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Coach K's legacy isn't on the line with Team USA

8/3/2009

I was really pleased to see that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to coach the United States Olympic basketball team through the 2012 London Games, even though the announcement came as no great surprise to me. What did come as a surprise was all the talk about legacy.

I was an assistant coach on Krzyzewski's staff in the early 1990s when Coach K finally won his first national championship in 1991. With almost the entire roster back for the 1992 season and the expectations of back-to-back titles on the minds of everyone involved in the program, Krzyzewski seized the team's collective mindset in the very first team meeting of that season. And it changed the way I approached and looked at things.

Krzyzewski told the team he didn't consider Duke to be "defending champions." He said Duke was not "defending" anything. The 1991 national championship was won and over, and the trophy was displayed forever in Cameron Indoor Stadium. There was nothing to defend. Instead, Duke was going to "pursue" the '92 trophy for its own sake, and therefore, the 1991-92 team was a totally different team from the 1990-91 team that cut down the nets.

The approach was fresh and freeing for the players, but it also was absolutely correct. Whether Duke won the 1992 national championship had no bearing whatsoever on the 1991 championship. It would not change the record books, and it would not change the character or quality of the journey traveled. 1991 was irrelevant to 1992.

So when I read from different outlets that "Coach K's legacy" will be on the line at the 2012 Olympics in London, I had to laugh. And I laughed out loud. I respect the opinions, but they are pretty silly. In one way, a coach's legacy always is on the line. In another way, a coach's legacy is secure because past accomplishments are lasting.

First, I think it is really cool that Krzyzewski decided to coach the Olympic team again. He and Jerry Colangelo have put a true program in place for USA Basketball and changed the culture of the enterprise. It would have been really easy to step away as a feel-good champion, with the image of the team's gold medals around his neck in Beijing. Krzyzewski served in the United States Army and knows what true commitment is, and what it means to represent and serve the nation. The fact that he would want to come back and do this again speaks well of him and of the players and coaches he has worked with.

But his "legacy" isn't on the line. The championships and medals he has won during his career will not be enhanced or diminished, just as dropping a race in Rome doesn't diminish the accomplishments of Michael Phelps in Beijing.
Success in any endeavor always is temporary. No competitor can ever rest on his past laurels and ensure future success or permanence. That should go without saying. And Coach K doesn't need to return because the job he started isn't done. Win or lose in London in 2012, the job will not be done.

The job is never done. The United States is back on top in international basketball ... for now. The key is that the foundation is in place for future success, but success is temporary and not guaranteed.

Krzyzewski is not putting his legacy at risk, and he is not defending the 2008 Olympic gold medal. He is pursuing the 2012 gold medal and looking to add to his legacy. There is a difference.

Loopholes: I always enjoy the discussion of loopholes in NCAA rules. Some people make it sound as though doing something that is not clearly prohibited by the rules is illegal and wrong just because they happen to disagree with a certain practice. Well, you know what I call something that is not prohibited by the rules? I call it legal. And that is exactly what it is. There is a difference between a loophole and an unintended consequence. In football, is throwing the ball out of bounds intentionally to stop the clock considered a loophole in the rules? How about fouling at the end of a game in basketball?

Name and likeness: The lawsuit brought by former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon against the NCAA (at the suggestion and urging of former sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro) raises a ton of really interesting and far-reaching issues.

Think about it for a moment. If UCLA wishes to use the name and likeness of a UCLA student in a print ad to sell T-shirts in its university store, the school would have to obtain that student's permission to do so. Otherwise, it would be a violation of the law. UCLA would not be allowed to simply use the image, name and likeness of a student for its commercial and financial gain.

Well then, why is it OK for the name and likeness of a student-athlete to be used without his or her consent or permission?

Several years ago, I was having lunch with former Valparaiso star Bryce Drew. It was just after the NCAA tournament, and I had seen a commercial played over and over featuring Drew and former Duke star Christian Laettner hitting their iconic March Madness buzzer-beaters. The use of those images was in an ad for an insurance company that had paid millions of dollars to be a partner with the NCAA.

I asked Drew whether he had been compensated for the use of his image in the commercial. He said no. I asked him whether he had brought the issue to the attention of his agent, and he said no, because he didn't think it was that big a deal. I asked him whether he would feel differently if his image had been used in a Hooters commercial or a beer ad. That made him feel differently.

The images of college athletes have been used forever in college athletics, and they have been used for commercial purposes. An athlete is not allowed to make money off his image or likeness while he is in college, but the school can use his image and likeness for commercial purposes forever? Huh?

The NCAA has cut deals for video games for years, making millions upon millions of dollars, and the images, likenesses and names of the players have been used with not a dime going to the players -- and without the say of the players. Sure, the video games have created a fictional firewall such that the user has to add the names into the game, but it is impossible to deny that the images of the players are being used purposefully without their express consent. And the NCAA's claim that every student-athlete signs a waiver allowing the use of his or her image for the general promotion of the NCAA is a pretty flimsy defense.

Vaccaro has been off-base in some of his quixotic moves against the NCAA, but he is right in this case. If O'Bannon's suit causes the NCAA to take a full and fair look at its antiquated notion of amateurism, that is nothing but a very good thing. The Olympics gave up on the ideal of amateurism. There is too much money in and around the game for the NCAA to continue to hang on to it.