Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series spotlighting the connection between the NBA and Duke Basketball. Yesterday’s emphasis was on how Duke’s power brokers achieved their positions in the NBA. Today’s story focuses on how Duke influenced them. Tomorrow, The Chronicle looks at an uncertain future of those entering the NBA Draft.
While many of Mike Krzyzewski’s former players have thrived in professional basketball, this success also extends to those who came into contact with the Hall-of-Fame coach, but never even suited up for the Blue Devils.
Krzyzewski’s knack for inspiring others has left lasting impressions both on and off the court, whether they be on the basketball team’s former head manager or the NBA’s second highest-ranking executive.
And his uncanny ability to maximize others’ potential starts with the fundamental message he preaches to his teams.
“Coach K uses an expression with his team and that is about being ‘All-In,’” said Adam Silver, the NBA deputy commissioner. “He finds a way to make everyone feel, whether you’re the person booking the travel arrangements or responsible for the uniforms, that they are equally part of the team. There’s no doubt that that’s a large part of why he’s so successful…. He finds a way to get the best out of everyone.”
Silver, who did not meet Krzyzewski until after he graduated, saw firsthand how the Hall-of-Fame coach interacted with the USA Basketball personnel in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and he has applied a similar attitude to the Commissioner’s office as he leads the League’s global expansion and collective bargaining agreement.
Nick Arison, who assisted with the National Team’s day-to-day operations and currently holds an executive position with the Miami Heat, learned the importance of buying into a team concept when he served as the Blue Devils’ head basketball manager. Working with Krzyzewski on both the collegiate and international level taught him about the time commitment necessary to establish a winning culture. The hard work also yielded gratifying rewards.
“Being a Duke manager, you are totally immersed in [the program],” Arison said. “Your personal schedule revolves around the team schedule, games, practices, meetings, and the travel…. But by being willing to do that and putting in the huge time commitment, I was part of one of the greatest basketball programs there is, if not the greatest, and in my opinion, the best coach in college basketball.”
In addition to encouraging the “All-In” concept, Krzyzewski forces his players to self-reflect and evaluate how they can improve their individual performances. This introspective approach pays dividends over the course of a season, whether in the locker room or the front office, and helps players and executives alike focus on accomplishing future goals. So even if the team is winning, Krzyzewski focuses more on the team’s progression than its victorious results.
“I’ve never heard [Coach K] say a win is a win,” said Jay Bilas, the ESPN basketball analyst who helped lead Duke to the 1986 National Championship game. “He might be the most unhappy person on the planet during a win streak if he feels it’s going to hurt them in the long run…. He’s always challenged us to think about winning…and taught us to evaluate where and who you are right now, not just as a person, but as an organization.”
Yet while Krzyzewski encourages individuals to evaluate their team contributions, he also guides players to help them maximize their potential. Serving as an educator rather than just a basketball coach, he remains a mentor to former players and stays loyal to those who have supported his team concept, providing advice in basketball, personal matters and even life-changing decisions.
“I’ve never made a major decision in my life without talking to Coach K,” New Jersey Nets General Manager and former Blue Devils captain Billy King said. “Whether it be taking a GM job or coaching job, I’ve always talked to him for advice and guidance.”
Most importantly, Krzyzewski leads by example in handling the spotlight. He teaches those around him to develop a thick skin and stay focused on fulfilling one’s obligation to the team.
This has proven especially helpful for Arison in Miami. The Heat acquired Olympic gold-medalists Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade from Krzyzewski’s National Team in the off-season, spawning a media frenzy that still persists.
“The other thing that Duke really prepares you for is the scrutiny and media attention,” Arison said. “There aren’t many college programs that are like that. So to be able to handle the interviews and demands on your time off the court, I think being at Duke prepares you for that.”
Ultimately Krzyzewski, similar to the university at which he coaches, has a multi-faceted influence on former students.
“One thing that Duke prepares you for, as well as Coach K, is not just to be a pro basketball player,” King said. “It prepares you for life.”