Mike Krzyzewski Sympathetic to LeBron James for Making It Through “As crazy a year as anybody in any sport ever has gone through.”

June 22, 2011 – 8:10 am by Eric Schmoldt

Over the course of the past year, LeBron James made “The Decision” and left Cleveland, assembled the Big Three in Miami, held a party before they had ever even played together, went through the ups and downs of playing a long 82-game regular season where every team and opposing fanbase was eager to hate you, yet still found a way to help carry the Heat to the NBA Finals. After all that, the Heat ultimately wound up short against the Dallas Mavericks in a tightly-contested series in which every move of James’ was scrutinized incessantly. Sure sounds busy and stressful. Duke coach, and also USA Basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski calls it as busy a year as anyone has ever had in the history of sports. Coach K, who calls LeBron a friend, says he understands that James brought some of that on himself, but he doesn’t think that a lot of the negative attention and acrimony he received was deserved because of self-inflicted reasons.

Mike Krzyzewski joined WFNZ in Charlotte on The Drive to discuss his time working with LeBron James during his head coaching stint with Team USA, his thoughts on the incredible amount of criticism and critique LeBron has faced all season and particularly more recently during and after this year’s NBA Playoffs, why he thinks superstar players are interested in playing for him in international competition, how long a season-ending loss wears on him as the head coach at Duke, and being honored with the Naismith Sportsmanship Award with Dean Smith and Kay Yow.

Going back to “The Redeem Team,” how were you able to get so many big personalities to co-exist?:

“First of all, I had an incredible advantage, two incredible advantages. One, working for Jerry Colangelo, who heads USA basketball, former owner of the Phoenix Suns and really one of the top men in our country. He basically put it out there to each of the players what was expected of them and I followed up with that. Second, we said they were playing for their country, not for the Lakers or Cleveland or Miami or the Knicks or Denver. They understood that this was something bigger than any one individual. … They were marvelous. All of them, to a man, said to me, ‘Coach, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.’ If you have players that say that, at any level, you’ve got a better chance of being successful.”

What do you see in LeBron James’ game right now and does he need more leadership?:

“I think everybody needs leadership from the bench, so he’s not alone in that. I love LeBron. LeBron and I are really good friends and I pull for him. I think he has great leadership potential himself. He has a great leadership voice, he’s really smart and obviously he has an immense amount of talent. But he just went through, I think, as crazy a year as I think anybody in any sport ever has gone through. People can say, certainly some of it is of its own making, and it is. … But a lot of it wasn’t. To come out where you were two games shy of winning the whole thing, I think you have to keep it in perspective how close you were. … He learned a lot; he’s a good learner. He just needs to take some time away, work on his game and I think he’ll be fine.”

What is it about you that makes the superstar players want to play for you?:

“I’m not the only coach who has been able to do something like that and you can’t do it with everybody. There’s guys who do that with other coaches. … In Kobe’s case, and the guys that I’ve been with with the Olympic team, we never asked them to check their egos at the door. I told them to bring their egos in because when we play against Spain, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol and all of those guys are going to have big egos. Just don’t ever let your individual ego get outside of our team ego umbrella. … When you start thinking about it that way, you have to be a bad guy not to put your ego under that ego umbrella. … You just talk to them like that.”

How long does it take for you to overcome a season-ending loss like this year’s with Duke?:

“I’m OK the next day. For me, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to have an outstanding program or franchise in the pros, you’re on a continuum. The next thing you do has to be in a direction that will help you win and if you keep looking at things in the rear view mirror then you’re going to stay in the rear view mirror whether you’ve won or lost. I take responsibility for our actions and try to figure out what went right and what didn’t go right and then you move on.”

On why he didn’t want to accept the James Naismith Sportsmanship Award unless Dean Smith was present and honored as well:

“I think that was just the right thing to do. I don’t see how you can come into this area and accept an honor when one of the greatest coaches of any sport of all time is a neighbor. … I have a few more wins now than Dean did, although if he kept coaching he’d have a zillion. I thought that night when I got one more was really a neat night because you could share it with him and I just thought it would be a really neat thing for this area, for the ACC and for college basketball to have a night like that under the name of Naismith. And then they brought in also the idea of honoring Kay Yow and I thought that was even better. … It would have been a good night, but this will make it a fabulous night.”

Listen to Mike Krzyzewski on WFNZ in Charlotte here

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