I was in Iowa City, Iowa with my wife Marilynn and my son Michael for the 2015 NCAA swim championships. My wife and I had just experienced an eventful and successful morning with his swims.
Then, out of nowhere, a text arrived from my friend Charles Chandler, who writes for Decision Magazine. He congratulated me on the check Coach Dean Smith had sent to me and all his former lettermen. “Huh?” I asked myself. “What in the world is he talking about?” I dismissed it. I’d explore what it meant later on.
Then my cell phone rang. It was another friend, Scott Fowler, who is a sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer. He asked me about the check from Coach Smith. “Scott, what are you talking about?” I queried. He went on to tell me about a $200 check that Coach Smith was sending to all his lettermen from his estate.
After Scott finished, my only response was, “Wow! That’s amazing. That’s so...totally Coach Smith!”
When I arrived home from Iowa, I looked for the envelope and there it was! I opened the letter and read its contents:
Several thoughts raced through my mind as I read this letter.
1. It was obvious Coach Smith had planned this gift—years before dementia had robbed him of his memory. At some point, while he was still cognizant, he carefully planned for each letterman to have a gift from his estate. And he especially wanted it to be a meal he paid for.
2. I found myself inwardly struggling and asking, “I wonder if I should frame the check or cash it?” What a memory it could be if framed! But I know Coach Smith would have insisted that I take Marilynn out to dinner.
3. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Coach Smith saw this as a way of saying players should receive some kind of compensation for the billions that college basketball makes off them. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had determined, in advance, to make a statement from eternity to those in charge of the game he loved so much. He was that wily.
I continue to be overwhelmed by this man. Even from the grave he wanted his lettermen to know how special every single one was to him.
Thanks, Coach, for the gift. Thanks for reaching back and loving me from eternity.
There will never be another one like you.
Read additional inspiring stories of Coach Smith in It's How You Play the Game.