K’s Influence Beyond Coach K Court

Special excerpt from The Chronicle's book: The King of Cameron

Duke has changed a lot since the early 1980s. The Bryan Center, built in 1982, isn’t so new anymore, upstaged by gleaming glass boxes in multiple directions. Wallace Wade Stadium now has premier club seating and no longer has a track around the field after the athletic department decided it was worth investing in a competitive football program. University presidents have come and gone. So has Armadillo Grill.

One of the constants, linking generations of students, alumni and their grown children who followed them to Duke, has been Mike Krzyzewski. Few others rival his stature as a living embodiment of the university, and with respect to other campus icons like Dean Sue Wasiolek, none are as recognizable to the outside world. 

Coach K is the face of the school and the primary symbol of how its brand has grown for the last four decades—on and off the hardwood.

His personal impact on most students’ Duke experience is indirect. He’s rarely spotted on campus away from Cameron Indoor Stadium and Krzyzewskiville. The vast majority of people who go to Duke, even those who spend days or weeks waiting on the patch of grass that bears his name to watch his teams play, never speak to him or shake his hand.

But the standard of excellence he represents touches the lives of everyone associated with Duke and colors how outsiders view us. Krzyzewski has the platform to bring guests like Dr. Anthony Fauci on his Sirius XM radio show Basketball and Beyond, which typically hosts some of the most powerful people in sports like the late NBA commissioner David Stern and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. His connections and experiences make his time a hot commodity.

He’s been a coveted guest speaker over the years in front of large companies and Wall Street firms—his booking agency recently listed his speaking fee at more than $70,000 per appearance—and he regularly has speaking engagements in front of aspiring leaders at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Successful CEOs like Duke alum David Rubenstein interview him to pick his brain about leadership and motivation.

Every summer, up to 80 well-heeled adults fork over $12,500 to participate in K Academy, a weeklong fantasy camp where teams coached by former Blue Devil stars spanning Krzyzewski’s career compete against each other in Cameron. Some of the campers every year are surely Duke alumni happy to give back to their alma mater. Others may only be connected to the school through an admiration for Coach K, as eager to spend a week networking and listening to him as they are to lace up their shoes and relive their high school glory days.

Those K Academy tuition checks—and Iron Dukes donations for access to season tickets—add up to a substantial windfall for Duke, though the full extent of his impact is impossible to quantify. Away from Durham, few events bring alumni together in big cities across the country as much as watch parties for men’s basketball games. It’s how friends stay in touch with each other for decades after going their separate ways, knowing that on 30-plus nights a year they’ll have a game to talk about together.

When they return to Durham for reunions and homecomings, they’ll marvel at the new buildings and luxurious dorms and all the ways Duke has changed. Each new renovation or retirement risks erasing one more reminder of the Duke they knew. 

But thanks to Coach K, they can take comfort that it’s a good bet the understated stone of Cameron and the aura around it will stay the same.


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