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Smith's life remembered, celebrated

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Dean Smith: Lasting Impact On, Off Court (3:34)

Journalist and author Bill Nack explores the legacy of Dean Smith, who was known as the best teacher in basketball and a strong advocate for social justice. (3:34)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Charles Gear had never met former North Carolina coach Dean Smith before or after their fateful interaction back in the 1980s. But that one moment was one Gear said helped change his life.

Gear, 55, was homeless at the time and was on Franklin Street talking with a friend about coming up short on a deposit for an apartment. Smith, who passed away late Saturday at the age of 83, overheard their conversation.

"Dean Smith came up and said I want to help you," Gear said. "He said how much do you need and he went to the [bank] teller and got $180 out of there. I thanked God first then I thanked him."

Gear was one of several patrons in Sutton's Drug Store on Sunday morning who wanted to pay their respects to the legendary coach. Since 1923, Sutton's has been a pillar on Franklin Street, which is the northern boundary of campus and considered the heart of Chapel Hill.

Current sophomores Randall Bissette and Rashod Ballentine sat in a booth with a third friend speaking about a coach they never witnessed in action, but they knew very well. Bissette sought out Smith's picture among the many framed photos, some long since faded, and autographed jerseys that hang on the walls and ceiling at Sutton's.

"When I think about Carolina, I think about basketball, and when I think about basketball here, I think about Dean Smith," said Ballentine, a 20-year-old exercise and sports science major from Hollywood, Florida. "Dean Smith ... he is the state of North Carolina, that's why he has a special place in everybody's heart even if you never met him before."

Bissette, a mathematics major from Winston-Salem, added, "I'm surprised there's not a parade down the street or something" to celebrate Smith's legacy.

Chris Barnes, 41, played two seasons for North Carolina's junior varsity basketball team in 1991-92 and 1994-95. When Barnes had the opportunity to try out for varsity, he remembered Smith for his humble nature.

"He had a high level of integrity, I clearly think he lived out the golden rule which is treat others the way you want to be treated," Barnes said. "He treated everyone the same. For people who aren't from here, that's probably his lasting legacy, he treated everyone the same. It's evidenced by him recruiting Charlie Scott. He treated walk-ons the same way he treated scholarship players."

Elizabeth Flake, a 2011 North Carolina graduate, grew up watching the Tar Heels because it was one of the ways she bonded with her father, Wesley, who was an '82 alumnus.

Flake, a Pilot Mountain native, was one of several well-wishers who came to the Dean E. Smith Center and placed flowers in front of an appreciation monument by the flag poles.

Flake said it was an emotional day back in 1997 when her dad informed her of Smith's retirement. And even though Smith's declining health was well documented, she said it didn't make hearing the news on Sunday any easier.

"I just wanted to pay my respects and say thank you for showing me the Carolina Way and making me want to become a Carolina student and now a grad," Flake said. "His legacy extends far beyond basketball. He was just very ahead of the social aspect of his time as a coach. We're all very grateful for how he influenced Chapel Hill and all of sports."

That's why Bill Parks, a 78-year-old attorney and Chapel Hill resident, said Smith's impact and legacy would be hard for anyone to duplicate.

"There will be other special people," said Parks, who was a manager for the Tar Heels' football team from 1954 to '56. "But Dean Smith is special in his own right."