 83.

“You can do it the right way and ultimately that kind of success is going to be more long-lasting,” Obama said during an interview with host David Glenn of “The David Glenn Show” on 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. “And Dean Smith will go down as one of the greatest coaches in sports, period, precisely because he did it the right way.”

Obama on Sunday released a statement through the White House about Smith, who in November 2013 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. During his interview Monday, Obama elaborated on the decision to present that honor to Smith, whose wife, Linnea, traveled to Washington to accept the award on his behalf.

“It's given to people from all different fields who exemplify the best in America,” Obama told Glenn. “And Dean Smith met that criteria hands down. It wasn't just his excellence on the court.

“It wasn't just the championships he won and the incredible record of wins and innovations that he developed on the court. But it was about how his character showed off the court, as well. Somebody who integrated North Carolina and ACC basketball.

“Someone who was willing to stand up for what was right with respect to his players and his fellow citizens of North Carolina. And he always did it with grace and dignity and graciousness.”

During a lighter moment in the interview, Obama, who keeps a home in Chicago, said he appreciates Smith especially because he coached Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships.

“The guy sent my Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan,” Obama said. “Let's be very clear that I'm a little biased here because he taught the greatest player in history some basic fundamentals that served him well.”

Throughout the interview, Obama praised Smith's character and dedication to his values and principles.

“So often we have this myth that to get to the top you've got to be cutthroat,” Obama said. “I'll tell you to get to the top you have to be disciplined. You have to work harder than anybody else. You've got to be focused.

“You've got to demand excellence. But you can also treat people with respect. You can also uphold the rules of the game. You can also build a team with character. You can also look out for people and be courteous and be kind and be supportive. And that's what Dean Smith teaches all of us.”

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