Coach K amuses Lipscomb crowd with look back at Olympics
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski had the crowd chuckling through the first part of his speech Saturday night at the Don Meyer Evening of Excellence at Lipscomb's Allen Arena.
Then the four-time NCAA national champion coach got serious when he talked about the manner in which the 2008 Olympic basketball team came together under his leadership to win a gold medal.
It was what he said about the 1992 Olympic team, for which Krzyzewski served as an assistant, that had the crowd of about 3,000 in stitches.
Even though he'd just led Duke to back-to-back national championships, Krzyzewski said he felt small at the first practice. It was the first time NBA players were allowed to participate in the Olympics, and he was surrounded by the Dream Team — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, David Robinson and others.
"In our first practice I look up and there's David Robinson, and I said, 'God is he big!' I'd never seen a guy that big,'' Krzyzewski said. "Then I look at Karl Malone and he used to lift every morning, and I said, 'God, is he big!' And then I looked at Charles Barkley's backside, and I said, 'God, what a big backside! No wonder he was the best low post player in the NBA."
After checking with Meyer, the former Lipscomb coach who had introduced Krzyzewski to make sure it was OK to talk about Barkley's "backside," Krzyzewski finished his story.
"And then I looked at Michael Jordan and I said, 'God' — and I was right."
Seventeen years later, Krzyzewski was invited to help the United States regain its dominance on the Olympic level by serving as head coach of another group of talented players that included Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd and others.
That's when Krzyzewski got serious.
He talked about asking each player about the fight songs of their respective universities. He told them this team's fight song was the national anthem and that in Beijing they would hear it played twice — before and after they won the gold medal.
He invited the players to set the standards by which the team would follow and remembered James saying this team's motto had to be "no excuses."
By allowing the players to set the standards, Krzyzewski said, he gave them ownership of the team and they responded. Their uniforms had USA in bold letters across the front, and the players had their names made smaller and less conspicuous on the back.
Krzyzewski then allowed the crowd to see a three-minute film of the private meeting when the players came up with the standards.
"This is a film that's not been on NBA TV or any networks," Krzyzewski said. "But it's something I want you to see."
It was a film that Krzyzewski had shown to the players in an effort to hold them accountable after they started off playing poorly in the exhibition season.
Team USA coasted to the gold medal, beating Australia (116-85), Argentina (101-81) and Spain (118-107).
"It was all about giving them a sense of ownership," Krzyzewski said. "That's the key component in winning in championship or building a strong country or a successful business."