Today, February 19th, marks the 94th anniversary of Hugh Morton’s birth. Nine days from today, February 28th, would have been legendary Tar Heel basketball coach Dean Smith’s 84th birthday. As many if not most of you know, Smith passed away earlier this month on February 7th.
In between those two birthday observances will be a third celebration. On Sunday afternoon, February 22nd, there will be a very special gathering in the Dean Smith Student Activity Center on the UNC campus to celebrate the life of Dean E,. Smith. There will be players and former players . . . coaches and former coaches . . . students and former students. And I choose to believe there will be a very special section that will not be visible to those of us in the arena—and Smith, Bill Friday, and Hugh Morton will be seated there. All present will come together to honor the man who symbolizes what is known as “The Carolina Way.”
To mark all three occasions, Hugh Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard takes a look at the special connection that exists between Hugh Morton and Dean Smith.
Dean Smith, Coach, Teacher, Role Model
—chapter title in Making a Difference in North Carolina by Hugh M. Morton and Edward L. Rankin, Jr.
Soon after Dean Smith arrived on the UNC campus in 1958, he was introduced to Hugh Morton, a longtime friend of the university and its basketball program. Three years later, when Smith was appointed head coach by Chancellor William Aycock, Smith continued the free photographic access policy that the previous head coach, Frank McGuire, had offered Hugh Morton. Morton took advantage of that access. Over the years Morton came up from the North Carolina coast and down from the North Carolina mountains to Chapel Hill to photograph Smith and his championship program.
For the book Making a Difference in North Carolina, Hugh Morton contributed an eight-page chapter about his friend Dean Smith. The piece contains eleven pictures of Smith, including one that was to become a Morton favorite. [Editor’s note: for this occasion, we rescanned Morton’s favorite negative of Smith using our high-end Hasselblad film scanner. It’s much improved!]
In his 1996 book Sixty Years with a Camera, Morton described that famous Smith image:
My favorite picture of Dean Smith is this one (above) made right after UNC won the national championship in 1982 in New Orleans. Except for that net around James Worthy’s neck, you wouldn’t know that Carolina had won. Everybody was wrung out and fatigued.”
Then, seven years later in his 2003 book Hugh Morton’s North Carolina, Morton further described the picture adding, “Sports Information Director Rick Brewer is looking at his watch, fearful that the story will not make East Coast sports page deadlines, and Coach Smith and Jimmy Black are just plain tired. They were waiting to be interviewed by the media.”
At a slide show during UNC’s “Graduation/Reunion Weekend” in May of 1989, Morton explained how he got in position to take the famous picture.
There was mass confusion on the floor after the 1982 Championship game as the security folks tried to get Coach Smith and his team off the court. Coach Smith grabbed me by the arm and said ‘stick with me.’ He then turned to the security guard…pointed at me and said ‘he’s with us.
An earlier blog post recounts the closing moments of that game and includes a link to the broadcast (that’s now no longer functioning) where near the very end you can see Morton on the court near Smith.
Another Hugh Morton favorite slide show photograph can be found in Hugh’s 2003 book on page 200. The image shows Coach Smith with three other coaches that would eventually be UNC head coaches: Bill Guthridge, Matt Doherty and Roy Williams. This photograph is discussed the blog post “Back at the Top . . . Back in the Bayou.” On page 198 of the same book, is the opening photograph of this article, taken at the final game Dean Smith won as a Tar Heel—his final victory, number 879.
Of the many books published about Dean Smith and his basketball program, I think it’s safe to say that Hugh Morton played a part in the finished product of most of them. An excellent example would be Barry Jacobs’s 1998 book, The World According to Dean: Four Decades of Basketball as seen by Dean Smith. The book contains 23 Morton photos and the front cover image. (Judging from Smith’s tie on the cover photograph, it also looks to be from his final victory game.)
On June 2, 2006, the evening following Hugh Morton’s death, WBTV, Channel 3, in Charlotte presented a special Morton tribute. Veteran BTV broadcaster Paul Cameron anchored the program. During the show several of Morton’s friends were interviewed including Dean Smith, live by telephone from his home in Chapel Hill. Coach spoke of Morton’s loyalty to his University and the basketball program and said, no matter what the weather, Morton always seemed to be courtside and ready for game day. In addition, Coach Smith paid tribute to Morton’s family, his wife Julia in particular, and said he called often during Morton’s illness and spoke with him when he was able.
Since Coach Smith’s death on February 7th, there have been dozens and dozens of beautiful tributes written in newspapers and delivered on TV . . . many of which were supported by Morton images. I choose to believe that there will be additional Morton images of Dean Smith taken Sunday afternoon.
You may use the search box at the top of the blog to search for additional A View to Hugh blog posts that include Dean Smith.