SI Vault
One Shining Example
Alexander Wolff
April 13, 2005
He retired in 1997 as his sport's winningest coach, but Dean Smith will be remembered for doing things the right way
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 13, 2005

One Shining Example

He retired in 1997 as his sport's winningest coach, but Dean Smith will be remembered for doing things the right way

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Dean Edwards Smith was born on Feb. 28, 1931, in the East Kansas railroad town of Emporia, the only son of devout Baptist schoolteachers. His mother, Vesta, was an organized woman who would lay out the breakfast place settings the night before. His father, Alfred, was a forward-thinking coach at Emporia High whose Spartans won the 1934 state title with the first black basketball player in Kansas tournament history.

Over the summer of 1947, in time for Dean's junior year in high school, the Smiths moved to Topeka. In high school Dean always held down the coachly positions--quarterback, catcher, point guard. But he was also a spirited boy and seemed unlikely to become a man who would stay on one campus for nearly 40 years.

JOAN SMITH EWING, his older sister:
Dean wasn't mischievous so much as curious. When he was very small, he and the little girl next door took off and walked to the florist around the block. They were pretending they were Bill and Betty--Bill was a player on Dad's team, and Betty was his girlfriend. My parents were scared to death when they discovered them missing. When he was 10 or so, Dean and a neighbor friend went down a manhole at the end of our street and explored the sewers. Another time he climbed the tower at the teachers' college. Mother used to call him Christopher Columbus because he always wanted to explore.

BUD ROBERTS, high school classmate:
We'd play one-on-one in the alley, games to 20 by twos. He was very competitive, yet neither of us had any money, so he'd say, "Whoever loses has to tell the winner, 'You're a much better basketball player than I am.'" I was the one who always had to say it.

The summer before ninth grade he lost his best friend, Shad Woodruff, to polio. He and Shad had played baseball on the fourth of July, and the next day Shad was dead of lumbar polio. All of us were devastated. But Dean's reaction was very positive. He made a scrapbook of Shad's accomplishments, awards and activities at school and gave it to Shad's mother and father. It was his way of working out his grief. He's never been one to linger over disappointments. He values what comes from the past but has always been ready to move forward, to do more exploring.


"Everyone understood that he was going to be a coach"

Though he played basketball there, Smith went to Kansas on an academic scholarship. He joined a fraternity and majored in math. Smith played little as the Jayhawks won the 1952 NCAA title and were runners-up the following season. But during his time in Lawrence, the guard at the end of the bench established his place in basketball's genealogical line: The game's inventor, James Naismith, taught legendary Jayhawks coach Phog Allen, who taught Smith, who would in turn teach Michael Jordan. Smith never met Naismith, who died in 1939, but one Memorial Day he was among a group of Jayhawks who decorated Naismith's grave.

Good things always seemed to happen to Dean. The summer before we left for college, about five of us worked at a cement plant, lifting and opening 100-pound sacks of cement. The owner of the company came over one day and said, "You're Dean Smith. I understand you pledged Phi Gam at Kansas. Well, I'm a Phi Gam." From then on Dean got to sit and read coaching manuals on top of a gravel pile, while we ripped open 100-pound sacks.

MARILYN TOWLER ROBERTS, a former girlfriend, now Bud Roberts's wife:
There was someone else who wanted to date Dean, and he decided that he couldn't handle two girls at one time, so he and Bud flipped a coin to see what he was going to do. So I started dating Bud, and Dean started dating this other girl.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9