Former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith was among the luminaries awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday.
President Barack Obama honored the Tar Heels coach for his courage off the court and his spectacular career with UNC. Obama also pointed out 96% of Smith's players graduated from UNC. The Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded largely for Smith's achievements off the court. Smith pushed hard for integration and used his public position to support progressive measures in North Carolina.
Smith himself was not at the White House to receive the award. His wife Dr. Linnea Smith said the trip would be too much for coach Smith who faces a progressive neurocognitive disorder.
Smith was an obscure assistant coach at UNC when he took over as head coach. Smith led Carolina to 879 wins over 36 years, claimed national titles in 1982 and 1993 and won an astounding 72.8% of their ACC games. The Heels won 13 ACC titles and reached the Final Four 11 times.
Other awardees of the nation's highest civilian honor on Wednesday included former president Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey,country music legend Loretta Lynn, American astronaut Sally Ride, feminist author Gloria Steinem and baseball legend Ernie Banks. A total of 16 honorees received the award - some posthumously - in its 50th year.