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Van Gundy had character, candor often lacking in sports

Stan Van GundyOrlando MagicDwight HowardNBA

I'm going to miss Stan Van Gundy — and not just because of his passion on the court.

I'm going to miss Stan for his passion away from it.

Sure, Stan was a pro on the hardwood. When the Magic axed him Monday, they fired the winningest coach in team history and one of the winningest coaches in the NBA.

But Stan had a passion that goes beyond win-loss records.

He cared about homelessness. And public schools.

About democracy. And character.

In fact, when I heard from Stan, it was rarely about sports.

He was more likely to be torqued about bone-headed legislators — or by voters who weren't paying close enough attention to what's happening in their own backyard.

These weren't things he made a big show of. He was paid to coach basketball. And he worked tirelessly at it.

But behind the scenes, Stan was involved and informed.

While some sports figures step up when the cameras are rolling, Stan stepped up when they weren't.

After "60 Minutes" spotlighted the shameful number of homeless children in Seminole County, he and his wife, Kim, sprang into action, personally hosting an event that raised more than $75,000.

He helped the Boys & Girls Club — and generally cared about character.

The first time he wrote me was when I had penned a column about the sorry state of big-time sports — and how nonstop scandals made it tougher for me to preach the value of sports to my kids.

Stan agreed. "Our society now is selfish," he wrote. "Whether it is pro sports negotiations, college recruiting, Wall Street banks or politics, it is all about how I can get the most for me. The ends justify the means in too many people's minds. The fact that sports are no better or no worse does not comfort me. It disappoints me."

You're not getting that kind of insight from the average athlete.

Heck, I'm not getting it from my average congressman.

Stan himself once expressed interest in running for office, but I'm not sure he'd make it. He's too honest. In fact, his candor helped do him in.

Stan was the guy who refused to lie about Dwight Howard's efforts to oust him as a coach.

Stan wasn't looking to spread the story. But when asked, he wasn't going to fib. So he told the truth — while asking no one to shed any tears on his behalf.

"Listen," he told the throng of reporters. "It's 12:02 right now. If they want to fire me at 12:05, I'll go home and find something to do. I'll have a good day. I'm not worried about that at all."

"The only thing I'm ever uncomfortable with is bull hockey."

(Except he didn't say "hockey.")

Moments later, Dwight walked up and put his arm around Stan, hoping the coach would participate in the charade.

He didn't. Stan left Dwight to wallow alone in his phony denials.

By the time the embarrassing episode was over, Dwight looked like a spoiled brat. And Stan looked like a guy who simply wanted to do his job.

It was a moment of character clarity — one so obvious that, this week, even my 9-year-old son was wishing Stan had stayed instead of Dwight.

That should terrify Dwight. When you have little boys rooting for the rumpled, portly coach over the superstar athlete, you have problems that no oversized grin can mask.

Personally, I like my son's choice.

Stan exhibited what I want to see more of in sports: character on and off the court.

I know that Stan will be fine. He's a good coach.

Some other team will be lucky to have him.

So will some other community.

smaxwell@tribune.com or 407-420-6141

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Stan Van GundyOrlando MagicDwight HowardNBA
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