So it seems fitting that the UNC graduate is now in the process of creating a giant mural of the legendary coach and humanitarian, who died Feb. 7 at the age of 83.
Nurkin said he has been wanting to paint the mural, which is located at the corner of Smith Level Road and U.S. 15-501, for a long time.
“I originally intended to do Dean Smith on the back of He’s Not Here, but there were a couple reasons why that wasn’t going to work out,” Nurkin said. “I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like. That particular image was a lot different than this one.”
This fall, he made plans with his friend B. Rain Bennett, a photographer and filmmaker, to film a documentary about his creation process.
But then the holidays came and, after them, cold weather. The two decided to wait until the spring.
The Sunday of Smith’s passing, Nurkin got a text message from Bennett.
“Well, it looks like it became a little more important now,” it read.
Nurkin had time that week. So did Bennett.
And so, the project began.
Nurkin said he wanted to paint a mural of Smith because of the way he transcended his role as a basketball coach.
“He wasn’t just a basketball coach — he was so much more than that,” he said. “I think everybody that was underneath him would say as much. He was more than just someone who told them how to play basketball well. He taught people how to lead their lives well.”
After hearing of his death, Nurkin thought Smith was owed some type of tribute because of what he meant to the Chapel Hill community.
“If anyone was to be emblematic of the town of Chapel Hill, it would be Dean Smith. I think he’s synonymous,” he said. “I think if you were to poll residents of the town and say, ‘Who best represents what this town is about?’ or ‘Who is the most recognized and cherished member of this town?’ it would be Dean Smith.”
Nurkin plans to include in his mural a large portrait of Smith and his favorite quote of Smith’s — “You should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he thinks the mural is a beautiful way for Nurkin to reflect his appreciation for Smith.
He said Smith was not only an enormous figure in college basketball but was also an active and involved resident of the community and state.
“When you think of his relationships with his players, it wasn’t just about whether or not they had the highest free throw shooting percentage or how many shots were blocked in a given year. When Dean Smith coached you, it was just as important to demonstrate that you were a good citizen and engaged with helping others,” Kleinschmidt said. “He really reflected what it means to be a Chapel Hillian.”
Bennett said he’s been getting a time-lapse of Nurkin’s painting process as well as taking real-time footage.
Sometimes, he said, people will stop and take pictures of Nurkin and the mural. When that happens, he takes pictures of them, too.
Bennett said he applauds Nurkin for undertaking the project. Because Nurkin couldn’t find anyone to fund it, he did it himself.
“He’s spent a lot of time and money doing this because he loves it so much, and Dean meant so much to him, and the Carolina family means so much to him,” Bennett said. “I just applaud him so much for the effort because I’ve been out there when he’s been on a 20-foot ladder with 25-mph gusts in 20 degree weather. It’s not easy, you know.”
Bennett said his mindset in creating a video of Nurkin’s process will be different now that Smith has died. He said he feels like it will be more significant now.
“I just want the video to be a representation of him,” he said. “I don’t want the video to have any different feel to it than the mural does.”
Nurkin said cold weather and the threat of snow have prevented him from finishing the mural. He said he is currently about 30 to 40 percent done and that he’s going to add a lot of layering and coloring in Smith’s face, as well as a huge backdrop.
Nurkin said many people ask him who’s paying him or who asked him to do this.
His answer is always the same. No one is paying him — he’s doing it all on his own.
“He certainly has his memory all over town and obviously has a giant arena built in his honor,” he said. “But this is just one little thing I thought I could do. It’s just something I wanted to do. (It’s) what I can contribute.”