In the wake of Smith’s death, A Tribe Called Quest legend Phife Dawg shared his thoughts about the coaching icon with Da Gambler and TSL. He also explains why despite growing up in a city full of championship-caliber coaches, the Tar Heels maestro became his favorite.
I can't begin to explain what Dean Smith means to me, I feel like I lost a family member.
Baseball was my first love as a kid. I admired Sparky Anderson and the '75-'76 championship Reds, but then Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (R.I.P.) signed Reggie Jackson after his one-year stint in Baltimore and I thought I would be a skipper like Billy Martin.
I then was introduced to football via the Dallas Cowboys HOF running back Tony Dorsett, but I always catered to and most admired the coach—in this case—it was Tom Landry.
Coming up in NY (Queens to be exact) I respected NY Giants HC Bill Parcells, but as a faithful Jets fan, I wanted to be Walt (also my dad's name) Michaels. Once I truly understood the importance of X's & O’s, front office moves via free agency and drafts, I thought San Francisco 49ers HC Bill Walsh was untouchable.
All these men were teachers who honored their crafts. I admired them, but when my curiosities and energies gravitated to that orange round ball invented by James Naismith, I wanted to emulate Paul Westhead, Pat Riley in LA, Lou Carnesecca at St. John’s, John Thompson, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun… every Coach in The Big East Conference for that matter. Ironically, however, no one moved me more than Dean Smith. It was clear, he was the standard. ACC or not.
I loved how Thompson protected his players and how those Hoyas teams competed, but I fell in Love with Dean back in ‘81 when the Heels lost to the Bobby Knight-led Indiana Hoosiers, who featured a future Hall of Famer named Isaiah Lord Thomas.
I kept hearing reporters and critics label Dean "the loser of the big one." They would say, “he can't or will never get over the hump. He’ll never be greater than a John Wooden, Bobby Knight, Adolph Rupp, Jud Heathcote or Denny Crum."
I rooted for a man who was looked at as a true underdog and had never won the big one. Despite his tough luck, I became infatuated with his basketball mind and approach. It was inevitable that he would eventually win an NCAA title and the very next season—due to the execution of players like James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Jimmy Black, Matt Doherty ( and the signing of a freshman named Mike Jeffrey Jordan), Dean finally was able to cut down the nets by defeating a gritty and mythical Georgetown squad led by Pat Ewing!
I felt like justice was served, you couldn't tell me a thing about the UNC program! Even up until last season, when I finally attended my first home game in Chapel Hill.
Chasing a Legend
I felt like something was missing from my "Bucket List” of things to do in this lifetime. I took my son and his best friend to the annual Kenny Smith Camp that he does every summer, hoping to meet Dean Smith. I was like a kid in a candy store on campus while my son and his pal just simply or nonchalantly wanted to shoot hoops. I attended my first game in March 2014 vs Notre Dame, being that my DJ/manager Roots and I were now part of UNC's BEAT ACADEMY.
Great seats were given to us by UNC's Chancellor, whom I told during halftime that I needed to meet Dean Smith one day! That's when she informed me of the legend being sick. She didn't go into much detail, but in so many words it explained why most of the Tar Heel faithful didn't see "THE DEAN" at many games any longer! I enjoyed the game being the Heels won etc..., but I was hurt that I'd wouldn't get to ever meet him.
A whole year later (Saturday), I'm in Dallas waiting to board a flight and the news of his death flashed across the screen. I just so happened to be wearing my Carolina varsity jacket.
I left the line, ran to the bathroom and the tears just rolled down my face because all I could think of was my grandmother telling me I'll get Dean Smith's autograph for you in Heaven. My NANA knew how much I admired him.
I've read his books, I've followed every player from UNC into the pros (or not) since 1982. I continue to look online at the kids who are being recruited to the program. I know for a fact that I am the biggest UNC supporter coming from outside of THE state of North Carolina or the Hip Hop community!
Fact of the matter is, I'm hurt and I'm trying to imagine what Dean felt or if he even was aware of what has taken place on campus with the football and basketball programs recently .
These types of things happen at a lot of schools and UNC won't be the last, but It hurts knowing how Dean Smith put this school on the map and set it on a path of doing things the right way. I can't help but wonder what Dean would've done to fix it! With that being said, R.I.P. to my favorite coach in any sport!!! PHIFE!