clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

City Of The Blues

Leave it to Chicago, that city of broad shoulders, to give us the good and
the bad, the ying and the yang, not only of basketball but of American culture.

there was the funeral of Ricky Byrdsong
, a guy who was not a particularly
gifted coach, at least partly because he took seriously the ideals of coaching,
that sports was about more than just winning and losing. For that ideal, he lost
his career, after which he started a new one, where he got to work with kids and
continued his lifelong passion for giving and teaching and inspiring. When
we first heard the story of his death we were shocked and saddened, and it hit
us harder than we thought it would. It was almost a feeling of guilt - how could
this guy's death affect us so deeply when so many tragedies have not?
Maybe it was the idea of his son and daughter being forced to witness a kind of
racism that their father not only didn't subscribe to but was in fact the very
opposite of.

We learned, though, that Byrdsong was an unusual man, and that his murder, at
the hands of a race-hater, was a grievous loss to many people, certainly his
family, but hundreds of others as well. The most touching part was when Kenneth
Dion Lee, who had gotten so angry at his former coach that he fixed games, broke
down at the funeral, and was comforted by one of Byrdsong's assistants.
This really encompasses a lot of American themes and contradictions - racism and
compassion, what greed and big money sometimes does to simple humanity,
sin and forgiveness, nightmarish hatred and simple love. Someone said that
what the killer needed, what would have shown him the light, was Byrdsong.
We feel safe in saying that he had a lot left to offer, and that collectively we
have been denied something wonderful.

That's not the case with Chicago's latest gift to the NBA, one Leon Smith,
who has jumped straight from high school to the Dallas Mavericks. In the
very first practice, he
got into it with Donnie Nelson and stormed off the court
. Both sides
insisted they have put it behind them, but this kind of petulant behavior is,
well, teenagerish. Which is what Leon Smith is, and he's had a tough life,
having grown up as ward of the state. However, he has decided to take on the
responsibilities of manhood, and it's time to put childish things away.
What he really could have used, unfortunately, is a bit of time with a guy like
Ricky Byrdsong, who would have taken the time to see him as a human being.
That's not something the NBA is particularly good at. Leon will have to figure
out quickly that he hasn't escaped the sharks and hustlers of his youth, he's
just moved into a more indifferent class of same.