Neither piles of cash, nor a glamorous new locale, nor the prospect of steering one of the NBA's most successful teams could lure Mike Krzyzewski away from Duke. Krzyzewski announced yesterday that he had declined an offer to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, reportedly worth $8 million per season for five years, after pondering the decision over the weekend.
In the end, the Hall of Fame coach said his bond with the school, where he has been for 24 years, won three NCAA championships and earned a reputation as one of the game's best minds, was too strong to break.
"This decision was easier to make because you have to follow your heart," Krzyzewski, 57, said during a news conference on the Duke campus.
"Duke has always taken up my whole heart."
The Lakers began pursuing Krzyzewski two weeks ago, shortly after the team lost in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons and parted ways with coach Phil Jackson.
Krzyzewski said the talks began as he was contacting NBA teams to find out where his players might go in future NBA drafts. The Lakers' job offer came as he was also doing some soul searching.
"I said, 'I'm 57, maybe I should look at it,' " said Krzyzewski, who praised the Lakers for the "classy" way they courted him. The Lakers "gave me an opportunity to look at an option at this point in my life that many people don't have an opportunity to do."
On Thursday, the school announced that the Lakers had contacted Krzyzewski about taking over for Jackson. The news came as a surprise to many because up to that point, Rudy Tomjanovich, who led the Houston Rockets to NBA championships in 1994 and '95, was believed to be the leading candidate to succeed Jackson.
Some news outlets have reported that the Lakers were interested in hiring Krzyzewski to appease Kobe Bryant, the team's talented but disgruntled star, who reportedly told the Lakers that he would be more inclined to stick around if they hired Krzyzewski.
Krzyzewski befriended Bryant, a free agent whom the Lakers are trying to re-sign, during the player's senior year in high school.
Although Bryant eventually chose to skip college in 1996 and hop directly to the NBA, his friendship with Krzyzewski has endured.
NBA insiders say that Bryant's demands notwithstanding, Krzyzewski has been considered a hot NBA coaching prospect for 15 years.
The Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers are just two of the teams that have tried to hire him in the past. Krzyzewski possesses the kind of organizational, motivational and game-management skills that would translate well to the NBA, said an executive with one Western Conference team.
Krzyzewski was vague about whether he would consider any future NBA job offers.
"I don't want to say never, but I also don't want to lead anybody on," he said.
Some NBA executives predicted that this was likely Krzyzewski's last chance to coach in the professional ranks. Plum opportunities such as coaching an established winner are rare.
Retaining Krzyzewski was a victory for Duke and for college basketball.
Only UCLA's John Wooden and Kentucky's Adolph Rupp have more national championships than Krzyzewski, with 10 and four, respectively (Bob Knight also has won three).
Krzyzewski's Duke teams have made it to the Final Four 10 times, a number of appearances surpassed only by Wooden (12) and North Carolina's Dean Smith (11). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame three years ago and has been named national coach of the year eight times.
Moreover, Krzyzewski, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, is a former army captain who has never been linked to any rules violations or misbehavior off the court.
Krzyzewski's contract at Duke runs through 2011, when he will be 65.