In 1990, I was a grade-school student who loved sports, and had many teams. However, when it came to college basketball, I was at a loss.
I grew up in Chicago. I love Notre Dame football, but beyond David Rivers and LaPhonso Ells, ND basketball left a lot to be desired. In the mid-80’s I loved Dallas Comegys and Rod Strickland, but after their respective departures, DePaul hoops became lost in a vacuum.
So, when Georgia Tech, Arkansas, Duke and UNLV met in the 1990 Final Four, I was a fan without a team. Sure, I rooted for ND and DePaul, and have since, but everyone enjoys cheering for a winning team.
The ’90 Final Four was held in Denver, CO, the boyhood home of my father. And my dad had managed to land tickets to the final round of the tourney.
As my dad and I entered McNichol arena that Saturday night, I was disappointed. I had chosen to root for UConn because my best friend had recently moved to Chicago from Connecticut. But Christian Laettner ended Tate George’s and all other UConn’s fans’ hopes with his first Elite 8 buzzer beater.
As we walked up to a concession stand selling gray cotton jerseys for every team, my dad asked which one I wanted. They were cheap. I thought about it and quickly chose Duke.
21 years later, I am still a big Duke fan. I have been lucky enough to witness four National Championships, among the innumerable amount of wins over that time.
However, the other night, college basketball fans everywhere realized, in fact, that the amount of wins were not innumerable. In fact, since Mike Krzyzewski started coaching, it was his 903 overall, and 840th at Duke. Coach K became the winningest men’s basketball coach of all-time.
Coach K has always been the epitome of class, respect and dignity. He handles wins and losses equally. He was full of praise for the opponent, yet knew how to fill his team with confidence.
On Tuesday evening, he was lucky enough to have his friend and mentor, Coach Knight, courtside to witness his accomplishment. And we all know whose record it was that he broke … right, Coach Knight.
We have come to worship and deify coaches. We look at them, not only as field or court leaders, but also as leaders of men, mentors for the future, and untouchable celebrities.
However, in the past 10 days, we saw how fast those heroes can fall. We saw how fast their legacies can be destroyed. We saw how fast everything we thought could possibly be inaccurate.
All I know is that I surely hope Coach K will never be on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the bold word “SCANDAL” emblazoned above him. I doubt it will happen, but we know now we can never be positive. It is an awful lesson we have all had to learn. Coach K doesn’t deserve any hesitancy towards his legacy, but that is now the world in which we live.
Coach K is an amazing basketball coach, and accordingly to so many, a fantastic person. I choose to believe this will never change.
When I walked into that arena 21 years ago, I didn’t know a love affair was about to blossom.
I really enjoy Duke basketball and always will, but I love Coach K.
Congrats to a wonderful Chicago native!