NEW YORK -- After the buzzer sounded, the cameras swarmed. The game was finished, the 1,000th win was in the history books, but the moment wasn’t over. Mike Krzyzewski was swept away from his wife, Mickie, to absorb clicks and flashes and on-court interviews. So she found every Duke player she could, hugged them and thanked them for what they just helped her husband accomplish.
In the six days since Duke’s win over Pitt, No. 999, there had been countless words spent, on air and in print, about the significance of this win, some in the hopes of inflating this moment. But as a team, Duke only discussed it once, on Tuesday. Throughout the week, Coach K had asked his team to think of it only as a chance to earn their 17th win of the season and finish the non-conference schedule unbeaten.
At the beginning of the game, the emotion propelled Duke to a 21-10 lead. But the Red Storm clawed back in and ended the first half up 43-39. Down by 10 points with 8:36 left in the game, Coach K called a timeout, and Duke’s energy seemed to return. Senior guard Quinn Cook immediately cut into the deficit with a spinning layup and sunk the free throw on the called foul. Back-to-back baskets from freshman point guard Tyus Jones brought the Blue Devils to within four. With 5:42 left, Cook crossed over Phil Greene IV and hit a three-pointer to give Duke the lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“They fought so hard for him,” Mickie told SI.com on the court after the game. “They just had to dig down and realize that this meant more than just a game.
“I’m just glad it’s over. It’s been a burden on Mike and a pressure on the team.”
The burden for Coach K was keeping his team, instead of himself, in the spotlight as he approached the milestone; the pressure for the team was to make sure he reached it. Once they did, the celebration began quickly. Duke players changed into commemorative caps that simply said “K” and shirts that said “1,000 wins and kounting.” They formed a circle and started dancing. The burden was lifted, the pressure relieved. Now it was time for reflection.
When Mickie found Jahlil Okafor after the game and thanked him, he looked at her and told her, “You have nothing to thank me for.”
Okafor, after all, had committed to Duke with this very night in mind. He wanted to be on the team that got Coach K No. 1,000.
“It’s surreal,” he said in the locker room after the game. “We all wanted to do this for a guy that we love so much.”
Tyus Jones, who committed to Duke along with Okafor, added, “Coach never makes it about himself. It makes me honored to be a part of a legacy like his.”
Coach K, true to form, spent much of his postgame conference thanking anyone he could think of -- his family, Bobby Knight, Madison Square Garden, his 1969 class at West Point. He called himself lucky repeatedly. The closest he came to self-congratulations was this, “There will be others who will win more. It’s kind of neat to be the first to 1,000.”
At the end of his press conference, he asked the large group of reporters for “no more stories.” He wanted the moment to be over.
Of course, it wasn’t quite. He shook hands with staff and passersby in the hallways on the way back to the locker room, where he celebrated with Mickie, two of his daughters, seven of their grandchildren, assistant coaches, current and former players, and a few others who wanted to relish this moment.
On the court, another game had begun. By the time Coach K re-emerged form the locker room, Iona was well on its way to a win over Niagara. But the moment wasn’t over yet. He walked onto a freight elevator and acquiesced to one last interview, with Duke’s Blue Devil Network. Now on the ground floor, the final camera light was switched off.
He followed a familiar path out of the arena, talking to a pair of Duke’s PR staffers.
“Hell of a game,” he told them. He was a few paces behind her as he entered the cold New York night and the last interruption. The team bus was to his right, but a hundred Duke fans were gathered behind a gate 50 feet the opposite direction. He walked over to them, thanked them and shook as many hands as he could find.
He walked toward the bus. He and his team will celebrate on the flight. They’ll no doubt land and discover a gathering of Duke fans waiting for their piece of the moment. Duke will face two more road games before finally returning to play at Cameron on Feb. 4, where he’ll no doubt be honored on the court named after him.
For now though, he simply looks for his wife. Mickie is waiting by the door of the bus. He puts his arm around her and they step on board. This moment is over, but their journey continues.