The Games (cont.)
The Paralympics began, as did the Summer Games themselves, at Olympic Stadium in Atlanta, with a lone athlete standing beneath an unlighted cauldron. Muhammad Ali was not in the house last Thursday, but 64,500 other people were, including Mark Wellman, a 36-year-old American mountain climber who is paralyzed from the waist down. This did not prevent him from scaling the 184-foot Olympic tower hand over hand while carrying the flame between his legs. Moments after Wellman ignited the flame, Christopher Reeve—Superman in the movies, now bound to a wheelchair—officially pronounced the Games open, and 3,500 athletes from 127 nations began 10 days of competition in 19 sports.
Paralympians have cerebral palsy. The) are blind. They are missing limbs. They are paraplegics and quadriplegics, high-jumpers and marathoners and shot-putters. They are athletes. On Saturday, 23,729 spectators watched Heinz Frei of Switzerland set a world record in the wheelchair 10,000 meters. The fans—those who could—stood and clapped. Others pursed their lips and shook their heads, awed by the accomplishments of a fellow man, an athlete.
A Basketball Life
Derek Smith, the Washington Bullets assistant coach who died of a heart attack on Aug. 9, was 16 when he arrived at the University of Louisville in the fall of 1978. One of six children of Mae Bell Smith Morgan of Hogansville, Ga., he was as raw a freshman as you'll ever see. "When I came to college, I wasn't worried so much about basketball," Smith would later say. "What worried me was whether I was smart enough to compete with the city kids and get a degree. What worried me was how I dressed and how I talked."
After first seeing himself interviewed on TV—"You couldn't understand what I was saying," Smith would recall—he went to Tony Branch, an older teammate, and asked for advice. Branch told Smith to talk more slowly, to think about what he was saying, to stop uttering "you know" in the middle of every sentence. At the risk of exposing himself to further humiliation, Smith became a communications major. By his senior year he had made such strides that he gave the commencement speech at a middle school.
He never had trouble expressing himself on the floor. A 6'6" swingman, Smith was an essential member of the 1979-80 team that won Louisville's first NCAA title. Although Smith finished as the second-leading scorer in Cardinals history, he was considered an iffy NBA prospect, an evaluation that seemed accurate when Golden State cut him after his rookie season. But then San Diego Clippers coach Jimmy Lynam gave him a tryout. Smith made the cut; in his third season he averaged 22.1 points per game. In August '86 he became the first NBA guard to sign a $1 million contract.
After knee injuries forced Smith to retire in '90. he returned to Louisville for his degree and wore his uniform under his gown when he graduated in '92. It was no surprise that after Lynam, then with the Bullets, hired Smith in July '94, he became a respected coach.
Smith, 34, embraced life with joy and optimism, a spirit that was snuffed out when he collapsed while on a cruise with his family; his heart attack was triggered by antiseasickness medication. Among those in attendance at his Aug. 15 funeral were Charles Barkley, Rex Chapman, John Starks, most of the Bullets and his Louisville teammates.
"Our hearts are laden with sadness," said his 10-year-old daughter, Sydney. "But only for a time. We know where to find you, and we'll meet you there." Then the little girl in the crisp white dress left the pulpit, having shown the amazing grace and the eloquence that would have made her father's heart swell with pride.
—WILLIAM F. REED