Dean Smith was already immortal. He hardly needed to prove it.
Nevertheless he did just that. It has already been close to two months since the University of North Carolina college basketball coaching legend passed. Dean Smith won 897 games and two national championships in a career that spanned 36 years at Chapel Hill. Those 897 wins stood as the most for a Division One college basketball coach for ten years before Bobby Knight passed him in 2007.
But those wins were not what most defined Smith. Rather Coach was remembered by his former players more for his integrity, loyalty and caring.
Last week a reported 184 of those former players, from Michael Jordan and Phil Ford, to Jeb Barlow and Serge Zwikker, received 200 dollar checks from the estate with instructions to, "enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith."
There's something very biblical about the request. That notwithstanding, Smith by all accounts, loved sharing a meal with family and friends. Some of the players say they'll donate the money to charity rather than spend it on themselves. But that would be defeating the point. It was among Smith's dying wishes that they do something he enjoyed and wished to be remembered by. He even picked up the tab.
What Coach Smith may have also inadvertently done is help create a cottage industry for post-mortem requests. What life experience would you chose to pass along?
For me, it's one of two things I think. There is a cottage at the shore in Dennisport on Cape Cod where I used to go as a kid. I would send people there to see the beach roses in the front yard by the fence posts, discover grasshoppers the color of hot sand, and to fall asleep at night to the sound of waves coming to shore at high tide.
Or I would have them experience a full day of baseball at Frontier Field. Arrive ahead of the crowd, early enough to watch batting practice, close enough to eavesdrop on some of the conversations. Watch the grounds crew manicure the field to playing specifications, before the first official public address announcement is made.
And then after the game, stay until everything is quiet again. A time when you can still feel the game in the stillness.
Old Silver Stadium on Norton Street was a great place for this. I used to sit behind home plate after a game until they'd turn the lights out. Only then did it feel like it was actually over.
There is a rhythm to all sporting events, but baseball wears it best. Some of us dutifully score the game, registering each pitch, every occurrence that can be quantified, as if we might someday go back and find something significant. We won't.
But sometimes we retain how a game actually felt. That's when it's special. That's what I'd try to pass along.