Though David Chadwick is about as self-effacing as a pastor can be, it was nevertheless unusual for him to begin his Feb. 8 message by saying, “If I seem a little bit discombobulated.”
Just a few hours before the first service that Sunday morning at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, N.C., Chadwick had learned that his former college basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, Dean Smith, had passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.
Smith was like a second father to Chadwick. Much of what Chadwick learned from Smith helped shape the ministry that now reaches nearly 6,000 weekly attendees at Forest Hill’s four campuses and touches many thousands more via radio and satellite TV programs and books.
One of Chadwick’s books is titled The 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith.
“Many of those things that he lived by have become my life and leadership principles,” Chadwick told Sports Spectrum. “They were unalterable and embedded in who he was.”
It’s not uncommon for Chadwick to evoke Smithisms in his weekly sermons or to simply allude to his light blue allegiances.
Chadwick played at Carolina in the formative years of what would become one of the most successful coaching regimes in college basketball history. His senior year came 11 seasons before Michael Jordan arrived on the UNC campus and, with a single legendary shot, gave Smith the first of his two national championships.
During Chadwick’s stay from 1967-71, the Tar Heels made two Final Four appearances and won the then-prestigious NIT championship his senior year, when only one team from each conference was able to play in the NCAA tournament.
Probably the best-known player from that ’71 Tar Heels team was point guard George Karl, who went on to become one of the NBA’s most successful coaches.
Chadwick was a scrappy 6-foot-7 forward, a part-time starter who ranked second on the team in field goal percentage (58.6), was fifth in scoring average (8.7 points) and was one of only six players to participate in every game of a 26-6 season.
Chadwick scored a career high 30 points against Clemson that year and dropped in 22 in the NIT quarterfinals against Providence.
Though he went on to play professionally for three years in Europe, basketball turned out to be merely a stage-setter for Chadwick’s ultimate destiny, a platform through which he would have the opportunity to deliver the Gospel that he loves so much.
“Sometimes people come to me and ask if I would ever run for political office,” Chadwick says. “My answer is always the same: ‘Heavens no! Why would I step down from the highest calling possible?’”
Countless people have put their faith in Jesus Christ through Chadwick’s messages. Many have experienced the Lord’s love through Forest Hill’s outreaches, both home and abroad, to those affected by sex trafficking, homelessness, addiction and genocide. Church members have adopted dozens of children out of orphanages.
It’s all in keeping with the selfless love of Christ, which was mirrored by the team-first mentality Dean Smith taught his players.
Chadwick frequently puts it this way in his sermons: “The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.”
By Charles Chandler
Charles Chandler works for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Decision magazine and is a former Charlotte Observer sports reporter who covered the Carolina Panthers and the NFL for 17 years. This story was taken from the Spring 2015 issue of Sports Spectrum.