I was kind of hoping Mike Krzyzewski would take the Lakers job.
Wouldn't Kobe Bryant playing for Coach K have been a fascinating case of better late than never? Wouldn't it have been a test of everything Coach K has ever learned as a coach and teacher to try to persuade Shaq to give it one more go with Kobe? Wouldn't it have been great, in the middle of this sporting melodrama that the Lakers have become, to put one of the great coaches in the history of basketball right in the middle of it?
Okay, it might not have worked. Maybe the Duke NBA Jinx would have attached itself to Coach K, just as it has so many of his former players. But wouldn't it have been absolutely riveting to watch? Wouldn't it have been fascinating to see Krzyzewski try to get a player to practice who doesn't want to practice? I was all set to beg my editor to start a Washington Post Lakers Bureau just to follow the story day by day.
So I was hoping Coach K would wind up in L.A.
But I never thought for a moment he was leaving.
Anyone who has known Krzyzewski for any length of time knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man loves what he does for a living. He loves the setting he works in. He loves going to work every morning in his office just off the basketball court at Cameron Indoor Stadium. He enjoys being the best in his field at what he does. And he must know, while never professing so publicly, that what he does is necessary and on some level, very worthy. He is where he wants to be, doing exactly what he wants to do, with people he respects and often loves.
So why leave? If you're over-the-moon happy doing what you're doing, why risk leaving that to do something you might not be so happy doing?
Warren Buffett, one of the richest and most successful businessmen in America, once said when asked to describe happiness: "Happy is what I am. I get to do what I like to do every single day of the year. I get to do it with people I like and I don't have to associate with anybody who causes my stomach to churn. I tap dance to work, and when I get there I think I'm supposed to lie on my back and paint the ceiling. It's tremendous fun. . . . I know I wouldn't be doing anything else. I'd advise you . . . to work for an organization of people you admire, because it will turn you on."
Mike Krzyzewski could have written those exact words. Happy is what he is, doing what he's been doing all these years. He's turned on every day.
Coaching the Lakers might have made him happy.
Coaching the Lakers might have made him unhappy -- or less happy than he already is.
So why leave to do it?
It had to have been tempting, because Krzyzewski loves challenges and he loves basketball at its highest level. And basketball at its highest level, despite the hype, is played by pros, not college kids.
Krzyzewski isn't just familiar with pro basketball; he's intimately familiar with it. He's as immersed in pro basketball as a college coach can be. Coach K was an assistant coach to Chuck Daly at the 1992 Olympics. He's fascinated by pro basketball and has been for a long, long time. And more important than that, while he has made his living coaching college kids, pro players respect him. They know he's a great coach, period. And many of them would love to play for him in the NBA, and wonder how successful he'd be doing it. Why do you think Bryant still wants to play for him after passing up the opportunity coming out of high school?
Krzyzewski is much more like, say, Jimmy Johnson than Tim Floyd.
Johnson, while coaching at Oklahoma State and the University of Miami, always embraced professional football. He was already around the pros, always kept one eye on the pro game, which is a big part of why he was so successful as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. And Krzyzewski has always embraced professional basketball, in ways that someone like, say, Bob Knight, has not. Yes, there would have been major adjustments to make, but it wouldn't have been terribly foreign to him.
So why consider it so seriously if you're happy with what you've got?
Krzyzewski asked himself just that question probably a half-million times over the past few days and ultimately answered it this way, "I'm 57, maybe I should look at it."
So he took a long look. He owes himself that. Duke owes him that. The Lakers were smart to encourage him to do that.
You'd never get him to say it, but perhaps he didn't like some of what he saw. Kobe would have been on board, presuming he's eligible to play. But Shaq is still asking out. Derek Fisher is a free agent. Karl Malone is a maybe and who knows whether Gary Payton has anything left. Perhaps the L.A. gig isn't so attractive now, well, not when the alternative is Duke basketball.
The Lakers, by the way, really could be in a pickle now. Suppose Rudy Tomjanovich, who has won two NBA championships to Coach K's none, tells Mitch Kupchak to up his offer by a couple of million dollars per year or take a hike, considering what the club just offered Krzyzewski. You don't think Pat Riley, with whom the Lakers have also flirted, is going to play second banana to anybody, even Coach K, do you?
The Lakers' melodrama has held us captive for a year and will apparently hold us indefinitely. With Krzyzewski hunkered down in North Carolina, maybe Kobe's upcoming visit with the Clippers is a bigger threat than the Lakers thought a week ago. I sure wouldn't want to be Kupchak, the GM, with Shaq wanting out, Kobe unsigned and Coach K no longer an option.
Of course, none of this is Krzyzewski's problem. The notion that he is disillusioned with college basketball because kids are leaving school (even his) early or skipping college altogether is missing a much bigger point. Krzyzewski will continue to put great teams on the floor. The players who do come and stay will receive formal and informal educations. Almost all of them will graduate. Almost all of them will play in the Final Four. Almost all of them will experience the happiest four years of their lives while playing for him at Duke.
"You have to follow your heart and lead with it," he said yesterday. "Duke has always taken up my whole heart. For me, this has been the perfect place to coach, teach and learn."
And as long as that remains the case, there's no need for him to go anywhere else.