Thanks, Mike

No one quite knew what to expect when an unknown guy from Army with an unpronounceable and unspellable last name arrived at Duke University in 1980 to helm an historically successful college basketball program. Forty-plus years, 1,100 wins (the most in NCAA Division I history), 5 NCAA championships, 12 trips to the Final Four, and 3 Gold Medals as coach of the U.S. Olympic team later, success may seem as if preordained but, of course, it wasn’t.

Mike Krzyzewski, or Coach K as he came to be called, had doubters from the start. For one thing, the Blue Devils program was already nationally known and respected; the Duke community of students, alumni, faculty and fans had come to expect Adonis-like athletes and mighty victories over storied opponents, especially the hated Tarheels of UNC. The athletes in his first class of recruits looked like hardworking everymen, not future NBA stars. When, at the end of Coach K’s first year, the team failed to make the NIT tournament, much less the more desirable NCAA tournament, there were serious calls for his ouster.

It may have been his West Point training or something more inherent in his personality but he started an all-out charm offensive on the Duke campus. I arrived there in 1981 and Coach K was seemingly everywhere. At charity tennis tournaments. At fraternity and sorority dinners. Shaking hands in the student union. Walking the quads. Like, everywhere.

Over time, Coach K revealed his coaching personality and philosophy as well. Brainy. Team ball, not one-0n-one showmanship. Dedication to the long haul. Hard work. Personal and team discipline. Commitment to academic as well as athletic performance. The team was clearly rebuilding and it was clearly going somewhere positive.

With the benefit of hindsight, of course, we know where this story is headed…

…year after year (40+ of them) of enviable success.

…a program generally considered “clean” by the standards of college basketball – which is to say generally free from financial, academic, criminal and sexual scandals.

…former players who find future success in basketball, sure, but also in business, medicine, law, academics, coaching, broadcasting, whatever, and universally express their gratitude for his mentorship.

…a coach who has earned the respect of his peers, who can offer candid and insightful perspectives on the nexus of sport and academics, and who holds an appointment in his university’s business school, not as a vanity-serving courtesy but because of his engaging books and lectures on leadership and organizational behavior.

The legacy of Coach K and the program he’s built are undeniable sources of pride for the Duke community and, perhaps, sources of envy for others. He deserves appreciation and thanks on the occasion of the announcement of his retirement at the end of next basketball season.

In any decent and civilized society, Mike Krzyzewski would continue to be a source of emulation by coaches and educators for many years to come. Here in the U.S., we can only hope.

Don’t You Dare Miss It

Great places to visit, things to see and events to attend and be a part of – as Americans, we should be proud of the great diversity. Music. Food. Celebration. Parties. You could never see all of them but here’s a list of place-particular (and mostly annual) events I think you might want to put on your list before they’re sold to the highest corporate bidder or completely gone.

10. SXSW – Austin, Texas

People who’ve been going since the very first South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Festival might tell you it’s a shadow of its former self, but this event still brings together music, technology and social thinkers in original and fun ways.

9. Oregon Shakespeare Festival – Ashland, Oregon

What’s the best part of this festival? The plays? The production values? The acting? The naturally beautiful setting? The theater itself? All of the above. The audience is an exciting mix too.

8. College Basketball Final Four – Location varies

A good friend went to a final four years ago and still talks about the insanity of an arena filled with high-volume and high-energy bands, fans squeezed into replica team jerseys, plastic pig-heads and other totems of the teams playing.

7. Taste of Chicago – Chicago 

Chicago is an uncommonly beautiful city, especially during summer. Everyone who can is outside for as often and as long as they can be. Imagine a gorgeous lakeside park literally filled with the city’s best food and bands ranging from native blues to nasty hip hop.

6. Fleet Week – New York and San Francisco

I find it hard to completely describe the feelings Fleet Week stirs in me. My grandfather and father both went to sea, following a long family tradition, and I do feel somewhat at home on the water. The sailors who visit port during fleet week are young, smart, engaged and knowledgable – a delight to meet, and a source of pride for our country. The vessels themselves are of singular scale, gliding grey behemoths. And then, there are the insane flyovers by the Blue Angels.

5. Pride Parade – San Francisco

This parade stirs pride of a different sort. Since its wild Gold Rush days, San Francisco has  tended to make people of all stripes feel welcome. As a result, the city has always attracted people who have felt less than accepted, appreciated or loved elsewhere. “Come here,” San Francisco says, “and be yourself, completely. We’ll celebrate that together.”

4. Mummers Parade – Philadelphia 

Philadelphia may be known for a sort of button-down personality, but this is anything but. Insane, is what it is. Troops of men, painted in silver, clothed in wild color, carrying banjos, playing old tunes like “Golden Slippers,” marching down ice-cold winter streets of downtown.

3. Presidential Inauguration – Washington, DC

The particular identity of the person being inaugurated doesn’t matter. The party doesn’t matter. A million citizens come to the mall in our capital every four years to bear witness to the orderly transfer of power, one citizen to another, the result of an open, fair and free election, without force or coercion.

2. Mardi Gras – New Orleans

Famous and infamous. Superb music, insanely inventive floats, free-flowing drinks, a city full of people who just want to have an amazing time. What is there left to say about this month-long party in America’s party, music and booze capital? Laissez les bontemps roulez (let the good times roll, for non-francophones).

1. 4th of July – Boston 

The Pops come out to bring the enormous outdoor crowd to a frenzy of patriotism, even before the real fireworks begin. There are July 4th celebrations everywhere, but Boston gets it. Wicked.