I was at my old house yesterday, just off of 15-501 barely across the Chatham County line.

My tenant that had been there almost 10 years was moving out, so I’d stopped by to check on things.  

As I was in my car waiting to pull out onto the highway, I heard a horn blaring in rapid succession coming out of a blue Toyota Tacoma that was zipping past me.  I waved my hand like an idiot. The driver flipped me the bird.

It was my old pal Scott.  It seemed like I’d never left.

Photo via Rain Bennett

I hadn’t seen him in months and we’d been failing to stick to lunch plans.  So I whipped into the parking lot of his studio just up the road and he was getting out of his truck.  

We caught up as best we could, hugged, and promised to get that lunch soon.  As I pulled out of the lot, I saw one of his murals — a gigantic wall-sized bust of Dean Smith — that we had collaborated on four years ago, still facing the cars coming up Smith Level Rd.

On February 7, 2015, legendary UNC men’s basketball coach Dean Smith passed away.  The local community, the “Carolina family,” and people all over the world felt the loss.  Dean was more than the person who made the “four corners” offense famous, more than a winner of two national championships, and even more than the man who arguably single-handedly desegregated the town of Chapel Hill.

He was a man devoted to his community and fighting for what’s good in the world.  

Dean Smith created the “Carolina Family” and Scott, as an alumnus, wanted to honor that in the best way he knew how.

Scott Nurkin is a native North Carolinian, a musician, and an artist.  He is responsible for some of the most recognized murals in the state.  From the classic Greetings to Chapel Hill on Franklin Street, to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, to the Charlotte Knights baseball team, his work can be seen “from Murphy to Manteo,” as they say.

Some may remember his paintings of famous North Carolina musicians that once plastered the walls of the infamous Franklin Street pizza joint, Pepper’s Pizza.  Those now proudly hang in the halls of Scotts alma mater, in the UNC Department of Music at Hill Hall.

He and I had been talking about this idea for a while — me filming a timelapse of him painting the Dean Smith mural — and on the morning of February 7th that year I texted him:

Photo via Rain Bennett

“I guess it’s time to start the Dean mural.”

“Oh no,” he replied.

We spent many early mornings outside of his studio (before we both had to go to work) with a GoPro set up and another camera rolling.  I’m an artist of sorts, but I always admired visual artists and painters because I just cannot understand how their minds imagine a finished work on a blank canvas.

Watching Scott work was incredible.

Here was this friend of mine, who I played soccer with and exchanged trash talk texts with, using what I believe was pointillism, or a version of it, to create a perfectly-placed, 20 foot tall image of Dean Smith that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

That wasn’t just my biased opinion.  I heard it in the reaction of people who drive by it every day.  

It sits there, just three miles from UNC, watching over the south side of Chapel Hill like a benevolent version of Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, “The Great Gatsby.”

People respond to it because it reminds them of what Dean — who, at this point, is just a metaphor for the community — has meant to them in the memories of their lives.

Even I, who was too young to really remember Dean’s impact (though in 1993 I was 11), still feel like he had some part in the memories I share of this area, and specifically Carolina basketball games.

I remember my brother telling me the story of almost spilling Dean’s take-out order in his back seat when he was working at Crook’s Corner.  But other than that, Dean is not connected to my memories.

What is a part of my memories is Roy Williams coming back and winning a championship in 2005 and Beau and I storming Franklin St.  I remember my dad seeing Sean May on the street on his first trip to Chapel Hill ever. I remember just a few years ago, Beau and I taking my mom to her first game at the Dean Dome.

These stories are part of my family.  And I fully believe that that is a product of Dean’s doing.

I also believe I am not alone in being impacted, directly or indirectly, by the legacy of that man.

The quote that Scott wanted to attach to the mural was one that we should all live by, especially in these times:  “You should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do it.”

If that doesn’t ring loudly still, I have no idea what will.  

I’m sure some Duke fans might feel this way about Coach K…. if they weren’t a tribe of soulless, spineless, heartless people.  GO HEELS!

Photo via Rain Bennett