NBA, Olympics / Jul 24, 2009 / 12:37 pm

Secrets of Team USA: Coach K Talks LeBron, Kobe and Dwyane Wade

Coach K 2
The USA men’s basketball team’s well-documented shortcomings in 2002, 2004 and 2006 created a stone-cold sober climate before the Beijing Games in 2008. Players and coaches approached their commitment to winning gold with a sense of gravity largely absent from the years marred by defeat. However, amid all of the seriousness of Team USA’s run through Beijing, there were moments away from the media spotlight in which these 14 guys loosened up and became a team.

We sat down with the Redeem Team’s gold-medal winning coach, Duke living legend Mike Krzyzewski, for DIME 50 to talk about those lighter times when laughter and smiles became the backbone for gold. Some of these stories and many others can be found in Coach K’s book The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team, which he co-authored with his daughter Jamie K. Spatola.

Dime: LeBron has a reputation as a bit of a goof, always joking around and trying to keep things light. In what ways did he do that with you?
Coach K: LeBron is really funny—whenever there was a dull moment he would make light of something, maybe start singing or performing. So we always goofed around. I decided to play a joke on him. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “LeBron, I think I’m going to get a tattoo.” He looked back at me confused and asked, “What are you thinking about?” I told him that I’m going to get “Chosen 1″ tattooed across my back. He laughed, and then bent over and said, “Coach, there’s only one Chosen 1.”

Dime: Your family was in Beijing at points. Did the players ever interact with them?
Coach K: When we were there in Beijing, we’d all eat together in one big room. Our families ate with us—it was really nice. So one day my entire family was there: all of my daughters, my five grandchildren. LeBron walked in—he always makes a bit of an entrance—it was really neat how they showed respect to everyone, hugging and kissing the whole group. When Kobe came in, he did the same thing, but he stopped when he got to my five-year-old twin granddaughters. I believe he bent over and took Carly’s hand and told her it was a pleasure to meet her. He then said, “Is it OK if I call you princess?” She just melted right there.

Dime: Kobe is the one guy people never seem to be able to completely figure out. What was your experience like with him?
Coach K: With Kobe, it wasn’t just in Beijing. I remember the very first day, he came early and (assistant coach) Johnny Dawkins went to go work him out just before eight in the morning. We had a coaches meeting at 10:30 and Johnny never showed. Then our coaches meeting is over and it’s noon, we break the meeting and I finally see Johnny. I ask him, “What happened?” And he said, “Coach he just worked out for four hours and he could’ve worked out for four more hours. He didn’t take breaks. I haven’t seen anything like it.”

Dime: Who grew the most during your time together?
Coach K: LeBron James grew more than any other player during the three-year period. I loved my association with LeBron James. This year he’s having one of the great years in the history of the NBA. I think a lot of that is because of the situations he put himself in. In developing my relationship with LeBron, the second summer before we started to have practice, I flew to Akron to meet with him. I just wanted to be part of a little event he was doing. We talked about the team. I asked him, “What do you think about our team?” He said, “Coach, I love our team. It’s going to be great playing with all of those guys. I’m going to be able to learn from those guys.” I said, “Well, give me an example.” He said, “Well, J-Kidd.” I asked, “What about him?” LeBron said, “He’s the best passer. I think I’m a good passer, but he’s the best. I want to learn what he sees. I want to find out if I can see the things he does and how he goes about learning that.” So for that summer and the next summer, wherever you saw Jason Kidd, you saw LeBron.

Dime: How different is it working with the best pro basketball players in the world as opposed to some of the best players in college basketball?
Coach K: About four years ago, I was almost the coach of the Lakers. I was really close to taking that job. So a part of me was quite excited about the opportunity to coach Kobe again. I’ve known him since he was about 18 years old. We recruited him to Duke University, and now I was getting the chance to finally do so. During one of our meetings before we really got into the flow in Beijing, he stopped me and said, “Coach.” Then he gave one of those long Kobe stares and said, “I want to guard the best player on the perimeter of every team we play.” He stopped. And then said, “And I will destroy them.”

: Was he that serious on the practice court, too?
Coach K: Our first practice together, Kobe went through the entire time without taking a shot. This was a guy who had just scored 50 points about 10 times during the season, and he didn’t take a single shot when everyone played together. I think that he just wanted to prove to everyone that he would do whatever he needed to for the team.

Dime: Could you get a feel for just how much this meant to Kobe?
Coach K: Kobe comes to his uniform, it’s laying out on a chair. Before he touches the jersey with his name, number and “USA” on it, he just stands there. As he’s standing there he starts crying. You wouldn’t ever think of him crying. The guy who’s helping with the equipment asked Kobe, “What’s wrong?” He said, “You don’t understand. I’ve always dreamed of playing for my country. I’ve always dreamed of putting a ‘USA’ uniform on.” You look at these guys like superstars, but they’re people just like yourself. You can’t accept that when they’re scoring 50 points. But they have dreams, they work hard.

Dime: Did anyone tell you how much this meant to them after winning gold?
Coach K: Dwyane Wade was injured right around this time the previous summer (2007). During that time, I called him about once a week to say that no matter what happened, I knew he’d be back and that he was my guy. I think he appreciated that, because immediately after we won the gold medal, he came up and gave me a hug. It was then that he whispered in my ear, “Thanks for believing in me.”

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  • Yoooo

    Niggas got Coach K to sit down, yall are doing something right!

    MenWithGirls.Blogspot.Com Make your day worth it

  • Tim

    hhah hat Kobe quote is great….”and I will destroy them.”

  • sh!tfaced

    LeBron is a jokester alright, except when the joke is on him. LOL

  • http://www.LakersNation.com Lakers Nation

    i’ve heard these stories a million times . . . how about some other ones about the other guys? any pranks? most difficult moment? fights? competitive moments?

  • sh!tfaced

    isn’t it obvious? they can’t say anything more than those things because they’d have to ask permission from each other, from team USA and from the sponsors. it might ruin all the PR, phonyness and marketability.

  • The Real Deal

    i think coach K has a bromance going on with Kobe. and that line Kobe dropped on coach K’s granddaughter was probably the same one he used in Colorado.

  • http://www.f-the-refs.net Chicagorilla

    I’m sorry, then entire time i was reading all i could think about was Coach K’s rat face. He is so over rated as a coach. You should have asked him why is his school the junkyard for All-Americans. Why do highschool all-americans come there to die. Why is Steve Wojokowski the “big men” coach? Who taught Sheldon Williams those awsome post moves? why does elton Brand and Carlos Boozer give up just as many points per game as they score? Why is Chris Duhon always in the opposing teams PG highlight package getting beat off the dribble? Why is Corey Maghette considered one of the worse defenders in the NBA?
    Thats something i’d be more interested in hearing.

  • Marc Stein


    STEPHON MARBURY HAS LOST HIS MIND – he’s live streaming himself


  • Oscarisalakerfan

    As a Laker Fan that Colorado never seems to get old…

  • Mack Brownee

    nice Dime piece

  • Oscarisalakerfan

    correction:Colorado Joke

  • The Real Deal

    hey don’t get me wrong, I’m a Kobe fan too but that line was just too good to pass up.

    He then said, “Is it OK if I call you princess?” She just melted right there. haha

    thanks for the setup dime

  • Yeah

    Yeah, i heard that the bitch after framing Kobe. Started and a group targetting athletes. The Ben bitch is one of her recruits.

  • kevin k

    @ #7 chicagogorilla

    Amen bro~ couldn’t have said any better myself

  • lifep

    Nice…I appreciate stories that show the humanity of the players. Puts a “real” face on the players beyond their image…good looking out Dime

  • Dukesman2000

    “The guy who’s helping with the equipment.” Dude doesn’t have a name, Coach K?

  • BiG ShoT BoB

    While there at it they should ask Chicagorilla what he’s done in his life that even comes close to Coach K’s accomplishments on the court.

    If there are any leaders out there whether it’s a coach or business manager I highly recommend this book…great read.

  • weezy f

    i believe in wadde!

  • http://astrokidz.blogspot.com T.J

    That reminds me. Josh Smith dunked on Kevin Love in Vegas


  • snook

    “He laughed, and then bent over and said, “Coach, there’s only one Chosen 1.”

  • JJ

    that colorado joke was good! but then again kobe like when you punk asses hate on him!!


  • LakeShow84

    Damn ever since Kobe FINALLY won his chip i notice all anyone can talk about now is the Colorado issue..

    @ The Real Deal – I guess the INBREDS be out in full force this offseason eh??

    HAHAHAHA that was hillarious you just joked about Kobe dropping a rape line on a young girl..

  • doc

    Kobe and Bron never will shake the hate.Thats how u know u great.If wannabes didnt talk shit about u then u a nobody.

  • pat

    Hey Chigacorilla,

    Please don’t forget that Dahntay Jones can’t shoot to save his life! You criticism about Coach K is more reason to believe that he is indeed the best basketball coach in the world.

    If all the players that play for him are indeed deficient players, then he has done a fantastic job year after year of producing and COACHING winning teams and claiming the occasional NCAA championship!

    I would be sooo worried to have had jerry colangelo’s job to assemble a team for the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA to win the GOLD medal in the OLYMPICS. I would be concerned about the shame that would befall me if the team had another meltdown in world competition.

    Yet, of all the coaches he could have had, why do you think he would pick Coack K you idiot and moron.

  • alan t.

    I’d like somebody to pull a practical joke involving Coach’s silly shoe polished head. I’m not sure what the practical joke would involve, but I’m sure somebody can think of something.

  • http://leogau.com Leo

    It’s awesome to hear the guys enjoy being on the team. Looking forward to another era of American basketball dominance.

  • bill

    post 6 – funniest i have seen on this site ever, just spat my drink all over the screen.

    Nice one :)

  • Ryan

    Julius Jenkins