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Coach K’s Legacy Was Always Meant to Be Passed on

Last Updated: October 25, 2022
Mike Krzyzewski’s lasting impact on the game of basketball reaches far beyond wins and losses.

Everyone in the world of basketball knows more than a little about Mike Krzyzewski’s incredible achievements on the court as the head coach of not just Duke University, but Team USA.

Over an incredible 40-year run, Coach K’s resume includes:

  • Five national championships with the Duke Blue Devils
  • 1,170 career career college wins and counting at Duke, an all-time Division I record (no other coach in men’s history has even reached four digits)
  • Three Olympic gold medals and a pair of FIBA World Cup golds with the US men’s basketball team
  • Induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame (2001) and College Basketball Hall of Fame (2006)

Throw in 12 Final Fours, 15 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles, and 12 ACC regular season crowns, and you have the greatest men’s college hoops coach who ever lived.

Those accomplishments would be more than enough for most men. But the 74-year-old Krzyzewski, who announced earlier this month that he’ll be retiring at the end of the 2021-22 season, didn’t just create a legacy — he created a Legacy fund.

One that ensures his influence will live on long after he’s gone.

Coach K created the Duke Basketball Legacy Fund in 1999. The first-of-its-kind endowment raises money specifically for the Duke men’s basketball program, including scholarships, coaching positions, and Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils’ iconic home.

The minimum donation required to join the Legacy Fund? $1 million.

The fund wasn’t just created to pay for fully endowing the basketball program and paying for expenses and infrastructure, however. It’s become a deeply personal project for Krzyzewski and his family, and a rallying cry for alumni who have had so much success on the court for Duke.

Thanks to the Fund, Coach K named a scholarship in honor of his older brother Bill in 2003, with the Michael W. Krzyzewski Center opening its doors as the basketball team’s practice facility in 2008. Krzyzewski’s daughter, Debbie Savarino, is the director of the Legacy Fund.

Former players like Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, and Brian Davis have also joined the Fund, which has 47 active partners according to Savarino’s official bio and has raised more than $115 million to date. The scope and scale of the infrastructure Krzyzewski’s built will help not just coaching successor Jon Scheyer, but future Duke coaches for years and decades to come.

What Coach K is leaving behind isn’t a team.

It’s an ecosystem.

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More than two decades on, the Fund is in a position to keep evolving in pursuit of excellence. Given the sheer number of ways it shapes Duke athletics, it’s a uniquely powerful arc in the story of Mike Krzyzewski, right up there with his mountains of trophies and medals and inimitable role as a mentor and motivator.

With that in mind, Boardroom spoke with several Duke alumni who discussed just how singular Coach K’s legacy truly is.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver:

“Coach K transformed the Duke basketball program over a four-decade run of sustained excellence that is simply unmatched. In addition to his wide-ranging impact on the Duke community and college athletics, Coach K played an instrumental role in the resurgence of USA Basketball and has been a driving force behind the global growth of the game.  He is undoubtedly one of the greatest leaders and communicators in all of sports and business.”

Apple Senior VP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue:

“On and off the court, Coach K has made an indelible imprint on so many of us in the Duke community, as well as countless others in the sports world and beyond. He has taught me so much personally about dedication, compassion, and class, and he has been a constant inspiration in how to motivate a team to strive for excellence and make a positive difference in everything you do. From his work with the Legacy Fund to all the unforgettable basketball moments, Coach K epitomizes what it means to be a role model, a mentor, and a leader. He’s one for the history books.” 

Krzyzewski has touched the lives of hundreds of his players over the years. But critically, his most indelible lessons are the kind that extend well beyond the classroom and the hardwood.

Two-time NBA champion Quinn Cook:

“The reason why I went to Duke was to learn from him for four years. He was my coach in life more than on-court. I lost my dad when I was younger, and he would call me every year on Father’s Day and on my dad’s birthday, still to this day.

We all feel connected. You could have played in 1992 or 2002, and we feel like we all played together because Coach has made it such an open forum for people to feel welcome. That’s what makes him the greatest coach ever, the gift to lead and make people believe in themselves.”

Cook’s feeling about Mike Krzyzewski — that he learned more from him about becoming a man than he did about basketball — is a frequent refrain across multiple generations of Duke players. The former Warrior and Laker said he learned to be a better businessman through the K Academy program, a camp that provides a pipeline to team owners, agents, and CEOs for networking opportunities.

But even Duke alums who didn’t play for Coach K still feel his impact in Durham and beyond.

Four-time WNBA All-Star Alana Beard:

“Coach K and I would see each other as we passed through the halls of Cameron Indoor, and I remember the short but impactful conversations we would have. They meant the world to me.

“I watched him build masterpiece after masterpiece during my years at Duke. The level of greatness that he expected of his teams and those around him motivated me to strive for that same level of greatness consistently. His commitment to his players off the court, Duke University, and the Durham community is unmatched, and I am grateful to have had a front-row seat.”

While Jon Scheyer clearly has impossibly big shoes to fill when he takes over the Duke job for the 2022-23 season, the infrastructure Mike Krzyzewski put in place over his incredible 40-plus-year tenure in Durham will live on forever — and grant the 33-year-old real, lasting advantages no other program’s successor can claim.

“Don’t try to compare it to any other succession plan,” Krzyzewski said during his retirement announcement. “This is ours.”

About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.