We start today’s gossip column by reporting on the passing of a basketball great.
DEAN SMITH PASSES AWAY
Legendary North Carolina Tar Heels coach Dean Smith has passed away, aged 83.
The figurehead that gave the world Michael Jordan, post-NBA died peacefully in his sleep. He spent 36 seasons as North Carolina’s coach, from 1961-62-1996-97.
Smith had health issues in recent years, with the family saying in 2010 that he had a condition that was causing him to lose memory. He had kept a lower profile during that time. His wife, Linnea, accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf from President Barack Obama in November 2013.
Roy Williams, the current North Carolina coach who spent 10 years as Smith’s assistant, said Smith “was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people.”
“I’d like to say on behalf of all our players and coaches, past and present, that Dean Smith was the perfect picture of what a college basketball coach should have been,” Williams said in a statement. “We love him, and we will miss him.”
In a career that spanned more than 40 years, Smith coached the likes of Michael Jordan and James Worthy and influenced the game and how it is played in ways that are unrivaled.
“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith,” Jordan said in a statement. “He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. 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 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.”
Smith’s Four Corners time-melting offense led to the creation of the shot clock to counter it. He was the first coach at North Carolina, and among the first in the segregated South, to offer a scholarship to a black athlete. The now-common “point to the passer,” in which a scorer acknowledges a teammate’s assist, started in Chapel Hill and became a hallmark of Smith’s always humble “Carolina Way.”
GRIFFIN TO MISS ALL-STAR GAME, LILLARD IN
Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin has a staph infection in his elbow and thus will miss the All-Star Game in New York next Sunday.
Portland’s Damian Lillard has been selected by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to take his place on the Western Conference side.
Griffin has had to deal with bursitis in his right elbow throughout his career and routinely has it drained during the course of the season. He most recently had fluid drained from the elbow Feb. 2, when the Clippers were in New York to play the Nets.
He wore a sleeve on his elbow after the procedure and struggled in Los Angeles’ next two games. When the Clippers landed in Oklahoma City on Saturday, Clippers trainer Jasen Powell sent Griffin to the hospital to get his elbow examined.
“You could tell when something is infected. You can just look at it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Sunday. “With a bursa sac, it could just be that too, but it just didn’t look right. [Powell] caught that and sent him early enough — thank goodness.”
There is no official timeline for Griffin’s absence, but multiple team sources have told ESPN that the All-Star could be out between two and six weeks.
“It could be serious. It shouldn’t be, but you have to be very careful with that injury,” Rivers said. “It’s the unknown. With a sprained ankle, you know 10 days. But with infections, they’re infections, and you just have to be very careful. You cannot mess around with it.”
This will be Lillard’s second All-Star Game appearance after he debuted last year. His 21.6 points per game rank 13th in the NBA while he is 15th in assists with 6.3 per game. His 311 points in the fourth quarter of games leads the league and he has made 129 3-pointers, ranking him sixth overall.
He’ll be joined on the Western Conference squad by teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. Lillard and Aldridge give the Blakers the same two players in back-to-back All-Star Games for the first time since Maurice Lucas and Bill Walton were selected in 1977 and ’78.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr will select Griffin’s replacement in the Western Conference starting lineup.
FLOYD BUYS ISAIAH THOMAS A BIRTHDAY BENTLEY
Phoenix Suns guard Isaiah Thomas turned 26 yesterday, and boxer Floyd Mayweather purchased Thomas a brand new Bentley for his TMT cohort.