Dean Smith was the legendary basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Over the course of his 36 years at the school, his teams amassed 879 victories, won 17 ACC regular season titles, won 13 ACC tournament titles, qualified for the NCAA national tournament 27 times, and won the NCAA tournament twice. Smith himself was named conference coach of the year eight times and national coach of the year four times. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983, was named as a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. On and on the accolades go, but suffice is to say that the man was one of the greatest coaches that America ever produced.
There was a time, though, when Smith was criticized for not being able to win the “big one.” That reputation stemmed from the fact that his teams had made it to the final four of the NCAA national tournament six times but had never won the national championship. Even many UNC fans honestly didn’t think Smith had what it took to win on the largest stage of them all in college basketball.
But that all changed in 1982 when Smith took his seventh team to the NCAA final four. That year his UNC Tarheels beat Georgetown 63-62 in the championship game to win the national title. That game was an all-time classic that could just as easily have been won by Georgetown. The deciding shot was made by a UNC freshman named Michael Jordan who would go on to basketball greatness himself. Even after Jordan’s shot, Georgetown still had a chance to win but turned the ball over to end the game. When the final buzzer sounded, Dean Smith was the head coach of a national championship team for the first time.
All this is common knowledge among basketball fans and UNC fans, but what isn’t so well known is what Smith said to Roy Williams, one of his assistant coaches, after the game. The quote went something along the lines of, “I’m not any better of a coach after winning the national title than I was a few hours before it.” You see, Smith understood that Michael Jordan’s jumper could just as easily have missed. He understood that Georgetown, instead of turning the ball over on their final possession, could have thrown in a lucky shot at the buzzer to win the game. He understood that some of his previous six teams that had made it to the final four had been good enough to win the national championship if they had gotten a lucky break here or there at some critical juncture of some game. He understood that when you are a coach sitting off the court in a chair, there is only so much you can do to affect the outcome of the game.
I have lived in North Carolina my whole life, but I’ll admit that I have never been a UNC fan. My favorite team has always been NC State. I’ll also admit that my jealousy over Smith’s frequent success over my beloved NC State teams made me glad to see his teams lose in the final four. With that said, though, I’ll give respect where it’s due, and Smith certainly spoke truth with that line after that Georgetown game. As a matter of fact, I consider it to be one of the greatest assessments that has ever been uttered by anybody about anything. It takes a great deal of wisdom to understand that success in life can be a superficial, shallow, fickle thing that doesn’t always land on the most deserving person. To the contrary, it oftentimes seems to go out of its way to avoid such people and land on the most undeserving people.
Christian, I want you to remember this whenever you get out of heart because your service to the Lord isn’t producing worldly success or the results of which they are worthy. Never forget that God doesn’t keep score on a scoreboard, doesn’t tally up his totals at the end of a season, pays no attention to the roar of the undiscerning crowd, and isn’t nearly as impressed with earthly wins as we are. He is always working from the grander, eternal perspective. With Him, no score or end result is truly final until the afterlife. The Bible’s best passage on this is Ephesians 6:7-9, and these are the words I’ll leave you with today: Read them carefully and thoughtfully.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us now grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”