The first time I sat straight behind the Duke bench, I couldn’t imagine what I heard. Mike Krzyzewski was already an all-time nice faculty basketball coach, however I had no thought he was a world-class curser too. Even a drunken sailor would have insisted that he be ejected from the sport.
Coach Ok’s profanity knew no bounds. Refs, gamers, assistants, you identify it — no one was spared. I bear in mind considering to myself, “There are a lot of grandmothers across America who adore this guy who would be mortified if they sat within 15 rows of him.”
Not that I actually cared, past my curiosity over the supply of his rage. Krzyzewski is perhaps held up as a saintly determine within the corrupt enterprise that’s main faculty sports activities, however at his core, he’s a low-income road child from Chicago, the son of a cleansing woman who owned simply two completely pressed clothes and an elevator operator who was too busy working to get to know his two boys.
But that elevator operator, William, was solely working himself to the bone so his sons, Big Bill and Mike, may do one thing he couldn’t — carry the identify Krzyzewski proudly. The son of Polish immigrants, William modified his identify to Kross to keep away from discrimination. William and his spouse Emily didn’t need their boys taking Polish as a part of their Catholic faculty schooling, or actually having any conspicuous connection to the homeland. The mother and father have been afraid that if their sons spoke with accents, they might be denied employment alternatives, and an opportunity to sometime dwell among the many rich class that William and Emily labored for.
So you wish to know why Krzyzewski spent 47 years as a head coach, the final 42 of them at Duke, hard-driving his gamers (and himself) on each single apply and sport possession of each single day whereas gathering his staggering document of 1,170 Division I victories earlier than choosing to end his career after next season?
Start with that Polish neighborhood in Chicago, and the Krzyzewski two-flat on West Cortez. Mike’s buddies referred to as him Mickey. They referred to as their neighborhood gang the Columbos, after the native Columbus elementary faculty, although they have been a gang in identify solely. Whenever Mickey wasn’t enjoying sports activities with the Columbos, he can be out on the schoolyard courts, on their own, day and evening, rain or snow or shine, taking pictures baskets and whispering to himself that the sport would sometime take him to an unimagined place.
He performed basketball for Bob Knight at West Point. He discovered what to do as a coach from Knight and, extra importantly, what to not do. Krzyzewski survived the lean years at Duke within the early Eighties, when boosters referred to as for his head, and shortly sufficient he beginning making the Final Four an annual journey, as if it have been simply a part of the Blue Devils’ schedule.
In 2011, Krzyzewski broke Knight’s all-time victories record by beating Michigan State in Madison Square Garden, the place Knight was doing the commentary for ESPN whereas carrying a inexperienced sweater — Michigan State colours. Their relationship had been successfully shot to hell at that time, principally as a result of Knight couldn’t cope with a former protégé surpassing him. They hugged after the sport, and Knight informed him, not for the primary time, “Boy, you’ve done pretty good for a kid who couldn’t shoot.”
Krzyzewski informed individuals later that he at all times hated it when Knight mentioned that.
Coach Ok turned the first man to win 1,000 games. He broke the late Tennessee girls’s coach Pat Summitt’s all-gender Division I document, too. When he realized there have been no extra information to interrupt, Krzyzewski began speaking to his household about retirement a month or so in the past. Not everybody was in favor of a farewell tour, however Coach Ok determined he couldn’t recruit the subsequent class in good religion whereas realizing he was a goner.
The pandemic, and this final unholy mess of a season, took a toll on Krzyzewski, and reminded him that he’ll flip 75 in February. It was time to let go, and switch over this system to his longtime assistant and 2010 nationwide championship participant, Jon Scheyer. It was additionally time to evaluate Coach Ok’s legacy, and establish what, precisely, separated him from everybody else.
“It was his ability to adapt,” mentioned his son-in-law, Chris Spatola, a former Duke assistant and present ESPN analyst. “He kept reinventing himself over decades and decades.” Spatola identified that his father-in-law and former boss received nationwide titles with conventional upperclassmen-loaded groups and with one-and-done wonders, and likewise received three Olympic gold medals with NBA megastars.
Krzyzewski doesn’t have the power to reinvent himself yet another time.
In the top, this Blue Devil was by no means a saint. It wasn’t the fixed cursing — his gamers’ mother and father received used to that. But Krzyzewski at all times had a tough time accepting criticism, and apologizing when he was fallacious. He has gone too far at times in berating his gamers behind the scenes, but he at all times stopped wanting that Bob Knight line.
Where did his relentless drive and rage originate? From that Chicago childhood and the examples set by his mother and father, two laborers who taught Mike Krzyzewski that he had no alternative however to combat for his place on this world.