With March Madness around the corner, I found the story of Derek Smith and his son Nolan, a sophomore guard for Duke heart-wrenching and inspiring. In an article featured at ESPN, Tom Friend writes:
“There was never a goodbye, just a final lecture out at sea. If he shuts his eyes, Nolan Smith can still beam himself back there, back to Aug. 9, 1996, back to the luxury liner with the makeshift basketball court. It was warm that day, somewhere on the Atlantic, and he can still remember the salt in the air, the salt in his father’s voice, the sway of the boat, the grab of his wrist and the warning. He’s not saying this is a good memory or a bad memory; it’s simply the memory of his life.”
After losing a game of one-on-one, 8 year old Nolan threw the basketball overboard and refused to shake hands with the 14 year old who defeated him. His father, a former NBA player and at the time an assistant coach for the Washington Bullets, grabbed him by the arm and said: “I’m warning you: If you have a bad attitude, nobody is going to want to play with you. If this is the sport you choose to play the rest of your life, it’s all going to come down to your attitude. Atttiiiituuuude. You hear me?”
Tragically, that was their last conversation. Later that night, Derek Smith died of a heart attack at the age of 34.
Derek was well known for his hard-working and positive attitude. He was so beloved that over 3,000 people attended his memorial service a week later, and for the next several years and up to the present, former teammates and players from Derek’s teams have continued to reach out to his son, Nolan.
As if knowing his time on earth was short, Derek would encourage those he coached and his son to “play every game as if it’s your last.”
Catching a glimpse of Derek Smith’s story, made me wonder: If we all lived with a better attitude and sense of urgency, how much more of an impact could we make on the lives of others?