On Saturday night, Mike Krzyzewski, the guy who has been the head coach of the Duke men’s basketball program for something like 2,000 years, coached the final home game of his career. The game, which put No. 4 Duke against their historic arch rivals, an unranked UNC team, was set up perfectly for the 75-year-old coach to punctuate all the pomp that preceded the game with a decisive victory. The pregame worship went off without a hitch, but then Duke went out there and got their damn asses kicked off, 94-81. And to that we can all say: Ha! Hahahah!
Before guiding the Blue Devils to their most embarrassing loss of the season, Krzyzewski was greeted by a roar of cheers from the capacity home crowd. He made his way to the floor by walking through a human tunnel made up of dozens of former Duke players who had made the trip to Durham to send Coach K off.
Duke led the game by two points at halftime, and were up 61-59 with just over nine minutes left to play in the second half. That’s about when things started to come apart for Duke—UNC shot 59 percent from the floor in the second half—and by the time Armando Bacot was throwing down a wide-open dunk to make it 86-76 with under a minute to play, you could almost hear the tears filling up the eyes of the Cameron Crazies.
Once the game was over, Krzyzewski had to get on with his postgame speech, which began with him apologizing to the home crowd and calling the loss “unacceptable.” With the self-serving performance of regret out of the way, Krzyzewski invited his family onto the court and proceeded to deliver his retirement speech. After talking for a bit about how much he loves his family, Krzyzewski thanked the 84 former players who had come to pay tribute to him, and then quickly returned to the issue of his team’s poor performance.
“For you guys to show up today, for me and my family, means the world to me,” Krzyzewski said to his former players. “We didn’t play well, and there are times when you didn’t either.”
It was at this moment that it occurred to me that losing to UNC in humiliating fashion on his home floor was actually the best sendoff Krzyzewski could have asked for. Here was a pious tyrant, who has remained maximally petty, self-righteous, and ill-tempered despite enjoying one of the most blessed existences in human history, fully in his element. What more could a man like that ask for, than to be presented with one last opportunity to address the people who are solely responsible for the obscene amounts of wealth that he has amassed throughout his career, and remind them of all the moments in which they disappointed him? If I thought he were even capable of feeling joy, I’d say that Krzyzewski’s heart must have swelled.
At some point after Krzyzewski’s long sendoff, reporters got around to asking the Duke players how they had felt about witnessing their coach’s big day. Wendell Moore Jr. perhaps answered a little too honestly: “It was a big moment, actually a huge moment this week. I felt like we kind of got lost in everything.”
And there’s yet another way in which Krzyzewski’s final home game couldn’t have unfolded in more fitting fashion. Of course the players, the people who actually make this lucrative sport what it is and receive nothing in return, are an after thought. What is college basketball if not one long, constant ceremony dedicated to the glorification of a crusty class of wannabe generals who will never admit where their privilege actually comes from?