In the wake of newsreports about the health of UNC’s Hall of Fame basketball coach Dean Smith, the 79-year-old coach’s family released a letter to the public revealing that Smith has a “progressive neurocognitive disorder which affects his memory.”

In it, they acknowledged that his memory has weakened in recent years, and also note that he has had two operations in the last three years—a knee replacement and a heart procedure.

The family’s upbeat yet apparently candid note acknowledges that Smith is unable to travel to basketball games, preferring to watch on television. The coach, who was known for his ability to recall details of long-ago players and games, no longer reliably does so.

The family adds, “He still attends some sporting events—you might see him in the stands at his grandson’s baseball game.”

The letter, which was furnished by the school’s athletic department, follows in its entirety.

17 July 2010

From the Family of Dean E. Smith

Our dad is almost eighty years old, so it’s expected that he might show signs of aging. After spending an entire lifetime without a visit to the hospital except to see players and friends, he had to undergo two procedures in the past three years: a knee replacement surgery and a repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. But what other people may have noticed – and what has been speculated about recently in the media – is that our dad may not remember quite like he used to. It’s a stark contrast, because he is widely known for remembering a name, a place, a game, a story — it’s what made other people feel like they were special, because our dad remembered everything.

Coach Smith wanted to keep his professional and personal life separate. But as we all know, the personal and professional life can sometimes overlap, and we understand that many fans, former players, and friends are concerned about his well-being. In trying to balance our dad’s wishes and the genuine concern so many people have for Coach Smith, we want to update you about his health, but ask that you respect his privacy. Our dad has a progressive neurocognitive disorder which affects his memory. So now, he may not immediately recall the name of every former player from his many years in coaching, but that does not diminish what those players meant to him or how much he cares about them. He still remembers the words of a hymn or a jazz standard, but may not feel up to going to a concert. He still plays golf, though usually only for nine holes instead of eighteen. He still attends some sporting events —you might see him in the stands at his grandson’s baseball game. He has difficulty traveling long distances to see the Heels on the road, but he insists on watching all Carolina basketball games on television and cheers as hard as he can for Coach Williams and the team.

Although some of the ways he experiences daily life have changed, he still cherishes his many relationships with Carolina basketball, his family and his friends.

Throughout his career, he has always preferred the spotlight be on the Carolina basketball program and the University, rather than himself. We hope that you will understand and respect his wishes. Thank you for your consideration and well wishes for our dad.