Enjoy the thoughts on a Legend, contributed by a guest writer, Don Rives…
As readers of the Pause and Smile blog, you are accustomed to the various writings from the heart, stated in a very polished and eloquent manner. Well today my wife, Carol, has graciously stepped aside to allow me, aka HUBS to put down in writing my thoughts. Please understand Carol is the writer in the family…I am not. The writing structure that you are used to reading and the correct grammar that she utilizes… well those rules are out today and this is simply me talking from the heart.
Why am I doing this?
This weekend was spent at my sister’s house celebrating the pending arrival of her daughter’s first child. There was a large group of family members from all sides of the family, so it was a good time had by all. While eating breakfast, Sunday morning, I found out about the death of Dean Smith from the previous evening. As this news was not a surprise, due to his health of the past several years, it was still an enormous blow to hear. Our two-hour drive back home was spent mostly in silence, as I had a flood of thoughts and memories of Dean Smith. So this is my release and who knows… maybe one of you readers may pick up an anecdote that will make you smile. So here it goes…
As a 54-year-old man, I grew up in the “Wonder Years” generation. The days spent outside with friends and playing seemed to go on forever, even during the school year. Homework…yea right we didn’t have the amount of homework as kids do now, so yes we spent hours of time outside.
I moved to Charlotte, NC in the late 60s and have stayed in North Carolina for my entire life. In our neighborhood, we played all type of sports, from football, baseball, kickball and basketball. Of all of these sports my true love was basketball. As I started getting more involved and watching the games on TV, I was definitely drawn to the lighter blue team, that had a coach that always seemed to pull out those tough games, patented with a thrilling comeback win… does 8 points down with 17 seconds left ring a bell? Yes, UNC tied in regulation and won in overtime against archrival Duke (when there was not a 3 point shot).
I believe it was very common for kids in this era, maybe not now, to idolize individuals that had an impact in their life, either personally or from a far. In most cases they were sports related individuals. My hero was Coach Dean Smith.
This coach not only had a way of winning, however win or lose, he seemed to present him and the team in a highly respected manner. However at an early age, all I cared about was the win! So when we played pick up games, I was always thinking… how would Carolina and Coach Smith do the next play. And what boy didn’t announce a make believe “play-by-play” when practicing alone, while “scoring the winning basket”. So yes, I was hooked on Carolina basketball.
As the years went by, I started to understand the positive impact that Dean brought to his team, family and community. The many public stories that I heard or read about concerning race equality, sportsmanship and basketball strategy furthered my respect for him. The main trait that I witnessed through observing press conferences, interviews and articles was the respect that he gave people and the respect he gave to THE game.
His mantra was: The team/players won the game. He, the coach, lost all the games due to his lack of preparing the team.
Let me stop right here… I do not claim to have known Coach Smith (we did meet very briefly in a business situation) these are just well know public observations.
In late high school and early college I decided to coach youth basketball. The kids I coached ranged from 12-14 years old. They had an understanding of the game and did possess talent. Did I mold them into fine young athletes/men and teach them the inner secrets of basketball like Dean Smith…. hell NO! Really me? However, I do hope that I was able to convey sportsmanship and that the game is not always about winning, especially at that age…enjoy the sport…enjoy the team.
As a college junior I transferred to UNC Chapel Hill and at last I could see my Tarheels, in person, on a regular basis. Otherwise I had been relegated to the occasional UNC game held at Charlotte at the old North South doubleheader tournament. What a time to go to UNC! This first year, 1982, was Dean Smith’s first NCAA Championship. The team was loaded with future NBA players, Worthy, Perkins, Jordan, as well as probably one of the best coaches on the floor, guard Jimmy Black. The team was a blast to watch and I attended as many games as I could in the old Carmichael Auditorium.
Approximately, a month after they won the championship, it was announced an event would be held on campus, in the small Memorial Auditorium. The event was Coach Smith and only Coach Smith. He spoke briefly and then took questions from the students. It was not a press conference, just a “town hall meeting” for students, before “town hall meetings” were popular. Was I lucky enough to score a ticket to attend…. Yes I was! I considered this as exciting as beating Georgetown several weeks earlier. What I witnessed was an extension of the qualities that we all heard and read about of Coach Smith. The stories and life lessons were valuable. I believe he took the student/teacher role seriously, he was the teacher and we were the students, even though we didn’t wear the Carolina Blue Converse on the court.
After graduating from UNC, I continued to live in Chapel Hill and still do. So I have been fortunate to continue to follow the Tarheels and Coach Smith. One time my Mom was in town with her gardening club to visit the UNC Botanical Gardens. They had a group lunch at The Carolina Inn, located 2 blocks from my office in the heart of Chapel Hill. She skipped out of their lunch for a few minutes so we could visit. Once I left, Mom was in the lobby and looked up and saw Dean Smith strolling through the lobby. Coach had not retired and was still a very public figure in town. Locals in town were sometimes in awe and would not approach him as not wanting to disturb him. Not Mom… she was retired, a very kind woman and wanted to meet him. So as he walked by him, she spoke “Coach Smith”… he turned… “”My son thinks you hung the moon and the stars”… he turned and sat down next to my Mom. For about 5-10 minutes, he sat there talking to my Mom. A moment Mom always cherished and a moment that I had always wished I had stayed just a couple more minutes!
Throughout the next week, there will be hundreds of testimonials from individuals who knew Coach Smith and some that did not. However, I bet that the main theme that will be conveyed about Coach Smith will be:
- Respect yourself and respect your fellow man
- The desire to give your best… win or lose
- Observe life, learn from life and give back to life
- Be aware of the effect that you as an individual have on others
I cannot pretend to know the many life lessons that his players, managers and staff learned from him. All I know is, that I feel like I learned so many good qualities just by observing and feel very lucky to have grown up a Tarheel.
~ Don Rives ~