“I’ve been lucky.”
Forgive me – and the entire basketball world – for questioning Mike Krzyzewski’s choice of words, but 1,000 wins doesn’t simply happen by chance.
Krzyzewski, the most dominant men’s college basketball coach of the past 40 years – if not ever – captured his landmark win against St. John’s in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Technically, it was a home game for the Red Storm but, just as it did for Krzyzewski when he won his 903rd game to become the all-time leader in men’s college basketball, history seems to take precedence as Madison Square Garden.
“I like my place, Cameron, but this is a magical place and we beat a really good team and a storied program,” Krzyzewski said. “To win in this setting against a storied program makes it even better.”
If it were up to Krzyzewski, the swarm of media which descended on Madison Square Garden would not have been there to speak to, or about, him.
In fact, while everyone has been clamoring about this moment for the past six days, since Duke defeated Pittsburgh 79-65, the often stoic Krzyzewski admitted he was relieved the moment was over, more for the sake of his reputation than anything else.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Krzyzewski said. “There were so many articles written, about things I didn’t even remember about me, most of them were not that good either.”
Krzyzewski was hesitant to make the moment about him and him alone because, of course, there were plenty of people to thank and mention. Surrounded by two of his three daughters and seven of his nine grandchildren, Krzyzewski rattled off those who helped contribute to this historic moment.
“I’m the lucky guy who’s been at two great institutions in West Point and Duke,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve had unbelievable support. I’ve never had a day in my 40 years that I had to worry about my back, with my A.D., superintendent, or president and not many people can say that.
“I share today with all of my former players and assistants. My team is really happy.”
And while Krzyzewski discussed the victory, there were hints of the fierce competitor that coexists with the graceful, cool and disciplined coach.
“I don’t think [the players] fed off me [when losing in the second half],” Krzyzewski said. “If they were feeding off me they would have turned it around in the middle of the first half. At halftime I sent a text out to destroy all of the books I’ve written about leadership because they weren’t working.”
Krzyzewski's frustration was warranted, as for a while, it appeared as if the thousands of Blue Devils fans who packed the arena, many paying exorbitant prices for admission, would leave disappointed as the Red Storm veterans surged over the much-hyped Duke freshmen.
But Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils weren’t going to lie down just yet.
With Duke trailing 57-49 and only 11 minutes remaining, Krzyzewski showed why he is a basketball genius, and how even in win No. 1,000, he could still pull a rabbit out of his hat.
“We haven’t used Marshall [Plumlee] and [Jahlil Okafor] together,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know just said ‘put ‘em in.’ We made a mistake right away and I thought we were going to lose by 30, and then boom, just boom, it was great.”
It was with that spark that Duke rallied, as you almost knew they would, for this coach, in this place, and in the closing minutes the tide turned and the Blue Devils and their fans engulfed a Red Storm contingent that had become more deflated than any football in New England (allegedly).
“That’s the crazy thing about this game,” Krzyzewski said. “The way things were going, you would not think we were going to win, and then the way things were going, you would not think we could lose.”
And when the buzzer sounded, none of it mattered.
Blue Devil, Red Storm, New York, North Carolina, everyone stood and clapped as they witnessed Krzyzewski being embraced by his players and assistant coaches. A 77-68 victory that would go down in the annals of sports history.
“It was very special,” Okafor said. “We want to celebrate this with each other. It seemed like he was enjoying it for us because we were able to be a part of it. Everyone who helped him get to this point.”
As the fanfare and the celebrations ended, and the focus turned to the next milestone that Krzyzewski will accomplish, the legendary coach was there to bring everyone back to Earth and provide levity to the situation.
“We’ve always tried to do it with class and honor the game,” Krzyzewski said. “Nobody is bigger than the game. There is an end in sight. I’ll be 68 next month, and it’ll end sooner rather than later, just hopefully not real soon.”
“There’ll be others who win more, but it was kind of neat to be the first one to 1,000.”
It may seem blasphemous to question Krzyzewski again, but I don’t think anyone believes that will happen anytime soon.