Harvey Mackay: The magic of Coach K
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Last week, I told you about the remarkable athletic performances I witnessed at the London Olympic Games. My wife tells me that it’s a good thing that the Summer Olympics take place only every four years, or I would have to quit my day job to keep up with the events!
These athletes possess an inner drive that is foreign to most of us. Their natural talents are just a starting point. But they have a secret weapon: their coaches.
There is something much scarcer, something finer, something rarer than ability. It’s the ability to recognize ability. And Jerry Colangelo, head of USA Basketball, is a genius for appointing Mike Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, to lead the USA men’s basketball team.
There are many outstanding college and professional coaches who could have coached this crew of individual stars, but I sincerely doubt that many of them could have gotten the final results Coach K delivered. Eight years ago, Argentina beat the USA for the gold medal despite the incredible array of talent from our NBA teams. Not the result that Coach K wanted to repeat.
For 40 years, I have been watching USA Olympic basketball, with terrific memories from Michael Jordan to LeBron James. The Americans have dominated the sport for decades, but the world has closed the gap in the men’s game. Fortunately, the gap has not yet closed for USA’s fabulous women’s players.
The problem for Coach K is that no one seems to understand this fact. The world and especially USA basketball fans think every game we play is over before it starts. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As a group, America unquestionably has the edge in sheer talent. We assemble a team of all-stars who command enormous professional contracts and huge endorsement deals. These 11 individually dominant players, however, must play as a team. They play for national pride. There are no salaries involved here. All the players come together and risk injury to play for their country. They give up their summers and check their egos at the door. Money can’t buy their emotional high.
Coach K is the genius who kept them playing as a team. Truth is, I didn’t go to all eight games just to see the players. I went to marvel at the coaching. All his career, Coach K has been expected to win (at Duke) and has the mental tools and strength that come with the highest expectations. He welcomes this pressure.
I had the pleasure of watching part of a closed practice. Coach K is untouchable when it comes to handling pressure and maintaining sheer unadulterated focus. He is one of the most disciplined coaches I have ever witnessed.
Coach K was virtually emotionless from start to finish in all eight Olympic games. That is part of his DNA – no matter if his team is ahead by 30 points or losing coming down the stretch.
Never for a moment during their quest for a gold medal did I ever think that every player who took the court was putting out less than 110 percent. This is a great tribute to Coach K. Without question in my mind, they would never have brought home the gold without that kind of work ethic inspired by their leader.
Another feather in Coach K’s hat was the explosive nature of Olympic team competition. You can easily have an international scene on your hands. In the USA game versus Argentina, one of the USA players was kneed in the groin right in front of the team bench. I thought, “That’s it. Here comes a total brawl.” Lucky is not the word to describe how we escaped a donnybrook. Once again, credit Coach K. His players demonstrated total restraint from retaliating against the unsportsmanlike player.
Talking with Coach K at the afterparty gold medal celebration, I kidded him about his 3-foot leap off the bench when Chris Paul blew past his defender for a reverse layup to break Spain’s back in the gold-medal game. He admitted he couldn’t hold his emotion back after four years of pressure to bring home the gold.
Coach K told me at the celebration party that he is a better coach in 2012 than he was in 2008. He claims this is his last Olympics coaching gig. Let’s hope the next coach and all the business people out there take a page from Coach K’s playbook.
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