Dean Smith and Carolina basketball

My mother, Marii Hasegawa, loved Atlantic Coast Basketball, but she really loved the Tar Heels the best.  Even after my sister got her Masters degree from Duke, my mother refused to root for them when they played North Carolina.  I have only been to one Final Four, but it was in 1982 and I got to see North Carolina win it all.

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

My mother was happy; my aunt who favored Georgetown, was not.

Richard Goldstein writing the obituary in the New York Times points out that while Dean Smith was a legendary basketball coach he should be remembered for a great deal more.

Smith’s 879 victories rank him No. 4 among major college men’s basketball coaches, and his teams won two national championships. He turned out a host of all-Americans, most notably Michael Jordan, perhaps basketball’s greatest player, but he emphasized unselfish team play. He was a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a four-time national coach of the year.

Like most successful coaches, Smith was adept at diagraming plays on a blackboard. But unlike many, he ran a program that was never accused of N.C.A.A. violations, and some 97 percent of his players graduated.

President Obama awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in November 2013, presenting it to his wife, Linnea, who represented him at a White House ceremony.

In addition to citing Smith’s achievements on the court, Mr. Obama praised his “courage in helping to change our country” through his progressive views on race relations.

He drew on a moral code implanted by his parents in Depression-era Kansas to break racial barriers in a changing South. He challenged segregation and recruited Charlie Scott, who became the first starring black basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“My father said, ‘Value each human being,’ ” Smith recalled in “A Coach’s Life” (1999), written with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins. “Racial justice wasn’t preached around the house, but there was a fundamental understanding that you treated each person with dignity.”

Smith’s parents instilled a sense of racial tolerance in him, in a highly segregated state, long before the modern civil rights movement. His father [a high school basketball coach] put a black player named Paul Terry on his 1933-34 team, which won the state championship, though Terry was barred from playing in the state tournament by Kansas sports officials.

I remember hearing a lot of players say they made decisions well into adulthood only after consulting with Coach Smith.  I remember when Michael Jordan wanted to leave UNC early some of the announcers saying that Jordan was leaving only after promising his mother and Coach Smith he would get his degree.  He did.

The Charlotte Observer has this anecdote.

Smith the innovator also was Smith the motivator. But he didn’t give rah-rah pep talks. He typically explained what they needed to do to win and the significance of the moment.

Once at Maryland, however, he did promise to sing “Amen” – the Terps’ late-game theme song – if the Tar Heels beat Lefty Driesell’s club. Carolina won and Smith fulfilled his vocal promise, but according to reports, he would not have won the “American Idol” title.

“He was not much as a singer,’’ recalled guard Ged Doughton.

Many will write about Dean Smith’s contributions to the game of basketball.  For example, his “Four Corners” offense made the shot clock necessary.  But I want to remember him for his views off the court also.  In an article from 2013, Barry Jacobs wrote

Smith was periodically approached about running for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina as a Democrat. But the publicity-shy coach disdained the glad-handing involved in soliciting votes and raising money. Besides, he said, “I’d never get elected if people in North Carolina realized how liberal I am.”

He was probably right. Over the years Smith spoke in favor of a nuclear freeze and for gay rights. He opposed capital punishment. He joined a Chapel Hill street protest against the war in Vietnam. When President George H.W. Bush sent American troops into Iraq in 1991, Smith asked: “Why can’t the United States band together for some other good thing like (fighting) poverty? If you want to kill somebody, then everybody’s for it.”

 My mother loved Carolina basketball and she admired Dean Smith.  If they had ever met I think they would have had a lot to say to each other.

Photograph:  Pete Leabo/Associated Press


Marii K. Hasegawa

I haven’t written for quite a while.  Over the past couple of months I have been dealing with two life changing events:  The final illness and death of my mother and my own retirement from working life.  (I am one of the lucky ones who can afford to retire.)  But I wanted to make my first post back about my mother.  So here is her obituary.

Marii Kyogoku Hasegawa

September 17, 1918 to July 1, 2012

Marii was born in the tiny seaside village of Tada-no-umi near Hiroshima to Itsuzo and Kiyo Kyogoku.  Her father, a Buddhist priest in the Kyogoku family temple, came to Los Angeles, California in 1919 to minister to the Japanese community.  Marii and her sisters grew up and were educated in California.  She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1938 with a degree in home economics.

After the start of World War II, when 110,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were relocated, Marii and her parents were interned at the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah.  There she worked as a social worker and wrote for the literary quarterly, Trek.  Because she had skills needed outside of the camp, she was released and moved to Cleveland where she worked as a dietician at a hospital.  Two of her college roommates were in Philadelphia where she moved to take a job with the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union. 

In Philadelphia she met Ichiro Hasegawa, originally from Seattle, Washington, who had come east from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.  They were married in 1946 and lived in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey and Richmond, Virginia until his death in 1999.  She moved to the Loomis Village Retirement Center in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 2001. 

Marii was a life-long champion of peace and justice, working with a number of organizations but particularly with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom where she was a national board member and served as President from 1971 to 1975.  In 1973 she travelled to Hanoi with an international delegation of women using her Japanese passport, as it was illegal at that time for Americans to travel to North Vietnam.

In 1996 she traveled to Tokyo to accept the Niwano Peace Prize which is awarded annually by the Buddhist Niwano Foundation to persons who have contributed to inter-religious cooperation furthering the cause of world peace.  A documentary film of her life, Marii Hasegawa: Gentle Woman of a Dangerous Kind, was released in April 2012.

Marii had many other interests. She was a Girl Scout leader and a PTA president. She travelled extensively with her husband and family. Marii loved following tennis and college basketball. Most recently she enjoyed watching Rafael Nadal win the 2012 French Open.  She was an excellent cook, a skill she taught her daughters. She was an avid reader and in her last years particularly loved good mystery stories. At Loomis Village, she was active in current affairs discussions, book groups, and the chorus.  She wrote poetry and attended concerts regularly.

 What we didn’t have roon to say was that my sister and I learned much from our mother.  She was the one who taught to cook, to work hard, to love books, and to love peace and justice.  She encouraged us to be what we wanted to be.  I know she was worried at the end about whether Elizabeth Warren could beat Scott Brown and she disliked Mitt Romney with a almost the same passion with which she loved President Obama.  She was looking forward to voting this year.  My mother was an extraordinary woman and I will miss her.