Visit to home office shows Coach K living a dream with Team USA

Master of his domain

I went to the Garden a week ago to watch Team USA play France. And as I watched Mike Krzyzewski sit on the bench, studying his players and working the refs, it brought me back to an October night back in 2000, when I sat in the home office in Mike Krzyzewski’s basement.

Krzyewski is about as close to a living legend as there is in his profession. But he has dreams and aspirations, just like the rest of us. And it was a remarkable opportunity to get a rare window into what Coach K himself would define as success.

I should probably explain how I ended up in Krzyzewski’s basement – and it actually didn’t involve trespassing.

As I’ve said here once or twice, I hosted a sports radio show while a student at Duke, and one night in October of my senior year, a friend who worked in the athletic department asked if I could help park cars before and after a party at Coach K’s house for people who had donated over a million dollars to the school.

I’d say it took me approximately a half-second to say yes. I’d heard legends about his house for years and wanted to see it for myself. And I’d long loved observing how Krzyzewski, a man of great success and respect, carried himself. This was just one more opportunity to do so.

Krzyzewski’s house was at the end of a long dirt driveway in the middle of the forest a few miles from Duke’s campus. The mailbox at the road had a fake name on it.

When I say house, what he actually has is a compound. It was simply enormous, the size of a city block, with a pool the size of what you would find at a Las Vegas hotel.

If you think I’m using hyperbole – which I admit, I’m prone to – bear in mind that Krzyzewski is very well paid from coaching, endorsements and his various speaking engagements. And consider that the cost of living in North Carolina is below what it would be elsewhere.

As the guests pulled up in front of Coach K’s house, my friend and I lined their Lexuses and Benzes along the dirt driveway. My hands admittedly shook a little as I got behind the wheel of Krzyzewski’s Lincoln. If I had steered it into a ditch or something, I’d have probably been expatriated from the state.

We went inside, where Coach K greeted us. I had introduced myself the first week of my freshman year, and three years later, he hadn’t once forgotten my name. His wife Mickie gave us plates of food, and Krzyzewski told us we could hang out in his office in the basement until the party ended.

And in Coach K’s basement, I got a look at the dreams and ambitions of a man who seemingly already had everything.

His office was a veritable museum, a testament to the accomplishments and memories Krzyzewski had logged over the years. Some of the things he had kept and collected down there – including framed letters from some very significant people – blew my mind, but out of respect for his privacy, I won’t go into that here. I rightfully suppressed a strong desire to bring a camera – though I do have to admit that as the years pile up and my memories fade a bit, I wish I had some sort of evidence of what has become a hazy night.

But one thing that stuck with me was just how much he valued his experiences with Team USA, particularly his role as an assistant coach in 1984 and the 1992 Dream Team. Along with all the requisite Duke stuff, he prominently displayed team pictures, photos from Barcelona, individual shots with Michael Jordan and other forms of memorabilia. There were visual representations of the connections he had made in the process, like his stint as a counselor at Jordan’s “Flight School.”

Sidebar: He had what appeared to be a diamond/ruby studded ring with the Jordan logo on it that the mere sight of would send any sneakerhead into a coma.

Kidd was on this team? And Boozer? Forgot about that As I kicked back to watch a Dracula movie and a Knicks-Spurs preseason game on Coach K’s humongous television, I thought about how proud he looked in those pictures. You got the feeling that a man who had just won back-to-back National Titles and reached the pinnacle of his sport still held the role he played for the U.S. National Team with a sense of reverence.

Fast forward to 2005, and it made total sense when he took on the responsibility (and the risk) of attempting to restore USA Basketball to prosperity. And when Kobe and LeBron and the rest put their Olympic gold medals around his neck in the Summer of 2008, even a man like Coach K, larger than life, seemed completely content – and maybe a bit overwhelmed.

That’s why Krzyzewski has never blinked – at least publicly – when offered the universe by NBA teams to make the leap. He’s carved out the life he wants independent of that.

Don’t get me wrong, $15 million a year from the Nets is… I mean, it’s $15 million a year.

But Krzyzewski has more than enough money. He’s still a demigod in Durham, especially after his fourth National Title back in April, which demonstrated that he’s become an even better game coach as time goes on. He’s placed members of his family in prominent roles with the program, he’s surrounded by his favorite former players on his staff, and he of course has his castle in the Duke Forest.

On top of that, he’s viewed along with Jerry Colangelo as the men who resurrected Team USA basketball. He finally got to coach Kobe Bryant, who famously would have gone to Duke if going to college had made any sense at all, and whom he might have coached when the Lakers came flirting a few years back. He’s coached LeBron, Carmelo and now Kevin Durant. He’s absorbed strategies from assistants like Jim Boeheim and Mike D’Antoni.

Duke might have been slightly better with Rose than Paulus. Might.What goes around comes around – there’s no question the Olympic team has made Duke more attractive to recruits. Witness a very blunt Derrick Rose: “Too bad I didn’t go to Duke.” Top recruit and likely Duke signee Austin Rivers is already affiliated with USA Basketball, and it’s hard to imagine that not being a factor.

He’s living a dream, and surely padding his collection of Team USA memorabilia in his office.

And I just find the whole thing fascinating. He’s been this larger than life figure for as long as I can remember, going back to when I was in middle school.

But Mike Krzyzewski dreams like you and I do. And along with the enormous validation an unexpected National Title at age 63 offered him, the fact that he’s now the public face of Team USA basketball has given him precisely the life and empire he desires.

Nine years ago, Mike Krzyzewski – on the verge of winning a championship with Shane Battier and Jason Williams – maintained even larger aspirations. He knew that as good as things were, he could envision them even better.

And if it’s okay for someone like Coach K to hold on to his dreams, then it’s certainly okay for any one of us to do the exact same thing.


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