If you were to make a list of the most beloved Tar Heels of all-time, Kenny Smith’s name would certainly be on it. His four years at UNC were fantastic, going from breakout freshman to senior All-American in his time in Chapel Hill. His scoring instincts, up-tempo floor leadership, and explosive athleticism made him one of the best backcourt players Carolina has ever had, as well as one of the most likeable.
The only thing missing from his decorated college career was a banner. He had the dubious honor of playing on not one but two of the greatest UNC teams that failed to make a Final Four: The 1984 and 1987 squads. Smith’s wrist injury is widely seen as the reason that the ‘84 campaign was derailed, though Dan Dakich would insist otherwise (eyeroll).
After leaving Chapel Hill, things have gone just fine and dandy for Kenny: He was drafted 6th Overall in 1987, he won two championships with the Rockets, and he has been one of the central figures on the NBA on TNT, one of the best and longest lasting sports shows in the genre. On top of that, his family has had a TV show, Michael Jordan still shows him love whenever he sees him, and his eldest son is now a Tar Heel. And he makes sure to represent for his alma mater every chance he gets.
Now there may be a new chapter in Kenny’s life. As well known as his affection for Chapel Hill is, he is equally known for being a patriotic New Yorker. A Queens native, he’s always been a vocal promoter of NYC’s basketball legacy. Talk to any big city ball player and they’ll expound the virtues of their childhood stomping grounds. George Gervin and Chris Webber will tell you about Detroit. Isiah Thomas (Bad Boy, not IT) will tell you about Chicago. Kenny Smith will tell you about New York.
That connection, coupled with his championship legacy and strength as an analyst, have made him one of the many candidates for the top job in Madison Square Garden. Other names being thrown around are Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jeff Van Gundy, David Blatt, and our own Jerry Stackhouse. When mentioned with that bunch, Kenny surely looks like the left-field choice; all the others have head coaching experience and he does not. What Kenny does have in is favor is the fact that he learned from one of the greats in Dean Smith, has two rings to his name, and has been a respected basketball mind for two decades.
Unlikely? Undoubtedly. But, as any Knick fan will tell you, James Dolan has done much whackier things than hiring Kenny Smith.