Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski, Donald Trump and the Meanness in All of Us
Mike Krzyzewski’s 36th season at Duke was a hard one. He was hospitalized for heart tests in February and overmatched in his quest for a national title with a little team that twice fell out of the top 25.
Maybe that’s why it all got away from him after his team fell to Oregon in the Sweet 16.
In a moment of pique, Krzyzewski told Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, “You’re too good” to take a three-point shot with 10 seconds left and an 11-point lead. (What Brooks did was a problem because, as one article said, some believe that “there is an unwritten rule in basketball that prohibits a player — a good player — from shooting the ball when his team has a big lead.”)
Turned out Oregon coach Dana Altman had yelled to Brooks to fire away. He made the shot.
If Krzyzewski’s lecture on Brooks’ sportsmanship was out of line — and if Krzyzewski was full of himself to boot — it was a relative misdemeanor, coming only moments after a season-ending loss for Duke and as a smiling Coach K shook Brooks’ hand and then patted him on the chest.
That wasn’t the bad part.
Asked about it — after Brooks had described their exchange and had even agreed that Krzyzewski was right — Krzyzewski flatly denied that he had made the comment.
“I didn’t say that,” Krzyzewski said, bristling at the line of questioning. “You can say whatever you want. Dillon Brooks is a hell of a player. I said, ‘You’re a terrific player.’ And you can take whatever he said and then go with it, all right?”
It would have been a one-day story except for one thing: A CBS camera had picked up their words.
Krzyzewski: “You’re too good of a player to do that.”
Brooks: “I’m sorry, coach.”
Krzyzewski: “You’re too good of a player.”
Later, Krzyzewski tendered an apology to Brooks, Altman and the reporter who asked him about the encounter. He did so only in a prepared statement.
Criticism poured in. The New York Times’ Bill Rhoden called it “an imperial dressing down.” The apology was imperial, too, acknowledging only that Krzyzewski had “reacted incorrectly to a reporter’s question.”
In an oft-cited tweet, actor Samuel L. Jackson, whose feelings are relevant for God knows what reason, asked: “So, Coach K dogs a kid, Lies about it, Half-Ass apologizes & … It’s All Good??!”
And as people do today when so much information is selected to fit their preconceptions, many arrived at the opinion they had held all along: Krzyzewski is a horse’s ass. Even if Krzyzewski obviously can be one at times, there are more aspects to his personality, and everyone’s, than can fit into a 140-character tweet or the average sports story.
A screamer and belittler though Krzyzewski may be among his players, he’s humbler than his mentor, Bob Knight, his coach at Army who would be to college basketball what Donald Trump is to politics.
Krzyzewski — wiry and tough, though hardly gifted as a player — was the captain in his senior year at Army, which turned into hell with Knight holding him responsible before all others when they went on a losing streak.
At one point, Knight demoted starters Jim Oxley and Doug Clevenger to the second team in practice, whereupon the second began beating the first team.
Clevenger told Steve Delsohn for our book, “Knight, the Unauthorized Biography”: “Knight gets all pissed and tells me, ‘Clevenger, if you played like that during the goddamn games, we would have won those games, you insolent son of a bitch.’ “
I say, ‘I ain’t no insolent goddamn son of a bitch.’ Then I start walking toward the locker room, which is unheard of. Krzyzewski, who’s captain of the team—so he’s under immense pressure—he comes up running after me and throws a punch. He said he threw it right at me, face to face, but no, it was one of the worst punches I ever saw. I was walking off, and he hits me in the back of the goddamn head.
Clevenger was four inches bigger, at 6-foot-5, but it was the spirit that counted.The Cadets wound up 18-10, wrangled a berth in the 1969 NIT, an accomplishment with the NCAA Tournament then consisting of 25 teams, and reached the semifinals, stunning mighty South Carolina.
The Coach K. we usually see today charms the press with an easy grin and a self-deprecating manner. If it’s in his interest to put on his best face in public, at least he has a best face to put on.
Knight saved his best face for a tiny circle of insiders (assistant coaches, hunting pals, a writer here and there). Aside from that, he was a Brahma bull in the china shop of life.
There was great fascination with Knight, as there is with Trump.
James Traub just shifted the focus in a New York Times op-ed piece calling Trump “a rabble rouser who has found his rabble [after] a generation of Republican appeals to popular resentment [alleging] for two decades that the government is a devouring beast, that Democratic leaders would betray the country or spend it into bankruptcy, that national health care and educational standards are tyrannies to resist.”
If we shift the focus in college basketball to its core audience, students, it’s not always pretty.
Passion at sporting events is the norm, but it’s most passionate in the young.
College football rivalries are forever, be they Ohio State-Michigan, Southern Cal-UCLA or Harvard-Yale.
It’s college basketball, however, where the passion and the intimate setting, with fans sitting on top of the action, produce a participatory interaction and the most personal vitriol.
In the 1980s, what started out as mere gibes morphed into de facto racism, with banners like “Patrick Ewing can’t read this” after his arrival on an all-African-American team at Georgetown.
Duke’s rise from national power to dynasty with six Final Four appearances and three titles from 1988 to 1994 prompted a new level of fame.
With that came jealousy. If that was unbecoming to acknowledge, people could call it hate, which was — incredibly or not — socially acceptable.
As if speaking for the subculture, Deadspin headlined one 2012 piece “Coach K Is A Dick,” with anecdotes from a book titled “Duke Sucks: A Completely Evenhanded, Unbiased Investigation Into the Most Evil Team on Planet Earth,” written by two North Carolina fans.
Duke remained relevant, and despised, winning titles in 2010 and 2015. With the rise of social media and “comment” that was more like “road rage,” the insults were less and less constrained by traditional standards.
A Deadspin article, mocking poetry by brash J.J. Redick that appeared in Sports Illustrated, called him “America’s Dumbest Student-Athlete,” for the sin of not being a three-point shooting William Shakespeare.
“I’m gonna name my son J.J. Redick,” went one banner, “so I can beat him every day.”
If not all fans are haters, it’s easy to get sucked into the action with “the mob latent in the crowd,” as Traub noted in his New York Times piece.
A recent basketball game between two Boston area high schools, all-boys Catholic Memorial and Newton North, which has many Jewish students, showed how fast and how far out of control things can get.
As reported by The Boston Globe:
According to witnesses, the volley of mocking between student sections began with Newton North fans calling, ‘Where’s your girls?’ and the all-boys Catholic Memorial fans retorting, ‘In your section.’ Calls of ‘Sausagefest!’ from Newton followed, which many construed as homophobic, before widespread Catholic Memorial taunts of ‘You killed Jesus!’ left many on the Newton side speechless.
Catholic Memorial administrators apologized to the local Anti-Defamation League.
Get it? We’re not just talking about students and student-athletes engaged in some wholesome pursuits, following the example of role models.
Krzyzewski may be held as an icon, but he really is just a basketball coach who runs a military-style operation consisting of student-athletes, in an exemplary manner, give or take the odd tripping or stomping incident by Christian Laettner or Grayson Allen.
Krzyzewski is who he is and, until this moment, was really good at it.
As for the subculture and all our other overheated subcultures, pray for us.
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