(Reuters) - Dean Smith, the legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach who won two national titles, led the U.S. team to an Olympic gold in 1976 and helped develop NBA great Michael Jordan, has died at the age of 83.
Teams coached by Smith, who died on Saturday at his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, won two NCAA championships, including the 1982 title with a squad led by Jordan, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls.
Smith won 839 games as North Carolina’s head basketball coach over his 36-year career. He took his team to 11 Final Four appearances in the NCAA Division 1 tournament, which UNC won in 1982 and 1993.
Smith, whose death was announced by the university, was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2013, he was honored by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His wife accepted the medal on his behalf.
The family had announced in 2010 that Smith suffered from a neurological disorder that affected his memory.
Smith recruited the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina, Charlie Scott, and helped integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill, Obama said at the ceremony.
“Coach Smith showed us something that I’ve seen again and again on the court – that basketball can tell us a lot more about who you are than a jumpshot alone ever could,” the president said in a statement on Sunday.
Jordan, considered one of the best players ever, said that no one except his parents had a bigger impact on his life.
“He was more than a coach - he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father,” Jordan said in a statement. “Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life.”
Smith also served as mentor to other players and assistant coaches who went on to coaching prominence themselves, including current North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
“It’s such a great loss for North Carolina — our state, the University, of course the Tar Heel basketball program, but really the entire basketball world,” Williams said. “We lost one of our greatest ambassadors for college basketball for the way in which a program should be run.”
Smith was raised in Kansas, where his father was a high school teacher and basketball coach. Smith played on the 1952 Kansas team that won the national championship. He became an assistant coach at North Carolina in 1958.
“Known worldwide as a legendary basketball coach, our university, the Chapel Hill community, and the countless students, faculty, staff and people across North Carolina and beyond will remember him as a great teacher and remarkable pioneer in promoting equality and civil rights,” the university said in statement on Sunday.
Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City and Letitia Stein in Tampa; Editing by Frank McGurty, Stephen Powell and Andrew Hay