Michael Jordan and Dean Smith in 2007. (Ellen Ozier / Reuters)

The names of Dean Smith and Michael Jordan are inextricably linked and that was especially poignantly obvious Sunday.

Smith, who died Saturday night, coached Jordan at North Carolina and the two won a national championship together in 1982. In a heartfelt statement Sunday, Jordan paid tribute to a man he said he loved.

“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. 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. My heart goes out to [Smith’s wife] Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”

Like Jordan, many of Smith’s former players paid tribute to him as a teacher and that was evident in a humble recruiting letter Smith sent to Jordan in August 1980.


In May 1984, Michael Jordan announced he would turn pro. (AP Photo, File)

He wrote, in part, “We do think you’re a tremendous young man and are impressed no only with your obvious basketball talent, but the way you have been a leader at school and done well academically. We look forward to following you closely this year and hope to see you frequently in Chapel Hill.

I am writing your parents separately since they were so very hospitable to us. Enjoyed seeing you, Michael, and hope that, beginning in September 1981 I can be your coach.”