Last week, I told you about the remarkable athletic performances I witnessed at the London Olympic Games. My wife tells me that it’s a good thing the Summer Olympics are held only every four years, or I would have to quit my day job to keep up with the events!
These athletes possess an inner drive that is foreign to most of us. Their natural talents are just a starting point. But they have a secret weapon: their coaches.
There is something much scarcer, something finer, something rarer than ability: It’s the ability to recognize ability. Jerry Colangelo, head of USA Basketball, is a genius for appointing Mike Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, to lead the USA men’s basketball team.
There are many outstanding college and professional coaches who could have coached this crew of individual stars, but I sincerely doubt that many of them could have gotten the final results Coach K delivered. Eight years ago, Argentina beat the USA for the gold medal despite the incredible array of talent from our NBA teams. This was not the result that Coach K wanted to repeat.
For 40 years, I have been watching USA Olympic basketball, with terrific memories from Michael Jordan to LeBron James. The Americans have dominated the sport for decades, but the world has closed the gap in the men’s game. Fortunately, the gap has not yet closed for USA’s fabulous women’s players.
The problem for Coach K is no one seems to understand this fact. The world, and especially USA basketball fans, think every game we play is over before it starts. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As a group, America unquestionably has the edge in sheer talent. We assemble a team of all-stars who command enormous professional contracts and huge endorsement deals. These 11 individual dominant players, however, must play as a team. They play for national pride. There are no salaries involved here. All the players come together and risk injury to play for their country. They give up their summers and check their egos at the door. Money can’t buy their emotional high.
Coach K is the genius who kept them playing as a team. Truth is, I didn’t go to all eight games just to see the players. I went to marvel at the coaching. Coach K has been expected to win (at Duke) his entire career and has the mental tools and strength that come with the highest expectations. He welcomes this pressure.
I had the pleasure of watching part of a closed practice. Coach K is untouchable when it comes to handling pressure and maintaining sheer unadulterated focus. He is one of the most disciplined coaches I have ever witnessed.
Coach K was virtually emotionless from start to finish in all eight Olympic games. That is part of his DNA.
Never for a moment during their quest for a gold medal did I ever think that every player who took the court was putting out less than 110 percent. This is a great tribute to Coach K.
Talking with Coach K at the afterparty gold-medal celebration, I kidded him about his 3-foot leap off the bench when Chris Paul blew past his defender for a reverse layup to break Spain’s back in the gold-medal game. He admitted he couldn’t hold back his emotion after four years of pressure to bring home the gold.
Coach K told me he is a better coach in 2012 than he was in 2008. He claims this is his last Olympics coaching gig. Let’s hope the next coach and all the businesspeople out there take a page from Coach K’s playbook.
Mackay’s Moral: “Don’t worry about losing. Think about winning.” — Coach Mike Krzyzewski