During my years as a sports journalist, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of athletes, coaches and administrators, as well as many non-sports celebrities.
Most of them were perfectly nice, decent people. A few were Grade-A jerks.
Not one of them ever had the class, grace, and humility of Dean E. Smith, the legendary coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team.
Dean died Saturday night at age 83, after a long decline due to dementia. I’ve written about Dean, a man I admired as much as anyone I’ve ever met, before on this blog, here and here., and there were a ton of fantastic tributes to him published Sunday (I highly recommend Alexander Wolff’s on SI.com, and this great Tommy Tomlinson story from last year.)
Many of those tributes talk about Smith’s incredible coaching acumen, his invention of the Four Corners offense, the trips to the Final Four, and his two national championships.
But what’s so more important about the life he lived was what he did off the court. He fought tirelessly for civil rights in North Carolina, long before he was famous and successful and people had to pay attention to him. He battled and spoke out against the death penalty and segregation; battled for women’s rights, and myriad other causes he believed in.
He had an incredible memory for names and facts, he was a master motivator (he’d tell nervous players in the huddle late in close games, “Hey, a billion people in China don’t care who wins”)
There were so many great Dean anecdotes about who he was, but this one, from the NBA’s Reddit page from an unattributed source, might be my favorite.
“Way back in 1958, when Dean Smith was just an assistant coach at UNC, he was angry that restaurants in Chapel Hill were still segregated. He decided to make a statement by walking in to a eatery he knew, sat down with an African-American player, and ate a meal. And a blow for desegregation had been struck.
When it was brought to Dean years later that he should be proud of what he did, this was his response.”
“You should never be proud of doing what’s right,” Smith said. “You should just do what’s right.”
Dean Smith’s death is not a loss for college basketball. It’s a loss for humanity.
Rest in peace.
**Next, this ought to put a smile on your face. The Android company has put out a new ad that has gone viral very fast, with more than 4 million hits already. It’s just footage of different animals from the kingdom, frolicking and, well, getting into some interesting situations.
**Finally, a couple quick thoughts on Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, my annual attempt to reconnect to today’s music and extricate myself from my 1980s and early ’90s musical dungeon I happily reside in the rest of the year:
— I’m just asking: When did LL Cool J become to the Grammys what Billy Crystal and Bob Hope were to the Oscars? I mean, is he just the permanent host now?
— Sam Smith and Adele both say “Fank You” and it’s kind of adorable.
— Madonna is 56. And damn, she’s still got it. What an amazing performer she still is.
— I’m not a Katy Perry fan, but her performance, preceded by a domestic violence survivor telling her story, was powerful.
— The Grammys always have some bizarre-looking celebrity outfits, but Jesse J’s dress looked like it was pasted together by a drunk 3rd-grader in art class.
— Kanye West: Could he be a bigger tool? He tried to interrupt Beck like he did Taylor Swift at the VMAs all those years ago. His ego knows no bounds.
– I hate the Bee Gees more than I’ve ever disliked any other musical act, ever. But hey, give ’em a lifetime achievement award, lots of other people liked them.
— A week ago, New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler was a rookie from West Alabama, playing in his first Super Bowl and completely anonymous to 99 percent of the world. Seven days later he’s a Super Bowl champ and on stage presenting a Grammy.
America, what a country,
— Last year’s Grammys, with the incredible Ryan Lewis/Macklemore/Queen Latifah same-sex wedding ceremony at the end, was pretty impossible to top. But I thought Sunday night’s were pretty good.