LONDON Coach Mike Krzyzewskis tremendous seven-year run as the head coach for the U.S. mens basketball team came to a golden end Sunday, as the U.S. edged Spain, 107-100, to win the Olympic tournament for the second time in a row.
Krzyzewski, 65, ended up leading the U.S. to a 62-1 record and two Olympic gold medals in his tenure. Originally recommended by Dean Smith and others for the Olympic job in 2005, Krzyzewski made it his own with an emphasis on the sort of values he has long instilled at Duke: defense, teamwork and extensive commitment.
When I asked Coach K after the game if he was absolutely, positively done with coaching this team, he said: I am but I think I can get a great meal out of this.
That was a reference to Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of USA Basketball, who talked Krzyzewski into coaching the Olympic team for a second time a few years ago over late-night pizza and wine one night.
Colangelo now sounds pretty resigned to Krzyzewski leaving the U.S. team and sticking to his Duke coaching job and some consulting with the U.S. national team. But thats not to say Colangelo wont make a final pitch. He will.
Hes stated hes done, Colangelo said of Coach K. And I accept that if thats final. If its not, well have another pizza and a glass of wine and see what happens.
Krzyzewski did say that he would take awhile to evaluate his decision and then have a long talk with Colangelo, as is their custom. After every competition, you take some time to evaluate everything, Krzyzewski said. In the military, we call it an after-action report . What the next step is going forward. Thats what weve done for the last seven years.
When Colangelo was trying to help the U.S. team rise from the ashes of the Larry Brown-coached Olympic team of 2004 that squad lost three times and finished third after many top NBA players fond excuses not to come to Greece and play he started asking lots of basketball people who they thought should coach the team next.
One of those Colangelo asked at a meeting in Chicago was Smith, who directed the 1976 U.S. team to an Olympic gold medal (this was back when the U.S. used only college players Smith put four of his Tar Heels on the squad).
Colangelo showed Smith a blackboard filled with possible coaches from the NBA and college ranks.
Dean Smith said theres only one college guy up there who I believe I can get the job done, and thats Coach K, Colangelo recounted Sunday. Which was really a statement, coming from his biggest rival.
Although Krzyzewski initially had some doubts about how well he would do coaching NBA players, he bonded quickly with two of the leaders for the past two Olympic teams Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Hes brilliant, Kobe said of Krzyzewski Sunday. Very intelligent. Communicates very well. And hes fun. Doesnt take himself too seriously. We all have enjoyed him immensely.
Coach K repeatedly leaped into the air as the final seconds ticked down. LeBron doused Krzyzewski with water as the game ended Sunday and the two shared a long hug.
Hes the best player, hes the best leader and hes as smart as anybody playing the game right now, Krzyzewski said of LeBrons role on the team. Weve developed a really close bond because I rely on him to be that for me.
Coach K needed LeBron Sunday. Much like the gold-medal game that pitted the same teams in 2008, this one was offensive-minded and very close.
Spain, a 21-point underdog, played its best game of the tournament. The Spaniards began the game with a rare four-point play on the first possession and behind Pau Gasols 24 points and Juan-Carlos Navarros 21 stayed within striking distance the whole way in a game with 16 lead changes.
Both teams shot close to 50 percent and seemed to drain every uncontested shot. The U.S. led only 83-82 entering the fourth quarter.
But in that fourth quarter, LeBron as he has done the entire tournament made sure the U.S. wouldnt lose. Burdened with four fouls, James re-entered the game with 3:20 to go and the U.S. up by six.
LeBron had been passing the ball for most of the game, but quickly found a lane for a dunk. He then hit a three-pointer to quell Spains final rally and soon was involved in a celebration in which he danced ecstatically with his eyes closed.
Kevin Durant led the U.S. with 30 points. LeBron had 19; Kobe 17. Former Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul had 11 points, including two big fourth-quarter buckets that helped seal it.
Paul called the gold medal bittersweet because he didnt want to tell his teammates goodbye as they fly home to their respective NBA teams.
I hate that in a couple of months, that these guys are going to be my enemies, Paul said. This is the funnest time of my life. I hate this was our last game playing together.
Krzyzewski knew he was risking some of his legacy with this game. Coaching the U.S. mens or womens basketball team is a high-risk, low-reward situation, since everyone in America shrugs if you win and rants if you dont.
But he felt the pull of patriotism. And ultimately he gets to walk off into a golden sunset, armed with the knowledge that he played a large role in re-establishing the U.S. as the best basketball team in the world.