So there is an out-of-court settlement in the Lance Thomas jewelry charade.
The lawsuit brought against the former Duke basketball player by jeweler Rafaello & Co., will never go to trial. That's convenient.
Except it really isn't convenient at all. Not if Duke still wants to be what it bills itself to be and Mike Kryzyzewski still wants to be who he says he is.
Honest. Playing by the rules. A cut above the dirty, conniving mainstream.
The settlement reached between Rafaello & Co. and Thomas, who allegedly failed to finish paying off nearly $100,000 in jewelry purchased while still playing college basketball, ostensibly gives both parties NCAA cover. Nobody on either side is likely to be compelled to cooperate with the joint investigations by Duke and NCAA Enforcement into how then-senior Thomas paid 30 grand for bling in 2009, with nearly $68,000 more in credit. Especially if a confidentiality agreement was part of the settlement.
Nobody with a functioning brain needs a formal investigation to tell us that this deal smells funny. Like so many other things that just seem to happen in college sports, it doesn't pass the smell test. But to get at the source of the odor, people have to play ball with the NCAA.
If neither the jeweler nor the player submit to NCAA interviews and/or turn over documentation related to this transaction, nothing is likely to come of it. The NCAA has no subpoena power and precious little leverage to exert on a private company and a former college player. We could all die of smoke inhalation while lacking confirmation that there was indeed a fire.
But it shouldn't come to that. Not if Duke still wants to be what it bills itself to be and Mike Kryzyzewski still wants to be who he says he is.
Forthright. Keeping the bigger picture in mind. Impervious to a win-at-all-cost mentality.
For Duke to still be Duke and K to still be K, both entities will have to do everything in their considerable power to get to the bottom of this. They will not let damage control take precedence over exhaustive pursuit of the facts. They will not slip into the comfort of a loophole and call it a day. They will not get off on a technicality and declare that satisfactory closure when the assumptions and aspersions are this severe and spectacular.
Even if the end result could be vacating the 2010 national title. That could theoretically happen since Thomas was a member – and a key member at that – of that Blue Devils team, and conceivably could be declared retroactively ineligible for receiving impermissible benefits.
It would be a severe blow to Krzyzewski's legacy. But dancing around it would be worse. What should happen is this:
Krzyzewski, the most accomplished and authoritative basketball coach in his generation, should persuade Lance Thomas to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the NCAA. He has strong relationships with dozens of former Dukies he coached – some of whom work for him and many others who regularly return to campus for games, camps and other activities. I don't know the nature of his relationship with Thomas, but Coach K should expend every effort to make him talk.
And you would think someone with that level of pride in what he's built would willingly risk the damage to his reputation in order to get to the bottom of a major situation. Chances are slim that Krzyzewski had any inkling that Lance Thomas was steeped in six-figure jewelry – but now that he knows, it's time to find out why.
If, upon reaching the bottom, violations are found, so be it. Let the chips – the sanctions and the public backlash – fall where they may.
This much we do know: The NCAA and Duke are looking into this together and are in only the early stages of their work. Investigations such as these rarely unfold rapidly, and never unfold publicly. So we shouldn't expect to know the full extent of the situation anytime soon. Maybe Krzyzewski is actively working on Thomas to come clean right now.
But while we wait, the burden of expectation will be heavy. If there is anything even approximating a logical explanation for why a senior in college walked into a boutique jeweler on 47th Street in midtown Manhattan that caters to celebrities and professional athletes, and paid $30,000 up front for a black diamond necklace, a diamond-encrusted watch, a diamond cross, diamond earrings and a black diamond pendant in the shape of Jesus' head, we'd all love to hear it. We'd also love to hear why the store would extend him a 15-day line of credit to pay the remaining sum of nearly $68,000 – and where Thomas thought he was going to come up with that money to pay the rest of the bill.
Anything less than every expendable effort to make Thomas cooperate with the NCAA would be a tacit admission that Coach K – American basketball hero, Olympian, public icon, hailed for 30 years as an exemplar of virtue in a shady profession – would prefer to not know the truth.
Let's hope it doesn't come to that. It would be a repudiation of what Duke bills itself to be and who Mike Krzyzewski says he is.
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