The basic writeup of Mike Krzyzewski for years has been that he’s a brilliant motivator and coach but, if you listen to people in the media or (God forbid) Twitter, is that he’s not the nicest guy in the world.
It’s a classic mistake: you see the snarling competitor and assume that’s the whole man. It’s a sliver of the man. It’s an important sliver, but it’s a sliver. Duke fans made the same mistake with Dean Smith.
The reality is that Krzyzewski has always reached out to people in need. Remember the guy who used to sit behind the bench and high fived Coach K before every game? He was intellectually limited but Krzyzewsk formed a bond with him that lasted for years.
How many stories have we linked to about cancer patients he has quietly helped? Remember the kid who came to Duke a couple of years ago - a high school player with a life threatening condition? He came out on the floor in a wheelchair and the team just adopted him en masse, as did Cameron.
We’ve linked to probably dozens of obituaries of people Coach K reached out to as they were dying. His public face is defined by his immense competitive nature but his more private side is defined by compassion and love. He really doesn’t have to go out of his way like he always has...but he always has.
A recent example of this comes from a woman named Annie Malkowiak.
She says in this story that “I was sick at the time, and some friends wanted to do something nice for me, so they talked to some people and eventually got in touch with Coach K’s personal assistant. They got tickets to a Duke game. Coach K got word of it all and told them forget the tickets and gave me courtside seats. I ended up meeting him after the game, and we became friends.”
People who measure Krzyzewksi by what they saw on the sidelines during his epic career at Duke never consider this other, vast body of humanitarian work.
The truth is that he has always done an enormous amount for people, most of it quietly and behind the scenes.
The cool part of this story is that whatever Malkowiak was suffering from she appears to have triumphed over and recently, she had an interesting job offer, which she took: she’s now the head coach of boy’s basketball at Mt. Pleasant in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. And also, she reports that when she told Krzyzewski, he texted back “in seconds” to congratulate her and tell her that “the boys are fortunate to have [her].”
If you sort of line this up with what his players say about him, the decades of work he’s done for the Jimmy V Foundation and the Emily K Center, and the many people he’s quietly helped behind the scenes, you could reasonably argue that competitiveness is not his defining characteristic.