The story is a familiar one to basketball fans. Derek Smith, former Louisville and NBA star, and then an assistant coach for the Washington Bullets, was on a summer cruise with his wife, Monica, and two young children when he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 34. Derek’s 2 kids, Sydney and Nolan, with the help of a great support system, were able to get past their father’s death and go on to lead great lives. Now, they are giving kids who have gone through what they have – the same chance to live out their dreams.
Sydney and Nolan have recently started the Sydney and Nolan Smith Foundation in honor of their late father. I recently had the chance to speak to Sydney and Nolan about their experiences and what they hope to accomplish with the Foundation.
According to Sydney, the primary focus of the Foundation is to “offer kids a support system, to let them know that there are people there to help them.” The Foundation will offer different programs to help kids adjust to the loss of loved one, and to provide them the opportunity to experience opportunities they may not have thought possible because of their family circumstances.
To understand why they are doing this, you first need to understand a bit about how their father raised them. Community service was always an important part of their lives, from a young age. “My dad always made sure we were hands on with whatever he and the family was involved in”, says Sydney . “My dad would ask for input into everything we were doing and how we were doing it. So we were involved directly at an early age.”
Once their father was gone, the kids and their mother were lucky to have a very strong support system around them. Both Sydney and Nolan were able to just give a big list of names of everyone who looked after the family. The Bullets organization was a very strong influence on both of them, both members of the organization and the players and coaches themselves. The list of people who have been strong supporters of the family will be very familiar to basketball fans – Johnny Dawkins, Juwan Howard, Jim Lynam, Harvey Grant, Calbert Cheaney, Tracy Murray. Some won’t be as familiar, but the point to remember is that these people took their time to make sure that the family of their friend Derek was looked after.
As Nolan said, his goal with the organization is “to give kids to opportunity be kids and to show them that they can still accomplish anything they want to do.” Recently, a kid came to the attention of Nolan. He was a high school junior who had lost his father. Because of his family situation, this kid was going to school and still putting in a full day’s work to help his family out. He was a big basketball fan, but because of his obligations he never had the chance to play. A dream of his was to go to the Duke Basketball Camp, but there was no room left in the camp. Nolan decided to have the kid come to Durham anyway, Not only did Nolan put the kid up in his own apartment, but he took the time to work him out on his own, basically giving him his own camp experience.
When I asked Nolan what was behind his decision to start this foundation, he was very succinct. “I was lucky to have a strong support group, people who made sure I stayed on the right path. I also saw a lot of kids, in the same situation, who didn’t have what I did in terms of support. I want to give kids a chance to be able to follow their dreams and let them know anything is possible.”
According to the Smiths, the Foundation itself will start unveiling the first of their programs on September 1st. Both Sydney and Nolan plan to be very hands on with the Foundation, from being directly involved with the kids to actually manning the Foundation’s Twitter account. Their goal is to be able to communicate with kids directly and share with them. And future plans look to include single parents, helping them deal with their life experiences.
The most important thing I got from my talk with Sydney and Nolan were the messages they want to put out there to kids who have lost a loved one. “Don’t stop what you are doing. Keep persevering, it will get better”, says Sydney. For Nolan, who was a 1st round pick of the Portland Trailblazers in June, “I want to show them that anything is possible, even after suffering a loss.”
This is a fantastic cause, and one that has been overlooked often. Please give them your support as they give their time to support the kids. You can read all about the Sydney and Nolan Smith Foundation at www.sydneyandnolan.org. Also, make sure to follow them on Twitter for more information – @SydneyandNolan.
A huge thank you to Sydney and Nolan for taking the time to talk with me, and I hope you all join me in giving them support in this cause.