About the Author
William D. Cohan is the bestselling author of Money and Power, House of Cards, and The Last Tycoons. He has appeared on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, CBS This Morning, ABC Evening News, Good Morning America, and more. He has also been featured on numerous NPR programs, including Marketplace, Diane Rehm, Leonard Lopate, and Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson. In addition to being media savvy, Cohan is himself a Duke alum who worked on Wall Street for seventeen years.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Price of Silence INTRODUCTION
Exactly Who Is In Charge at Duke
On June 28, 2004, three days before the start of his tenure as the ninth president of Duke University, Richard H. Brodhead was mentally unpacking his bags in his office in Allen Building, on the main quad of Duke’s stately West Campus, when Joe Alleva, the university’s athletic director, burst in on him with some momentous news: The men’s legendary basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, known to all as Coach K and the one force at Duke seemingly as immutable as the school’s soaring Gothic cathedral just outside Brodhead’s new office, was thinking about leaving to coach the Los Angeles Lakers.
It turned out that a few days earlier Krzyzewski had been at Madison Square Garden in New York City for the 2004 NBA draft and had watched, disheartened, as the team’s future seemed to go up in smoke. Coach K’s first loss to the NBA that evening was Shaun Livingston, a high school senior from Peoria, Illinois, who had committed previously to Duke as the team’s point guard. But he decided to skip college and turn pro. The Los Angeles Clippers made Livingston the fourth overall pick. Three picks later, the Phoenix Suns drafted, and then traded to the Chicago Bulls, the prodigiously talented freshman Luol Deng, who had just completed his first year as Duke’s small forward, averaging 15 points per game.
The outcome of the draft had put Krzyzewski in a foul mood, and again lamenting the state of college basketball, where the lure of big money in the pros had repeatedly proved too tempting to young players unable to fully appreciate the long-term benefit of a college degree, at least when compared to an immediate cash infusion of millions of dollars. Krzyzewski favored a minimum age requirement to play in the NBA. But Krzyzewski knew, too, that this change was not going to happen on his say-so, even though he had reached exalted status not only at Duke but also nationally and internationally. At fifty-seven, Krzyzewski had compiled a 621–181 record at Duke, a winning percentage of 77 percent, leading the team to national championships in 1991, 1992, and 2001. By 2004, under Coach K, the Duke basketball team had secured ten Final Four appearances, eight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships and ten conference regular-season titles. His Duke teams had been ranked number 1 in twelve different seasons, including each of the last seven. With his team’s success on and off the court, Krzyzewski—like John Wooden at UCLA and Dean Smith at North Carolina—had become the personification of Duke basketball and one of the more powerful members of the Duke community.
In December 2004, the basketball court in Cameron Indoor Stadium was named Coach K Court in his honor and the patch of bluegrass outside Cameron—known as Krzyzewskiville—is where the faithful camp out, often weeks in advance, in order to watch a live game. In October 2005, he was named the coach of the U.S. national team that would compete (and win a gold medal) at the 2008 Summer Olympics. In 2010, Duke won its fourth NCAA basketball title under Krzyzewski, and then, early in the 2011–12 season—his thirty-second year at Duke—Krzyzewski became the all-time winningest coach in Division I men’s college basketball. In 2012, he again coached the Olympic basketball team to a gold medal. “Sports has often been likened to the front porch of a university,” observed sportswriter Liz Clarke in the Washington Post. “Hardly the most significant part of the structure, but the part that nonetheless forms the first impression. For the past three decades, Duke has basked in the splendor of a front porch embodied by the Duke Blue Devils basketball team and Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who, when not leading the team to national championships, can be found extolling the virtues of character and leadership in national TV commercials and in books.”
Coach K had a “lifetime” contract at the university, which was then paying him around $2 million annually, more than double Brodhead’s approximately $800,000. He also earned millions more in endorsements and from his various media enterprises, including book writing and hosting his own radio and television shows. He was also a professor at the Duke business school and a “special assistant” to the president of the university. To put it mildly, at Duke, Krzyzew-ski was at the center of his own solar system. “It is clear that his is the national face of Duke University,” Keith Brodie, a former Duke president, explained following the news of the Lakers’ offer. “No one can get in the New York Times like he can. He has become a symbol for us and for all of college athletics.”
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As Krzyzewski watched Livingston and Deng slip into the ranks of professional athletes at Madison Square Garden, Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers’ general manager and a former forward at Duke’s archrival, the North Carolina Tar Heels, sidled over to him and asked if Coach K would be interested in doing the same thing. In the wake of Coach Phil Jackson’s recent announcement that he was going to leave the Lakers, Kupchak was in the market for a new man. Did Krzyzewski want the job? Coach K was not only one of the best college basketball coaches of all time but was also the preferred choice of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers’ prima donna, who had specifically recommended Coach K to Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Like Livingston, Bryant, too, had jumped from high school directly to the NBA. Had he decided to go to college, he would have played for Krzyzewski at Duke. Adding to the intrigue of Kupchak’s question was the fact that Krzyzewski had considered coaching in the NBA twice before: once in 1990 for the Boston Celtics, and then again in 1994 for the Portland Trailblazers. Both times, he decided to stay at Duke, despite a personal appeal from the Celtics’ legendary leader Red Auerbach and the unlimited checkbook of Paul Allen, the Trailblazers’ owner and Microsoft cofounder.
This time, Joe Alleva, Duke’s athletic director, was sufficiently concerned that Krzyzewski might make the jump that he rushed into Allen Building to see Brodhead, who had been the longtime undergraduate dean at Yale University and was a scholar of nineteenth-century American literature. “The first day he was in his office, I had to go in there and tell him that Coach K was talking to the Lakers,” Alleva recalled. “His first day on the job.” Brodhead remembered the moment as being somewhat “hilarious” because he had been in his office all of one hour that morning, passing the time “very pleasurably,” when Alleva demanded to see him. “Well, maybe he just wanted to say hello,” Brodhead recalled, “but he gave me my first news about the Lakers. I had been president of Duke for about five hours when all of a sudden this crossed my bow.”
In the days that followed, there was the usual wooing, with Kupchak coming to Durham, North Carolina, where Duke is located, to meet with Krzyzew-ski and his wife and closest adviser, Mickie, and to take them to dinner and talk about the idea. Then there was the money. The Lakers had offered Coach K a five-year, $40 million contract, or $8 million a year—seriously big money, and multiples of what Duke was paying him at the time (and a third more than the Lakers had been paying Jackson). “It was intense,” Brodhead said later. “It wasn’t the week I’d been expecting. And yet, I have had university administrative jobs for years, and the main thing you know about them is that you never can know on any given day what’s going to happen.”
Inevitably, news this hot leaked out. After keeping the conversations quiet for nearly three days, on the afternoon of June 30, the Duke student newspaper, the Chronicle, broke the story. When asked by Michael Mueller, a Chronicle reporter, about the rumors swirling around campus, Alleva confirmed that the Lakers had contacted Coach K, and the team and the coach were in “serious discussions.” The Los Angeles Times further confirmed that Kupchak had flown to North Carolina and offered Coach K the job that day. “It’s his for the taking, his job to lose,” a Lakers source told the paper.
Alleva then released a statement, evidence of his growing concern that Krzyzewski might actually leave. “We have long believed that Mike is the best coach in the country,” he wrote. “The Lakers’ interest in him merely confirms what we have known. We hope that Mike will decide to stay in college coaching at Duke, a place that has been so special to him throughout his outstanding career. Mike has been an incredible asset to our institution, and on a much larger scale, to the sport of college basketball.” He noted that he and Brodhead had met for dinner with Krzyzewski “to express at the highest level our desire for him to finish his coaching career at Duke.”
Later that afternoon, Alleva also held a press conference at Cameron Indoor Stadium, one of the nation’s meccas of college basketball. Seth Davis, a 1992 Duke graduate and a writer at Sports Illustrated (and the son of Lanny Davis, a former legal counsel to President Bill Clinton), would later refer to Alleva’s press conference as a “farce” because the press release about the “serious discussions” under way had already conveyed all that was going on. “It may have been a gesture, on Alleva’s part, to demonstrate to Coach K how much they want him to stay, but I think it was unnecessary,” he said. “It’s hard to tell what Duke was thinking.”
One thing that was clearly on Alleva’s mind that afternoon was getting Krzyzewski to stay. “Obviously, when you have the best coach in the country, it’s not unusual when one of the best franchises in the country comes after him,” he said. “He has meant so much to Duke basketball, and so much to college basketball, that obviously we’re going to do everything we can to keep him in college basketball.”
Later that Thursday night, one hundred summer-session students—as well as Brodhead—attended a candlelight vigil and rally at Krzyzewskiville that had been organized using social media. For ninety minutes, the students cheered for Coach K, in absentia, and urged him to stay. At one point, Brodhead picked up a bullhorn to lead a discussion with the students about the crisis and then joined with them, sitting on the grass strewn with beer cans, to form a giant K by linking arms. For his part, Krzyzewski and his family were sequestered at their house in Durham, trying to decide what he should do.
The third time seemed like it was going to be the charm for Krzyzewski and professional basketball. He had become good friends with Kupchak. He greatly admired the skills of Kobe Bryant. He respected the family and team values espoused by Lakers owner Jerry Buss. The money was of course seductive, even though he had often spoken about how little money mattered to him. Once again, though, he had to think about whether his true calling was as a professional basketball coach or as the world’s best college coach. Word was that Coach K would take the weekend to decide what he wanted to do. “He’s going to have to measure what the opportunities are in front of him in L.A. against what a quarter of a century has provided him here,” Tom Butters, the former Duke athletic director who had hired Krzyzewski from Army in 1980, told the Chronicle. “If he were to leave and go to the Lakers and win twenty championships, he will always be associated with Duke basketball.”
Over the weekend, Coach K’s nerve-racking decision was the top news story in the country. ESPN couldn’t get enough of it. The media speculated that his growing frustration with the ease with which the pros picked off his best players would lead him to make the move to the NBA. (Of course, there was no mention of the irony that now he was potentially in the process of being picked off by the pros, too.) Prior to the 1998–99 season, no nonsenior Duke player had ever gone pro; since then, eight had done so, with Livingston becoming a professional without ever having set foot on Coach K Court. “What he loves the most—it’s not beating people—it’s taking an eighteen-year-old kid and producing a twenty-two-year-old man,” Chris Kennedy, Duke’s senior associate athletic director, explained that weekend. “To have these polished, accomplished, admirable individuals come out of our program—that’s what he’s seen as his central mission. Now it’s sort of leaking away. . . . What bothers him more than anything else is the way things have gotten so out of kilter.”
He got plenty of unsolicited advice. Pat Forde, a columnist at the Louisville Courier-Journal, urged him to reject the offer. He wondered if Coach K had “LOST YOUR FLIPPIN’ MIND?” and then observed: “Mike, you love all that rah-rah stuff—the stuff that makes Duke everything that the NBA isn’t. You built Duke’s corny camaraderie—the coaches love the players, who love the students, who worship you like some kind of ancient god. It’s basketball set to the Barney theme song: I love you, you love me . . . Annoying, but apt. The cloying word that envelopes your program is ‘special.’ And it’s true. Duke is smug, Duke is sanctimonious . . . but Duke is special.”
He also received an e-mail from Duke undergrad Andrew Humphries, from Waynesboro, Virginia, that supposedly influenced his decision. “Duke basketball is the reason I came to this university, plain and simple,” Humphries wrote Coach K over the weekend. “One of my essays was about [1990s team member] Bobby Hurley’s assist record and watching [Hurley’s teammate] Thomas Hill cry his eyes out. Without knowing it, or perhaps fully knowing it, you have been an integral part of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who you’ve never actually met. We watch you coach, we come to Cameron and hear you speak . . . and most of all, we admire you. We admire you because you take kids from all over the country and you make them into a family that seems second only to your actual family in your life. We admire you because you taught us that five people together is a fist, while one person is just a finger. We admire you because you are just an old Polish guy in the dark, looking for some heart. And you always find it.”
Humphries wrote that while he had dreamed of playing for Krzyzewski when he was a kid growing up, he knew that he didn’t have a prayer. “And then I got to Duke,” he continued, “and discovered that, yes, I am going to play for Coach K. I am going to be his sixth man. We hear about it on TV, how the Crazies are like a team member, and we think: Sure. We’re a team member as soon as we [make] a jumper. But then we get to Duke, and we watch players from all over the country stare wide-eyed at us as their jumpers start to clang off the back iron. We get to Duke and we hear you speaking, imploring us to be louder, try harder, to give 100 percent. We get to Duke and we realize you are our coach. Not just the coach of our team, but you are also our coach, because you believe that we give you something no one else can and we know that you give us something that no one ever could. Please still be my coach. I know that we can find more heart to offer an old Polish guy in the dark next year.” Soon enough, Humphries had his fifteen minutes of fame.
The consensus seemed to be—not surprisingly—that there would be no way for Duke to compete with the Lakers financially for Krzyzewski’s services but that on the margin the school could improve life for him—for instance, by building a new practice facility for the team that Krzyzewski had long coveted and continuing his various ancillary roles around the campus. “My heart tells me that he’ll stay, but evaluating everything that’s been going on, and everything the Lakers can offer him, and his own kind of thirst—he...
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