Shortly before the U.S. men’s national basketball team took the floor for its first exhibition game on Thursday against the Dominican Republic, Coach Mike Krzyzewski pulled aside Kevin Durant and informed perhaps the second-best player in basketball that he would need him to come off the bench for the star-studded Americans. In response, Krzyzewski got nodding acceptance.
Krzyzewski was honest and direct with Durant, who was the breakout star and leader of the gold medal-winning world championship squad in Turkey two years ago. After the United States thrashed the Dominican Republic by 54 points, with Durant scoring a game-high 24, the District native joked with his Oklahoma City and U.S. teammate James Harden, the NBA sixth man of the year last season, that he was going to ask Thunder Coach Scott Brooks to come off the bench next season in the NBA.
(Richard A. Lipski/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) - Kevin Durant goes up for the shot against Anthony Davis a Team USA scrimmage at the DC Armory.
“But I don’t think that’s going to work out too well,” Durant said with a laugh. “It felt good to come off the bench for the first time. I was looking forward to having different roles, playing for USA, so it was actually fun for me.”
Durant’s willingness to accept what some would consider a less-glamorous role speaks to his character but is not out of line with any members of the 12-man Olympic team, which features nine all-stars and two league most valuable players and will host Brazil in an exhibition on Monday at Verizon Center.
USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo created that selfless culture when selecting each player on the team, but Krzyzewski has maintained an environment of sacrifice and culpability by encouraging players to taper responsibilities from their respective NBA teams without losing their individual identities.
Before Durant, Krzyzewski made the same request of Dwyane Wade, who was the sixth man at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 despite being one of just two players on the roster with an NBA championship ring. Wade went on to lead the Americans in scoring for the tournament, and notched a game-high 27 in the gold medal conquest of Spain.
“When he came off the bench, he didn’t come out like an off-the-bench player. He came off the bench like Dwyane Wade,” Krzyzewski said. “And that’s what we’re trying to tell the guys.”
As a show of respect for the job Krzyzewski did, the members of the 2008 Olympic team all placed their gold medals around his neck (coaches do not receive medals). And, after watching Krzyzewski meld a unit of superstars and lead American basketball back to the top with grace and class, Colangelo could only think of asking one man to direct Team USA for another three-year run, culminating in what Krzyzewski said would be his last as head coach of the Olympic team.
Over a deep-dish pizza and a few bottles of wine, Colangelo sat across from Krzyzewski at a hotel in Chicago in the fall of 2008. Krzyzewski had to consider the sacrifices he had already made, both with his family and his prestigious college basketball program at Duke, but he couldn’t resist the lure of winning on the world’s grandest stages and with its best basketball players.