NEW YORK — Mike Krzyzewski, who stepped down as U.S. Olympic men’s basketball coach after three titles, made a rare appearance with Winter Olympians at the Figure Skating in Harlem Gala last week. There, he answered questions about Olympic basketball and why he was at a figure skating party …
OlympicTalk: Coach K and figure skating. How does that go together?
Krzyzewski: One of our dearest group of friends is Doug and Ellie Lowey [co-chairs of the Figure Skating in Harlem Gala]. And [businesswoman and gala honoree] Elaine Wynn has been one of our dearest friends forever. But the concept [of Figure Skating in Harlem] is what turns you on. We have a similar thing in Durham with the Emily Krzyzewski Center, helping first-generation kids who might want to go to college, to help them. This is such a unique idea. So, really [I’m here] in recognition to our friends, the Loweys. Then I’m going to introduce one of the honorees, Mrs. Wynn, who’s a dear friend.
OlympicTalk: What one thing would you change about Olympic basketball?
Krzyzewski: Well, I love our [Olympic] format. I don’t like the changes they just made, where the world championships [or world cup] are in 2019 instead of this summer [worlds, held every four years like the Olympics, used to be held midway between Olympics]. I liked the old format better, but I love international basketball and how well our game is played everywhere. Twenty-five percent of the NBA is international, and that will only continue to increase.
OlympicTalk: Why did you like the old worlds timing (2006, 2010, 2014) better than the new one (2019, 2023)?
Krzyzewski: I just think it gave the worlds even more recognition, instead of a prelude to the Olympics. It was its own entity. The world championships, there are 24 countries involved [expanding next summer to 32]. In the Olympics, there are 12. So, it’s different. The other thing I liked about it is when we won the gold medal, the coaches actually got one [gold medal] at the world championships [laughs].
OlympicTalk: Any players ever offer you their Olympic gold medal? Or USA Basketball make an extra one for you?
Krzyzewski: Oh, they do make an extra one, USA Basketball. And I’m good with all that. The coach has an auxiliary role, really, as compared to the players.
OlympicTalk: So you have three Olympic gold medals? What about when you were an assistant with the Dream Team in 1992?
Krzyzewski: I don’t have them from the Dream Team in 1992, but I do from Beijing, London and Rio, the teams that I [head] coached.
OlympicTalk: Say Olympic rosters were 13 players instead of 12. Who would you add to any of the 2008, 2012 or 2016 Olympic teams?
Krzyzewski: I would have liked to have LeBron [James] and Kobe [Bryant] for the 2016 team in Rio. But for those guys to make the commitments they do, after playing over 100 games for the year, is phenomenal. To get Carmelo Anthony, who did it three times, LeBron and Chris Paul twice, Kevin Durant twice and also a world championship, it’s an incredible commitment by all those guys.
Editor’s Note: Anthony and James also played for Larry Brown at the 2004 Olympics, where the U.S. took bronze. Bryant removed himself from Rio consideration in January 2016, his farewell NBA season, to give a younger star an opportunity at a gold medal. James passed on the Rio Olympics, citing the need for rest after winning the 2016 NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a decision Krzyzewski respected. James said in January 2017 that Gregg Popovich succeeding Krzyzewski as Olympic head coach in 2020 “factors a lot” in whether he’ll want to play. James has called Popovich “the greatest coach of all time.” Krzyzewski is staying on with USA Basketball in an advisory role.
OlympicTalk: Do you think LeBron will play for Gregg Popovich at Tokyo 2020?
Krzyzewski: I don’t know. You know what, once you served, it’s a big thing to serve again. We should not put any pressure on those guys to serve again. However, if they want to, our arms are open wide to hug them. But Pop will do an amazing job.
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