Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Just Do What's Right

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

Over the years, many of my heroes have disappointed me.

But there are some people for whom my admiration grows with time and I later realize that although I may have thought well of them, maybe even idolized them, I also fundamentally underestimated what they had done.

Dean Smith is in the latter group.

I was always a fan. I admired the way he never got flustered, never seemed to lose his temper. He did not gloat when his teams won. He did not whine when they lost. He was gracious in victory and defeat. He seemed to keep it all in perspective. And when he retired after 36 years of coaching basketball at the University of North Carolina, nobody had won more games. And his players actually graduated.

In a book called, “The Carolina Way,” written with Gerald Bell and John Kilgo, Smith said, “My basketball philosophy boils down to six words. Play hard; play together; play smart.”

But there was a lot more to Dean Smith than basketball.

In an article written for the Washington Post, John Feinstein told of researching a feature on Smith. He writes, “One of the people I interviewed for the story was Rev. Robert Seymour, who had been Smith’s pastor at the Binkley Baptist Church since 1958, when he first arrived in Chapel Hill. Seymour told me a story about how upset Smith was to learn that Chapel Hill’s restaurants were still segregated. He and Seymour came up with an idea: Smith would walk into a restaurant with a black member of the church.”

“You have to remember,” Reverend Seymour told Feinstein, “Back then, he wasn’t Dean Smith. He was an assistant coach. Nothing more.”

So Dean Smith, an assistant coach, not yet 30 years old and a newcomer to Chapel Hill, invited a black member of the church to go to lunch with him at a restaurant where the management knew him because the (all white) basketball team often ate there. They were served without incident, and that was the beginning of desegregation in Chapel Hill.

When Feinstein went back to Smith to ask him for more details on what happened that night, Smith was visibly angry. “Who told you about that?” he demanded.

“Reverend Seymour,” Feinstein answered.

“I wish he hadn’t done that.”

“Why?” asked Feinstein. “You should be proud of doing something like that.”

And then, Feinstein recalled, “He leaned forward in his chair and in a very quiet voice said something I’ve never forgotten: ‘You should never be proud of doing what’s right. You should just do what’s right.’”

In 1988 Smith was part of a delegation of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty in a clemency hearing for a man whom Coach Smith had befriended when he brought members of the UNC basketball team to visit inmates on death row.

Smith led the discussion with the governor. Pointing his finger at him, he said, “You’re a murderer!”

And then, one by one, he pointed to members of the PFADP and the pastors in the delegation and said, “And you’re a murderer! And you’re a murderer! And you’re a murderer!” Then with his finger pointing at himself he said, “The death penalty makes us all murderers.”

In “A Coach’s Life” he wrote: “What do you call the worst human beings you know? Human beings loved by the Creator!”

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear these words of mine and do them.” Dean Smith was that kind of Christian.

The Apostle Paul followed his message on truth, justice and excellence with a sentence that Dean Smith would have been too modest to speak, but he is one of the few people who could have said it without exaggerating his values and actions, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

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