Obama awards UNC’s Smith with Medal of Freedom

Legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith will be one of 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House announced.

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours,” President Obama said in a statement. “This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”

Smith, 82, guided the Tar Heels from 1961 to 1997. He captured two NCAA titles, in 1982 on a team that included Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins, and in 1993 when Michigan’s Chris Webber received a technical foul in the last seconds of the title game for calling a excessive timeout.

He finished with an 879-254 record, with his win total representing an NCAA record at the time he retired. Smith also was the coach of the 1976 gold-medal-winning U.S. men’s basketball team.

Smith’s family released a statement acknowledging the “extraordinary honor.”

“(Smith) would take this as an opportunity to recognize all the young men who played for him and the assistant coaches who worked with him, as well as the University,” according to the statement.

A second sports figure also earning the award is former Chicago Cub and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, 82, who played for the Cubs from 1953-71 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was an 11-time All-Star and a two-time National League Most Valuable Player. Beyond his playing ability, Banks was renowned for his enthusiasm, encapsulated in his famous catchphrase, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!”

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