CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan called North Carolina coaching great Dean Smith the most influential person in his life other than his parents.
Jordan played three seasons for Smith from 1981-84. When he was a freshman he helped lead the Tar Heels to a national championship in 1982, hitting a 16-foot jump shot in the final seconds to beat Georgetown.
Jordan often said that shot was the turning point in his basketball career. He went on to win six titles and is considered by many the greatest basketball player ever. Through the years, Jordan's respect for Smith grew, and he would often lean on his beloved college coach for advice and guidance.
"Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it," Jordan said in the statement. At Jordan's Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he called Smith "legendary." Jordan also poked some fun at him — as he often did — about his days as a freshman and a Sports Illustrated cover.
"The day that he was on the Sports Illustrated and he named four starters and he didn't name me — that burned me up," Jordan joked in the speech. "Because I thought I belonged on that Sports Illustrated. Now he had his own vision about giving a freshman that exposure, and I totally understand that. But from a basketball sense I deserved to be on that Sports Illustrated."
In 2007, Jordan returned to Chapel Hill for a game honoring the Tar Heels championship team in 1982. He was photographed with his arm around Smith and kissing the gray-haired coach on his head. "My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids," Jordan said. "We've lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players his staff and the entire UNC family."
Hornets spokesman Mike Cristaldi said the team will have a moment of silence before Sunday night's game against the Indiana Pacers.