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Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Feinstein shares detail on Smith's health

By Eamonn Brennan

Last week, the Fayetteville Observer wrote about legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith's declining health. It was the first public report about Smith's fading memory. While he's often his usual self, on his "bad days" the former coach struggles to remember people he lived and worked with for years. It's a painfully sad -- and altogether too common -- way to bid farewell to life.

Monday, author and hoops reporter John Feinstein revealed in a blog post that he had been working on a book with Smith about his life, but decided to abandon the project when Smith's health concerns proved to be too much for the former coach to overcome. Feinstein didn't want to break the story about Smith's health out of respect for the coach and his family, but knew as early as last summer that the coach was struggling. There's not much to add here; Feinstein's post is just about as heartbreaking as you'd imagine:

The sessions I had with him in August were difficult -- more difficult, to be honest, than I anticipated. There were still moments when he was classic Dean. His description of the night he met his first wife, Ann, was hysterical: “It was the graduation dance. She came with a football player I didn’t like. The guy was really cocky. I decided to ask her to dance and we hit it off right away.”

Typical Dean; his competitiveness led him to the altar.

But there were other moments when he simply couldn’t remember things. When I asked him to talk about Bob Spear, his first boss at the Air Force Academy, he said, “you tell me about him. Maybe it will come back."

The only good news here? Even if Feinstein never writes the definitive Dean Smith memoir, the rest of us will remember the immense impact of his life fondly. Nothing -- not even something as sinister as Smith's own memory loss -- can touch that.