Michael Jordan and Dean Smith were one of the greatest player-coach duos in college basketball history.
Jordan, who is near-universally regarded as the best basketball player of all-time, thrived under the legendary Smith’s tutelage, helping North Carolina win a national championship in 1982 and winning National College Player of the Year honors in 1984.
Jordan was a highly sought-after recruit following his high school career at Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C. – Duke, South Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia were among the schools that pursued him – but Smith convinced him to play for the Tar Heels.
As part of Smith’s recruitment of Jordan, he sent the young MJ a now-legendary letter following a visit with the basketball star. The note was sent to Jordan 35 years ago to this day, as pointed out by ESPN’s Darren Rovell.
35 Years Ago Today: Dean Smith pens recruiting letter to a young Michael Jordan pic.twitter.com/UBkXJLeOnp— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 12, 2015
There’s no understating Smith’s impact on Jordan as a man and as a player during their time together.
When Smith passed away at 83 in 2014, Jordan released a statement that cited the coach as one of the most important figures in his life.
“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,” Jordan said. “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.”
When he retired in 1997, Smith left college basketball as the winningest coach in history with 879 victories. He made 11 Final Fours and won two national championships.