Duke head coach Mike Kryzyzewski coached his final game at Coach K Court at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
A week of honor and reflection on the illustrious career of Coach K culminated with a 94-81 loss to archrival North Carolina. Before the loss, Coach K was showered with affection and appreciation by titans across the sports world.
LeBron James, who scored 56 points for the Lakers in a win over Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors on the same evening as Coach K’s Cameron goodbye, is one of them.
Word is, Duke would have been on the list of potential colleges if the high school phenom didn’t go straight to the pros in 2003, when that was still an option. The two living legends didn’t meet up at Duke, but Bron did play for Coach K-led teams on four different occasions.
They shared two gold medal-winning Olympic teams (2008 and 2012), plus two FIBA medal winning squads. Coach K’s impact on players is far and wide, from the high school ranks all the way up to the NBA-level.
James had this to say in a video appreciation for the legendary coach.
“Coach K is one of my favorite coaches, if not my favorite. I had an opportunity to play for him multiple times and his ability to connect with players from all different shapes, sizes and age groups is unbelievable. You understand and know why he’s the ‘GOAT’ that he is. I think he’s the greatest of all time.”
Coach K you're flat out unbelievable and its a true honor having u as my coach throughout FIBA play! U showed me what it truly meant to…
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 26, 2015
James Was Part Of The 2008 Redeem Team: Coach K’s First Olympic Team
In 2008, Coach K was tasked with restoring order in the Olympic Games after the 2004 Olympic Team placed third. It was the fourth time (1972, 1980 and 1988) in the last eight Olympiads they didn’t win Olympic gold. Coach K was blessed to have a team led by the late, great Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Two megastars, and he quickly showed his leadership as James and other players complained about Bryant’s questionable shot selection.
On a team that stressed accountability, Coach K now had to talk to Bryant about his perceived selfishness. He did just that in a meeting with Kobe, calling his shots “BS shots.”
Coach K told Bryant:
“There has to be more movement.”
Kobe quickly replied:
”I got it, Coach. I got it. Don’t worry about it. Sorry about that.”
A true testament to the honor and respect that players have long had for Coach K. There were not many coaches who could get Bean to change his shot selection. Or admit that he wasn’t getting others involved.
Coach K Can’t Believe It’s Ending
Having gone an astounding 1,196-366, including 50-47 against archrival UNC over 42 seasons, with five national championships, and other numerous accolades, Saturday was a culmination of all that in the Blue Devils’ regular-season finale.
And while it didn’t end with the victory, the pregame and postgame ceremonies were epic. Ninety-six former players, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and even NBA Commissioner Adam Silver showed up for Coach K’s final home game.
As he stood on the court to give his highly anticipated postgame speech, it was surely a bittersweet moment. Coach K had never given an oncourt speech following a loss. It was foreign territory, but so will be retirement.
Coach K also called Saturday’s loss unacceptable, which isn’t surprising coming from a coach who has been at the same school for 42 years and went to the NCAA Tournament in 24 consecutive years from 1996 to 2019 — the longest streak in NCAA history.
“I’m sorry about this afternoon,” Coach K said to the standing-room-only crowd. “Today was unacceptable, but the season has been very acceptable. And the season isn’t over.”
During his time in Durham, North Carolina, Coach K has turned Duke into the premier college basketball program and Cameron Indoor Stadium into a basketball cathedral on most basketball fans’ bucket list of iconic arenas. He called it the best venue in sports.
“Greatest sports venue in the world,” said the five-time NCAA title game winner. “It’s hard for me to say it’s over. So I’m gonna say the regular season’s over.”
There’s no debating that Coach K has done wonders to help move the game forward and deeply influenced the culture of college basketball.
His ability to land the top-ranked Black recruits is unmatched. Players like Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Luol Deng, Kyrie Irving, Jahlil Okafor, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Marvin Bagley III and now Paolo Banchero.
Hill in particular has gone on to great things following a dominant college career and Hall of Fame pro career diminished by injuries. Hill, a member of the NCAA Board of Governors, succeeded Jerry Colangelo as managing director of USA Basketball Men’s National Team back in April of 2021.
Coach K’s relationship with his players often goes far beyond the hardwood, as evidenced by how many showed up Saturday in Durham. He’s a mentor and father figure to many players of all nationalities and races.
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 5, 2022
College hoops won’t be the same without the Wizard Coach K. He’s a staple and a direct link to the entire modern evolution of the game. So many great moments. No matter how you slice it there’s no way to write the history of basketball in the world without an entire chapter devoted to Coach K.