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Dean Smith remembered as civil rights activist, innovative coach

Tributes to the former North Carolina coach have been pouring in since news of his passing.

Don Pensinger // Getty Images

Legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith passed away at age 83 on Sunday morning. Smith won two national championships, 17 ACC regular season titles and 77 percent of his games with the Tar Heels, but his impact stretched far beyond the basketball court. Those numbers don't come to close to capturing the man behind it all.

Friends, colleagues and former players have spent the afternoon recalling Smith as a warm, kind person who helped break down racial barriers and held a special affection for his student-athletes. Below are some of the most touching tributes to Smith and his legacy:

Dean Smith, the civil rights activist

The ACC was a segregated conference when Smith was hired as North Carolina's head coach in 1961. Smith identified 6'5 forward Charles Scott as the player to end this prejudice.

Richard Lapchick detailed Scott's recruitment in 2011 at ESPN.

Scott, who had left New York City to finish high school at the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, began to develop trust in Smith during his recruiting trip, when the coach asked him if he wanted to attend a service at his church. I was a committed Catholic boy who at about this time attended church in Chapel Hill. I was told the church was integrated, but I stopped going after I saw the African-Americans attending the mass line up for communion after the white people left. But Smith's church was one of the few fully integrated churches in the area. That impressed Scott. While most casual acquaintances and fans called Scott "Charlie," he preferred "Charles." Smith always addressed him as "Charles." Choosing North Carolina was a slam dunk for Scott. He enrolled and began defining the modern-day UNC basketball legacy being built by Smith.

Scott was a two-time All-American and helped lead the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 1968 and 1969. Smith's work in civil rights didn't stop there.

Also from Linkletter's ESPN story:

America was never the same after the Brown decision, but the young Dean Smith's civil rights advocacy did not end in Topeka. I've already mentioned that he signed Charlie Scott to play at UNC, and he played a major role in the dismantling of segregation in general across North Carolina. He helped integrate a local restaurant and assisted an African-American graduate student's purchase of a home in an all-white neighborhood. In a profession in which many coaches are either conservative or not political at all, Dean Smith opposed the Vietnam War, the death penalty and called for a freeze on nuclear weapons, among other causes.

Scott's son is Ohio State point guard Shannon Scott. His daughter shared this photo after the news of Smith's passing:

President Obama, who awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom two years ago, released a statement praising Smith's legacy as a coach and as a person:

"Last night, America lost not just a coaching legend but a gentleman and a citizen. When he retired, Dean Smith had won more games than any other college basketball coach in history. He went to 11 Final Fours, won two national titles, and reared a generation of players who went on to even better things elsewhere, including a young man named Michael Jordan—and all of us from Chicago are thankful for that.

But more importantly, 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. He graduated more than 96 percent of his players and taught his teams to point to the teammate who passed them the ball after a basket. He pushed forward the Civil Rights movement, recruiting the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina and helping to integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill. And in his final years, Coach Smith showed us how to fight an illness with courage and dignity. For all of that, I couldn’t have been prouder to honor Coach Smith with Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife Linnea, to his family, and to his fans all across North Carolina and the country."

Dean Smith, the innovator

There was no one working with analytics in basketball before Dean Smith. He authored the book Basketball: Multiple Offense and Defense in 1981 and graded his team with possession-based statistics before anyone else. He was the innovator of the four-corners offense and an inspiration to people who would continue to his work to dig deeper and deeper into the game:

Dean Smith, the coach and friend

The celebration of Smith's life started as soon as the news of his passing spread. Michael Jordan issued a statement:

As did Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski:

An outpouring of support came from around the sports world.

Smith will also be remembered for graduating over 96 percent of his players during his 36 years in Chapel Hill. From a point guard at Kansas under legendary coach Phog Allen to one of the most influential people in the history of college basketball, Smith's life's work won't soon be forgotten.