To call Dean Smith a legend would be an understatement. For many of us who
spent our formative years in North Carolina, he was the epitome of a coaching great. I came to North Carolina when I was 13, and I can tell you, to live in Dean Smith territory was considered a true honor for any basketball fan.
During his tenure as head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of
North Carolina, he gained a reputation as one of the greatest coaches in sports
history. In fact, he’s the all-time leader when it comes to victories by an NCAA
Division I men’s basketball coach. His teams appeared in the Final Four eleven
times and he won two national championships. In any sport, that kind of record
would be considered evidence of a true champion–a natural leader.
Smith also gained a reputation as a winner off the court. He ran a clean program
and didn’t get into the type of ethics escapades that tarnished the records of other
coaches. An incredible 96 percent of Smith’s players graduated, indicating his
determination to ensure that his players received a solid education. In short, he was
the type of coach that any university would be proud to have on its roster.
In 1976, he became a patriot when he coaches the U.S. team to a gold medal at the
Summer Olympics in Montreal. He’s also a best-selling author, having penned
Basketball: Multiple Offenses and Defense–the best-selling technical basketball
book in history.
And Smith secured his place in Southern history by recruiting Charlie Scott as UNC’s
first black scholarship athlete, thereby integrating the Tar Heels basketball team.
This was no small feat at a time when race relations weren’t the best in America.
But being a great basketball coach who believes in giving minorities a fair shot in
life does not necessarily mean you’re a winner when it comes to politics.
In the 1980s, Smith recorded radio spots to promote a freeze on nuclear weapons.
It was a trendy liberal cause at the time. However, what ultimately ended the Cold
War and the threat of destruction by the Soviet Union was not a nuclear freeze, but
conservative Ronald Reagan’s insistence on a strong defense.
While he was coaching, some members of the Democratic Party recruited Smith to
run for the U.S. Senate against legendary incumbent Jesse Helms. Smith rejected
the offer. However, in his retirement, he has taken sharp aim at conservative causes
–from the war in Iraq to homosexual rights.
Smith, a diehard liberal Democrat, has failed to post a winning record in the political
game. He’s consistently backed the loser in Presidential contests and U.S. Senate
races and he has consistently lost every time. He has donated to losing candidates
like Howard Dean, Erskine Bowles, John Edwards and Bill Bradley.
Most recently, a North Carolina Supreme Court candidate, Rachel Lea Hunter,
claimed Dean Smith was supporting her candidacy. Dean Smith has denied the
claim but his image is still displayed on Hunter’s campaign website and no
apologies have been made for the false statements. Rachel Lea Hunter was a
Republican in 2004, an Independent in 2005 and now a Democrat. The Republicans
don’t want her and the Democrats won’t recognize her candidacy.
And yet, a number of people continue to listen to Smith’s political musings–not
because of his intellectual insight, but because of his celebrity status. Let’s face it–
if Paris Hilton endorsed Hillary Clinton for President tomorrow, it would be a story
on television, in the newspapers, and on the Internet. The media put a great deal of
stock in what celebrities say–even if they appear to be talking about topics that are
far beyond the red carpet, the Aspen skyline, or, in this case, the free-throw zone.
Dean Smith is a great basketball icon who is very liberal in his politics. He certainly
has a winning record on the basketball court, however, having his political support
is definitely the political kiss of death.
Copyright © 2006 by Nathan Tabor