Since news of Mike Krzyzewski’s retirement broke Wednesday, which will happen after the upcoming season, people have gotten highly sentimental and there is a tendency, understandable though it is, to see the Krzyzewski era as perfect and inevitable.
It’s easy to look back now and believe that but it was never inevitable. In fact, if it weren’t for Tom Butters, who Coach K thanked for believing in him in his Thursday press conference, the game we are featuring today, the Duke-UNC game to close out the 1982-83 regular season, might have been the second-to-last game that Mike Krzyzewski coached at Duke.
In the ACC Tournament, the weekend after this game, Virginia would famously beat Duke by 43.
But it was worse than losing the last two games by 67 points: Duke lost five of the last six.
Many ADs might have tossed in the towel at this point and written off a third-year coach who was struggling this much as a failure.
Fortunately, Tom Butters saw Coach K’s potential and, by the way, so did Krzyzewski’s new rivals. As we said the other day, Virginia’s Terry Holland told Butters that he thought Krzyzewski would be a “brilliant” hire. And we were told this years ago by a UNC student manager who saw Duke struggling in a Duke-UNC game and told Dean Smith that he wasn’t a very good coach. “You wait,” Smith replied. “He’s going to be great.”
It might even have been in this game. Whenever it was, Smith clearly saw his rival coming when almost no one else did, including quite a few Duke fans who had already turned on the young coach.
Coach K has often talked of the value of failure as a learning tool. In retrospect, this very difficult stretch of games at the end of the 1982-83 season were the fire that forged Krzyzewski’s Duke program into greatness.
In the fall, Tommy Amaker would join Johnny Dawkins, Jay Bilas, Mark Alarie and David Henderson to form the bedrock of Duke’s greatness. And the next season, Duke would beat Virginia twice but lose to UNC twice in the regular season by five in Durham and by 13 in Chapel Hill on UNC’s Senior Day, which was also Michael Jordan’s final game for UNC.
But in the ACC Tournament, in Atlanta, Duke beat UNC 77-75 and at that moment, became the equal of any ACC team and has remained so.
But it wasn’t inevitable. It came from hard work and courage and a desire to see things through. It’s interesting also to hear the announcers and how the Coach K we know today, who gets genuflected to on air, is not there. They might as well call him Little Mikey because they clearly aren’t very impressed.
By the way, a sign of things to come: watch around the 18:49 mark as Michael Jordan nearly gives himself a concussion on the backboard trying to block a Johnny Dawkins layup.