An epic finale for Mike Krzyzewski, a man in the arena

NEW ORLEAN – Mike Krzyzewski took his place at the back of a golf cart next to his 53-year-old bride, Mickey, the flight attendant he married the day he graduated from West Point. He was confronted by some journalists who documented the moment, and decided to have fun with the bitter end of his incomparable career.

“Maybe you’ll be able to impose a sunset,” he said.

And he with a smile on his face and with a smile on his face Mickey went through the Supercup tunnel after North Carolina closed his bid for his sixth national title as well as his bid for a proper farewell at his last home game at Duke. Krzyzewski saw his players cry in the locker room on Saturday night, and called it a “beautiful sight.”

Beautiful because those tears showed how indifferent his children are and how hard they competed.

These incredibly young Blue Devils made him a valuable gift for departure. They got together just in time, spent those wonderful five minutes of endgame against Michigan in their second NCAA tournament game and sent Coach K. on this wild trip. Sure, he was never going to break John Wooden’s record of 10 national titles, but those kids chased him past Wooden with that 13th trip to the Final Four, and Krzyzewski could never fully repay them for it.

When it was all over and this 81-77 victory in North Carolina was on fire forever, I asked my 75-year-old grandfather 10 years old if the Michigan Rally from which it all began would be his lasting memory of the tournament once the pain subsided. . Eventually he began to speak like old warriors.

Mike Krzyzewski leaves the press conference with his wife Mickey after the defeat of Duke in the final four with a score of 81-77 from North Carolina.
Mike Krzyzewski leaves the press conference with his wife Mickey after the defeat of Duke in the final four with a score of 81-77 from North Carolina. “Maybe you can impose a sunset,” joked coach K.
AP

“I was happy to be in the arena,” Krzyzewski said. “And when you’re in the arena, you’ll either come out with a great feeling, or you’ll feel the agony. But you will always feel great while in the arena. And I’m sure that’s something that when I look back, I’ll be bored. … But, damn, I’ve been in the arena for a long time. And these kids have made my last time in the arena amazing. ”

Amen to that.

Krzyzewski watched Duke’s last vain possession from his chair in the elevated courtyard, his arms crossed over his chest. When the last seconds were bleeding from the clock, he got up and solemnly went to Carolina’s bench to congratulate the winners, who politely greeted him. Hubert Davis ’Tar Heels really managed to play on the court like New Year’s Eve. Man, they ever deserved the right.

And yes, it was a fitting last act for Coach K., given that he actually began his career as a duke by choosing to fight North Carolina. In his third game as Blue Devils coach with a guaranteed win at Tar Hills, Dean Smith made the mistake of approaching Duke’s bench to shake hands while still having to make two pointless free throws.
Coach K declined a handshake. “The damn game is not over yet, Dean,” he barked. On the Carolina bench, assistant Roy Williams initially believed that the ACC newcomer should not be so treated by the legend before he moved on to further review. “He’s a competitive guy,” Williams said of Krzyzewski. “He has a right to his own standards. And he was right, the game is not over. “

All games for coach K. are over, his 42-year-old game in Duke ended forever in the Superdome, which opened in the same year (1975) when Krzyzewski began his career in the army. Sometimes on Saturday night coach K. jumped up from his chair, inflated his fists and angrily called on his team, but to no avail. Mark Williams missed two important free throws late and then Caleb Love tripled who was a dagger. In a rivalry characterized by hatred, the difference was Love, who scored 28 points.

Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski
Getty Images

Now the “Blue Devils” have to fight the consequences of losing to neighbors one of the biggest games in the history of sports. Honestly, Krzyzewski and his legacy will be fine. His five national titles are equal to the combined number of Roy Williams (3) and Smith (2). He is also retiring with a personal record of 50-48 wins against Tar Heels and a total of 1,202 wins – including 101 in the NCAA tournament – that no one can ever match.

But he will not return to the arena and it will hurt the most. Krzyzewski held his first basketball program in 12 years when his elementary school in Chicago, St. Helen, refused to give him the team he wanted to join the CYO League. Young Mike instead organized a team that hosted everyone in other areas. “Parents are not involved,” he said. His winning percentage was better than most.

Sixty-three years later it was over. No more cheerful conversations. No more plays to evoke. No more games to win.

No more teams to lead.

His career began seven months after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and ended five weeks after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. It started at an old dusty field house by the river in West Point and ended at the Superdome in New Orleans. What an incredible journey it was.

The greatest who has ever done this, Krzyzewski is sure, loved his latest group of players. “It was a joy for me to train them,” he said.

Late Saturday night Coach K knew when it was time to say goodbye. He loaded onto a golf cart and slowly disappeared into the tunnel. All the good people at West Point know how it happens.

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