Former UNC-Chapel Hill men's basketball coach Dean Smith's 83rd birthday was last week, and several major news organizations have marked his life and legacy with extraordinary articles. Smith has dementia now, and that makes both of the articles we'll highlight here so moving.
John Feinstein is a celebrated writer. His article for the Washington Post is titled 'Memories of Dean Smith linger, even as his memory sadly fails him.' He writes "No one deserves such a fate, but anyone who has ever known Smith finds it especially galling that this disease would befall him."
In his article Feinstein tells his own story about one day years ago when he himself saw the first sign of trouble with Dean Smith's memory:
"The first time I ever saw him have difficulty recalling something was in 2005. I was interviewing him for a book I was writing on the Final Four and he had trouble remembering the name of a coach he had met the first time he went to the national semifinals as Frank McGuire’s assistant coach at North Carolina.
Dean Smith reaching for a name and not finding it was slightly more stunning than waking up to find the sun rising in the west.
“My memory’s slipping,” he said. “I forget things now.”
But if you're going to read just one article about Dean Smith, make it Tommy Tomlinson's ESPN one titled Special Memories. It's got great photos and a specially produced video. The story starts with a musician who had come over to play the guitar and sing for Dean Smith. The man, Billy Barnes, played several songs, but nothing connected for Smith until he played the song that Carolina fans sing after every basketball game:
Dean jumped to his feet. He waved at his wife, Linnea, to stand with him. He put his hand over his heart and sang from memory:
Hark the sound of Tar Heel voices
Ringing clear and true.
Singing Carolina's praises,
Hail to the brightest star of all
Clear its radiance shine
Carolina priceless gem,
Receive all praises thine.
I'm a Tar Heel born, I'm a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I'm a Tar Heel dead!
So it's rah-rah Car'lina-lina, rah-rah Car'lina-lina, rah-rah Carolina, rah, rah, rah!
"It was just pure joy. That uninhibited joy in the music," Linnea says. "It's one of those moments that you know there's more there, or momentarily there, than sometimes you're aware of."
You'll find the full article here.
Both articles are well-worth the read if you're a Dean Smith fan. Or, if you are one of the close to seven million Americans living with Alzheimers or dementia.
Presidential Medal of Freedom
A fan nominated Dean Smith for the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Smith was unable to attend the ceremony in Washington due to his illness. In his comments late last year, President Obama noted that Smith was one of the winningest coaches in history, but that his success goes beyond X's and O's. "Even as he won 76% of his games, he graduated 96% of his players," Obama noted.