Maybe Mike Krzyzewski made it look too easy.
|If you shop Amazon, please start here and help DBR|
Doesn't anybody remember the state of USA Basketball when Coach K became the head coach of the National Team in 2005?
American teams loaded with NBA All-Stars finished sixth in the World Championships (held on American soil in Indianapolis) and barely managed to win a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The dominance of the original Dream Team was a distant memory. USA basketball was in the same dark place it had been when the NBA stars first rode to the rescue in 1992.
Now America rules the basketball world again. Under Krzyzewski, Team USA has won four straight major international tournaments - the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing, the 2010 World Championship in Istanbul, the 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in London and now the 2014 World Cup (the new name for the World Championships) in Barcelona.
The last title was the one that looked too easy. Krzyzewski didn't have the top NBA stars. No LeBron. No Kobe. No Carmelo. No Kevin Durant. No Chris Paul. No Tim Duncan. No Kevin Love. No Dewayne Wade. He did have former MVP Derrick Rose, but the Bulls' point guard was rehabbing after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries.
On paper, it's the weakest team to represent the United States in a major international tournament since a collegiate all-star team won the bronze medal in the 1990 World Championships. One prominent commentator called them "The C Team". And, yet, that mostly-young group of pros blitzed the world, winning every game by at least 21 points. Former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving was the MVP of the tournament. James Harden, Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson and Anthony Davis all emerged as stars
It should have been something to celebrate. For the first time in the history of international basketball, one nation has won four straight major international tournaments. Less than a decade after taking over the US National Team at a time in crisis, Coach K has returned American basketball to international dominance - has, indeed, taken it to a level where it's never been before.
Instead, he returns to the United States to find one of the NBA's most prominent writers ripping him and USA Basketball - giving voice to a segment of NBA owners who don't like their "property" playing for somebody else and to a number of college coaches jealous of Krzyzewski's success.
Worse, he has to open a local paper and see a young beat reporter heaping praise on the hit-piece and its author. According to Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News and Observer:
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski might be the best sports reporter, period, right now. He is an outright savant when it comes to his beat, the NBA - a list of his notable scoops would easily fill a word document.
So, when such an esteemed and well-connected reporter writes a column that rips into Mike Krzyzewski and his USA Basketball empire, it commands attention.
Sorry, diehard Duke fans, this is no hack job, as some have tried to suggest out there on the Internet. It's an inside look at how top NBA officials feel about USA Basketball, and it echoes concerns high-major college coaches have about an unfair recruiting advantage it gives Duke - concerns that I heard at the Nike Peach Jam this summer, too.
First, read the column in its entirety. No, really, read it.
I agree that DBR's readers should read Adrian Wojnarowski's column in its entirety. But Laura, that's about as far as my agreement goes. It IS a "hack job" (to use your words) - poorly reasoned, sloppily researched, blatantly inaccurate in part with elements of vicious slander. It's built around anonymous comments by some "top NBA execs" and some "high-major coaches."
How many? We don't know (although Jim Boeheim suggested that Kentucky coach John Calipari was the main "high major" source).
It does include some reasonable arguments, but on the whole it's written like a TV political ad - so one-sided and twisted that it bears little resemblance to the truth.
I'd like to look at the article, by breaking it down to its two main elements - first, Wojnarowski's dismissal of USA Basketball … secondly, his verbal assault on Coach K.
In the interest of accuracy, allow me to point out that I am a Duke grad, writing for a Duke website. Obviously, I have a built in bias. But I also covered college basketball (not just Duke) for more than 30 years with the Durham paper before I began writing mostly for Duke outlets. I believe I have a perspective that some current reporters lack. One very small example: As I was leaving Coach K's press conference Thursday, a reporter commented that it was a shame that Coach K had to call a press conference to respond to that ridiculous Yahoo story. I reminded him that Coach K had held a press conference following each of his previous international tournaments and while many of Thursday's questions dealt with the "hack job", only someone with limited experience following Duke basketball would fail to understand that the press conference was something he always does - and not a response to the article.
THE MARK CUBAN VOICE
There are a number of NBA basketball owners who despise USA Basketball. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks is the most vocal;
"The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money," Cuban told ESPN last month. "The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball."
Cuban is not the only NBA executive who feels that way. Their clique wants a cut of the action. In their eyes, the players who perform for the USA National Team are their property and should be making money for them - "Let's create our own World Cup!"
Actually, world basketball (both Olympic basketball and the World Cup) is administered by FIBA, not the IOC, but that's a small detail. What's not small is the point of view of Cuban and his cronies. And that is the voice that energizes Wojnarowski's hit piece. He writes:
The World Cup of Basketball is a wonderful event, a well-run, well-coordinated tournament with pride and history and gravitas. It is something else, too: beneath the threshold of worthiness for NBA stars to participate.
Let me get this straight. Basketball is the world's second most popular team sport (in terms of participation and viewership, only soccer/football is more popular). FIBA has conducted a world championship event every two seasons for 64 seasons. I don't have the ratings for the latest FIBA event, but the 2010 World Championships drew more than 800 million TV viewers in 200 countries worldwide.
And it's "beneath the threshold of worthiness for NBA stars to participate in"?
Outside of Derrick Rose using FIBA as a Double-A rehab assignment and some sportswriters beefing up on Marriott points for post-summer vacations, this tournament was a waste of everyone's time and resources.
I would suggest that Mr. Wojnarowski is suffering a severe case of parochialism.
Actually, I have no problem with Cuban and his less-vocal compatriots fighting to kill the NBA's association with international basketball - or to shape it into something more profitable for themselves.
That's what I meant earlier about "reasonable arguments." I might not agree with the position, but that doesn't make it invalid. The question is, how widespread is that position?
I put that point to Coach K at his press conference Thursday.
"I think the strongest opinion is how good it's been [for the NBA]," Krzyzewski said. He acknowledged the critical voices. "Rarely in anything to you get 100 percent approval. All I know is that a lot of the [NBA] management were there with us and they were so happy that their guys were going it.
"I think some guys have put out studies on the performances after they've played [for Team USA] and it's been better. All the owners, all the NBA teams benefit greatly from global expansion of the game. Monetarily, just publicity-wise - that's one of the things the NBA has done a great job. They do it on the court through USA Basketball and through tour and exhibition games and they do it off the court in their NBA Cares program.
"I know the NBA higher ups are 100 percent in favor of doing this."
Clearly, there is a difference in opinion - Cuban's voice is not the voice of the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver, Indiana GM Larry Bird and the Maloof brothers, who own the Sacremento Kings are vocal supporters of the current USA Basketball setup.
But you didn't hear their voices in Wojnarowski's one-sided hack job.
I have no problem with Wojnarowski giving voice to the anti-FIBA point of view.
But couldn't he be honest about it?
The dishonesty starts with the way the critics of USA Basketball have exploited the "horrific" (to use Coach K's word) injury to Paul George.
For all the inspiration the U.S. coaches and players tried to drain out of George's injury, understand something: It was in vain. He lost a year of his career for the chance to play in a tournament that few watched back home, and even fewer felt mesmerized by across the world.
Cuban also tried to use George's injury as a club to pummel USA Basketball.
Such attacks are incredibly misguided.
Yes, George suffered a terrible injury playing in an exhibition game that was designed to help Team USA prepare for the World Cup.
But using that as evidence against participation in USA Basketball ignores reality. The reality is:
(1) Top-flight players (not just pros, but college and high school kids) are going to play basketball all year around. If there is no USA Basketball, players will play in summer leagues or in pickup games.
(2) George's injury was a fluke that had nothing to do with the setting … it's the kind of fluke injury that could happen to any player at any time. Gene Banks saw his career destroyed while playing in the Rucker League. Leslie McDonald missed a year at UNC when he tore an ACL playing in a summer league game at NCCU. Carlos Boozer once broke his foot in a preseason pickup game at Duke. There's always a risk of injury, but no more so or less so when the player is participating in USA Basketball.
In fact, I could be wrong, but I was trying to remember another significant injury suffered by a player representing the United States in international basketball. Looking back to the 1936 Olympics, I've found a few twisted ankles and the like, but no other serious injuries. I could be missing something and if so I'd love hearing from my readers. But right now, representing the United States doesn't look particularly dangerous.
That's not the only twisted bit of argument presented by Wojnarowski:
"We need to get our vets out and move our younger players in," one NBA general manager told Yahoo Sports. "The support's there for the change, and it's getting stronger."
No more grinding down of Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker as thirty-something stars for countries that desperately need them to compete, no more Yao Ming dragging a battered leg up and down the floor for China.
Nice argument - except neither Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker nor Yao Ming were in Spain competing in the world cup. Maybe Gasol did get ground down, although you wouldn't know it from his stats in Spain - he was his team's leader in most statistical categories.
"I would like to play until I am 50 but I doubt I will," he said when asked how long he wanted to play for Spain. "It is an honor to play for my country."
"An honor to play for my country"?
Jeez, didn't he read Wojnarowski's story about how nobody cares about the World Cup?
Much of the column was devoted to trashing Coach K.
The absolute worst part was Wojnarowski's assertion that Krzyzewski used George's injury as a photo op:
At the foot of George's hospital bed, someone had been waiting to snap the photo of the U.S. national coach reaching down and embracing his stricken player.
Suddenly, this most private and personal moment turned out to be anything but that. Within minutes, that image would be flying through Twitter and Instagram for all those moms and dads to see the compassion and caring of Duke's coach.
As Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim pointed out yesterday, the photo was taken by George's parents and tweeted out by them. Krzyzewski got quite emotional Thursday as the assertion that it was all a setup to promote his image.
"It was a really bad thing to bring up Paul George," Krzyzewski said. "After he was injured, USA Basketball was in the trauma room - me, Jerry [Colangelo] and a bunch of NBA people. There were too many people so they asked everybody but the family to leave."
Most of the USA Basketball people left town the next morning. Krzyzewski was staying over with his family.
"I went back to the hospital the next day," Coach K said. "ESPN had cameras in front of the hospital. We were able to go through a back entrance. I was able to spend half an hour with Paul - his mom, dad and two sisters, a couple of friends and his girlfriend.
"I did not take any pictures. I did not know a picture was taken. To say that I orchestrated that and used Paul George is really wrong. And for anybody to think that, then you are a bad person. That was done secretly. To put it out any other way, well, you're really reaching."
As for the rest of the criticism, Krzyzewski just shrugged it off.
"I think that happens," he said. "Nobody wins all the time. But whatever sport it is, when people win more than most, after a while people what that group to lose - they want change. That's natural. I would rather be in that position, but there's a lot of scrutiny when you are in that position."
But exactly what was Wojnarowski's problem with Krzyzewski? He hammers the assertion that Coach K uses USA Basketball as a tool to help his Duke recruiting:
As long as Krzyzewski needs recruits at Duke, he needs USA Basketball.
Does he? Or is Wojnarowski displaying his ignorance of anything that's not NBA related?
Just consider where Coach K was when he took over USA Basketball in 2005.
At that point in his career, Krzyzewski had three national championships and was coming off his 10th Final Four appearance. He had already been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame and was easily the most celebrated college coach in the country. He had turned down chances to coach the Boston Celtics (in 1989), the Miami Heat and the Portland Trail Blazers (in 1994) and the LA Lakers (2004).
The idea that he needed USA Basketball to promote himself is ludicrous.
But what about the help it has given him in recruiting?
Again, go back to 2005.
In the nine years leading up to 2005, Krzyzewski landed the nation's top-ranked recruiting class four times - 1997 (Brand, Battier), 1999 (Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy), 2002 (J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams) and 2005 (Josh McRoberts, Greg Paulus).
In the nine years since taking over USA Basketball, Krzyzewski has leveraged his position to land the No. 1 class exactly one time - the incoming crop this year.
It's funny, but I can still remember the wise commentaries when Coach K took the USA Basketball job about how it was going to HURT his recruiting. The job responsibilities have kept him off the road for a large part of the crucial summer recruiting periods - 50 days this summer. His trip to China in the summer of 2008 appeared to play a large role in Kenny Boynton's decision to pick Florida over Duke - he told prep writers that he appreciated the personal attention he got from Billy Donovan.
Wojnarowski talks about the "access" that Krzyzewski's position as the head coach of the USA senior team gives him:
Krzyzewski never violated an NCAA rule when he climbed aboard a flight, flew cross-country and addressed the 2013 under-19 USA Basketball national team at its Colorado Springs training camp. He addressed players in a group, and talked to them individually, sources told Yahoo Sports. For the record, Krzyzewski is USA Basketball's senior national coach and the visit gave him an opportunity to personally welcome those young men into the program's feeder system.
Well, the trip did something else, too: It gave the Duke coach unfiltered access to two of the best high school players in the nation. Florida's Billy Donovan was the under-19 head coach. Virginia's Tony Bennett and VCU's Shaka Smart were his assistants. They probably didn't need Krzyzewski's voice, but he probably didn't ask their permission, either.
Read those paragraphs again. Wojnarowski suggest that Krzyzewski is exploiting the system to talk to the under-19 players. But that's one meeting. What about Donovan, Smart and Bennett, who had access to those players for every practice, every game. Do they have an advantage there?
Krzyzewski has met with the under 19 team twice in nine years. The dozens of coaches who have served on the selection committees for those teams (including UNC's Roy Williams) have had MUCH more access.
Obviously, Krzyzewski's image has benefited from his success with USA Basketball. But that's the key word that Wojnarowski never acknowledges: success.
"On Aug. 24, 2008, the score was 91-89 in the gold medal game against Spain," Krzyzewski said. "If Kobe Bryant doesn't hit a couple of shots and Dwayne Wade doesn't … do you think I'd have an advantage? Because we would lose.
"Somebody who writes a great book or wins a championship, they have an advantage. But it's advantage through accomplishment. The notoriety you get from that, there's a risk from that - you could lose. The fact that you win … if you gain an advantage with that, so be it."
Advantage through accomplishment.
That gets back to the perception of what Krzyzewski has accomplished. Nine years ago, when USA Basketball was in shambles - after Larry Brown and George Karl had failed on the international stage - USA Basketball needed a savior. Now, many - including Wojnarowski - are back into the mindset that all we have to do it throw a few NBA guys out there and claim a championship. If that mindset is right, then it is unfair that Krzyzewski should earn such accolades for doing what anybody could do.
Of course, that mindset is warped. The rebuilding of USA Basketball is a monumental achievement - and both Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo deserve most of the credit for the accomplishment.
Not that Krzyzewski needs any more credit - what are they going to do, elect him to the Hall of Fame for a second time? He was a giant in basketball world before he became a part of USA Basketball and he'll be a giant afterwards.
You have to understand that Wojnarowski was promoting an agenda - he was giving voice to the clique of NBA owners who want to cash in on international basketball and to the college coaches that are jealous of Krzyzewski's success.
It's funny to read Wojnarowski's lamentations for poor John Calipari and Roy Williams. But it's not good - or even acceptable - journalism.
- Coach K Holds Press Conference
- SPECIAL SEASON?
- DeCock: Krzyzewski always the center of attention, at Duke or with Team USA
- Duke's Coach K responds to critical Yahoo! column
- Krzyzewski backs up US team role
- Krzyzewski answers critics of USA system
- Coaches with all the advantages complaining
- USA Basketball benefits all involved
- Does Coach K get recruiting edge from Team USA? Of cours
- Kentucky's John Calipari offers his thoughts on USA Basketball
- Calipari addresses Boeheim's comments on Team USA
- Coach K defends Team USA ties; Boeheim says Calipari has complained
- Calipari, Boeheim, Krzyzewski spar over alleged Team USA recruiting advantage
- Ex-Cat Cousins prepares for NBA season with a new narrative
- Coach K, Boeheim Fire Back on Paul George, Recruiting Advantage Story; Calipari Chimes in on Twitter