As news about Dean Smith’s memory issues emerged last week, there was essentially one response from readers and writers: sadness.
Few coaches are more respected than the North Carolina icon, perhaps because he was as concerned about how his players developed as people as much as their basketball development. That’s the kind of person we can’t read about enough.
That’s why it’s a bit sad to read that John Feinstein, perhaps the best college basketball book writer alive, isn’t going to complete a planned book on Smith.
The sessions I had with him in August were difficult–more difficult, to be honest, than I anticipated. … Dean, through his long time assistant Linda Woods, had provided me with phone numbers for all his family members. It was when I started contacting them that I realized I had a problem. They were, understandably, concerned with how the time involved would affect Dean’s health.
I had a long talk with Dean’s son Scott, who at one point offered to sit in on the sessions. That would do two things: it would allow him to make sure his dad was doing okay and not getting too fatigued and it might help him jog his dad’s memory on certain things. I thought it was a great idea. One thing was clear in my dealings with Scott and with Linnea, Dean’s wife: they understood why those who cared about Dean wanted to see the book done and, I think they knew that Dean trusted me to do the book the right way. But I think their concerns about his health out-weighed all of that.
Which I completely understand. After a number of conversations with them and with Rick Brewer and Roy Williams and Bill Guthridge I came to the conclusion that I would be pushing an envelope, which, since I’m not a doctor, I really didn’t completely understand if I kept trying to move forward. I thought briefly about suggesting that I do the project without interviewing Dean any further. Given all the past interviews I had done with him, if I had the cooperation of everyone else involved, I could still write the book. But that didn’t feel right: the agreement Dean and I had was to work together on the book. It was what I had always wanted to do. Going forward with him only being peripherally involved felt wrong.
So, regretfully, I decided not to go forward.
Not pushing Smith to cooperate on long interviews was the smart, classy move by Feinstein. But not completing the book? Surely he can revisit that decision at some point. I can’t think of any other writers more suited to the task of writing the definitive Dean Smith book.
Sure, Feinstein won’t have Smith available as a primary source, but that shouldn’t stop a guy who thrives on research and wide-ranging interviews with Smith’s family and friends. ‘Cause I know I’m not the only one who wants to read that book.
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