Colin Dunlap: What Are You Thinking, Charles Smith?
It would have been better had this Mr. Smith gone to Washington.
We can all deal, for the most part, with taking up a domestic political cause — however polarizing.
But, not that place.
And not in the company of that guy.
What are you doing, Charles Smith?
Have you totally lost your mind?
That had to be the thought of many when the video of the former Pitt basketball star, and NBA player, flashed across your televisions earlier in the week as he flanked
Dennis Rodman, on what is being billed as some basketball goodwill, traipse through North Korea.
Yes, that Dennis Rodman.
The one that many of us have long ago decided has more than a few screws loose and did nothing to fend off such a claim as he appeared only semi-coherent and fully-babbling in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo earlier in the week. Rodman has since admitted he had been drinking before the interview. In the video, Smith sat steadfastly by Rodman’s side.
And, yes, that North Korea.
The one now governed by Kim Jong Un, who is reported to have committed several — and ongoing — human rights violations since taking power in the country that has an ultra-secret way of doing things, a creepy cult of personality and is, seemingly, at odds with everyone else in the world.
See, Rodman and Kim Jong Un are friends. So much so that on Wednesday, Rodman could be seen in a strange video on the Internet serenading Kim Jong Un for his birthday, part of the reason Rodman, Smith and a few other former NBA players were in North Korea.
They were there for that — and to (allegedly) spread goodwill through the game of basketball. They even (allegedly) lost to a North Korean squad by a 47-39 score.\
Which gets us back to Smith.
Again, many of us have long ago written Rodman off as some lunatic and madcap, a sideshow wrapped in a nutty package good for a laugh now and again but never to be taken seriously.
Smith’s reputation, however, couldn’t be farther from Rodman’s.
This is a guy looked at as one of the University of Pittsburgh’s all-time great ambassadors, both within the athletic realm and representing the school as a whole. Charles Smith is a story in success; a tremendous player at Pitt, an Olympian and the third overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft.
He also did more than average 14.4 points per game in the NBA.
Smith started an after-school program in his hometown of Bridgeport, Conn.
He started and ran his own digital media company.
He rose to become the Executive Director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
In short, you see all of the stories about ex-jocks who fritter their millions away — Smith made $25 million in his career — and he was not one of them.
Instead, Pitt people could always count on Smith representing them admirably and with commendable honor. Each time the media caught up with Charles Smith at Madison Square Garden when Pitt played there or some other venue where his beloved Panthers played, he acquitted himself more than well, carrying on with the most gentlemanly demeanor.
But now this?
Now aligning yourself with Dennis Rodman in North Korea?
You are better than this, Charles Smith.
You are smarter than this, Charles Smith.
You are above this, Charles Smith.
This wasn’t some hastily-arranged cup of coffee Smith had with Rodman in a café on the Upper West Side where the two talked about North Korea and the media happened to eavesdrop, either. Think about it, Smith had to plan — and then carry out — a trip of about 6,600 miles where he had to know there would be a political firestorm to follow.
Smith wasn’t accompanying Rodman to North London; he went with him to North Korea.
Shortly after Smith jumped in on the rambling Rodman as he was interviewed by CNN about American hostage Kenneth Bae being held in North Korea, perhaps the Pitt star came to a bit of his senses.
“What we are doing is positive, but it is getting dwarfed by the other circumstances around it,” Smith told the Associated Press not long after the CNN piece aired. “Apparently our message is not being conveyed properly due to the circumstances that are much bigger than us, and I think that has to do with politics and government.”
Well Charles, when you are dealing with North Korea and Kim Jong Un, it will always be about politics and government, no matter what you want to make it into.
Surely it is a bit of a positive that Smith at least started to understand something was off-kilter with what was going on and issued that statement to the Associated Press.
Know what you need to do next, Charles?
Disassociate yourself from Dennis Rodman.
You are better than him.
You are smarter than him.
You are above him.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.