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OTL: Lessons From My Father

Updated: March 11, 2009, 10:59 AM ET
By Tom Friend
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.

He was at 8 at the time, the great age of 8, which means he thought the world was his and only his. He walked around that ship with his tiny chest puffed out, proud of his father's basketball card. He might have weighed only 70 pounds, but he was Derek Smith's kid, the Derek Smith who had played nine kamikaze seasons in the NBA, the Derek Smith who'd become a Washington Bullets assistant coach, the Derek Smith who'd been a big brother to almost every player he'd come across -- even Charles Barkley. But the best part of being Derek Smith's kid was being Derek Smith's sidekick. They were attached at the hipbone. Wherever dad went, kid went. Wherever kid went, dad went. And when Derek was asked by the Bullets to conduct youth clinics on this cruise ship, to and from the Bahamas, the kid -- precocious Nolan Smith -- naturally went along for the ride, their last ride.

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