Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday that Dean Smith receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom speaks loudly about Smith as a coach and the game of basketball.
"He used the platform he attained as a coach to have an influence on other areas of our society. That's what we should all do," Krzyzewski said.
Smith, the longtime basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, is scheduled to receive the honor Nov. 20 in Washington.
Smith stepped forward as a proponent for equal rights in the 1960s in what Krzyzewski referred to as "tremendous" actions. Smith signed Charlie Scott, who became the first black scholarship basketball player on Tobacco Road.
Krzyzewski said Smith's stance on equality would force those who admired him to recognize issues they might otherwise oppose.
"Some people who were against that [social equality], weren't against him. So, it made those people look at it because they wouldn't challenge him," Krzyzewski said.
The Duke coach said the game of basketball has helped people of different walks of life come together.
"He was one of the leaders of that right from the start," Krzyzewski said.
While Krzyzewski declined to discuss the current state of Smith's health, he did mention seeing the longtime Tar Heel coach at Figure Eight Island near Wilmington recently. Krzyzewski said their houses at the beach were right next to each other.
"He owns one, we rent one. I have to be here a little bit longer," Krzyzewski said with a smile.
Krzyzewski spoke of how he and Smith never had a chance to become friends until after Smith retired in 1997.
"Obviously, we were amazing competitors," Krzyzewski said. "When you're competing at the level we were competing at, I'm not sure there's a great friendship that is developed ever while you're competing."
Krzyzewski said it was only after Smith retired that a "good friendship" was developed.
"Dean and I are very close friends," Krzyzewski said. "The respect we have for one another will last forever."
When they do have the chance to spend time together, the basketball legends talk about the game of basketball, not the competition.
"The game is what we talked about," Krzyzewski said. "Not, ‘I wish Calabria didn't tip in that shot' or ‘I wish Banks didn't hit that shot to send it to overtime.' It's obvious for both of us the game is bigger than anybody."
When asked about Smith's cognitive disorder that affects memory, Krzyzewski recalled Smith's brilliance as a man, not just as a coach.
"When I thought of Dean, I thought of one of the best. And when competing against him, I found out he was even better," Krzyzewski said. "He's led a life few have lead."
Krzyzewski passed Smith for the second-most wins in Division I men's basketball in late 2010, a feat that could he attributed to Smith's success on the court.
"The standard he set motivated everyone in the league and motivated me," Krzyzewski said. "Being able to compete against the best every year helps you.
"I respect the heck out of him. He did it the right way."
Smith holds a 24-14 advantage over Krzyzewski in head-to-head competition. Their elite coaching brought the Duke-UNC rivalry to a national audience.
"The basketball gods were good about bringing us together," Krzyzewski said.
(An earlier version of this story stated Charlie Scott as the first black basketball player on Tobacco Road. Scott was the first scholarship black player at one of the Big Four schools. C.B. Claiborne was the first black basketball player on Tobacco Road starting in 1965 at Duke.)