Krzyzewski consoled Blue Devils after Kobe news: ‘Adults cry. Men cry.’

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Steve Wiseman
·3 min read
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Mike Krzyzewski gets credit turning USA Basketball back into the world’s best, taking over a broken program and coaching it to Olympic gold once again.

It wouldn’t have happened, he said, without Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

“They were the foundation,” Krzyzewski said Tuesday night after leading Duke to a 79-67 win over Pittsburgh, “and everything else was built on the relationship that those two guys developed, and they allowed me to help in that a little bit, but also then to coach it. Those are moments in time.”

Bryant’s death, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash Sunday in California knocked an emotional hole in the world of basketball.

Krzyzewski and his family felt it because of their shared Olympic experiences with Bryant at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London games.

Michael Savarino, Krzyzewski’s grandson who is a freshman walk-on on this year’s Duke team, is nicknamed “Mamba” because he grew close to Bryant in Beijing. Krzyzewski and his wife, Mickie, remember Bryant kissing their granddaughters’ hands and saying “Hi princess.”

“Mickie had an unbelievable relationship with Kobe,” Krzyzewski said, “so it’s been bad. It’s been bad and I have been very emotional about it, not publicly, but for the others involved too. Are you kidding me? Nine people, horrific, so very tragic.”

On Monday, Krzyzewski gathered with his assistant coaches and Duke’s players in his office to discuss Bryant’s death and share memories of the basketball icon.

Bryant’s death hit Cassius Stanley particularly hard. A Los Angeles native, Stanley idolized Bryant during his 20-year Lakers career.

The freshman forward spoke with Bryant about Duke and Krzyzewski before joining the Blue Devils last summer.

On Sunday, when word spread about the accident, Stanley hoped against hope it was all a hoax. But he received a text from someone at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy confirming the tragic news.

“My day stopped,” Stanley said. “I just sat there and cried. It was one of the toughest days, so far, in my life.”

On Monday, in his office, Krzyzewski shed tears in front of his team, showing how much Bryant meant to him.

“We tried to comfort them and they tried to comfort me,” Krzyzewski said. “I wanted them to know. We showed pictures. I explained some stories so they could understand the depth of it. Also they saw me crying and I talked to them about... Adults cry. Men cry. I just want you to know how much this meant.”

Krzyzewski and Pitt coach Jeff Capel, the former Duke player and assistant coach, agreed for their teams to wear matching T-shirts during pregame warmups to honor Bryant. The black shirts and a purple No. 8, bordered in yellow, on the front and a No. 24 on the back.

Purple and yellow are the Lakers colors.

Krzyzewski wore the shirt under his sport coat during his post-game press conference.

Prior to the national anthem, a moment of silence — appropriately lasting 24.8 seconds — was held to honor not only Bryant but former Duke athlete and ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, who died last week.

Stanley was among the Duke players creating a personal memorial. He wrote “King of LA” “8” “RIPKobe” “RIPGiGi” and “1-26-20” on his shoes.

Mickie Krzyzewski wore a USA Basketball jacket to Cameron on Tuesday night to watch the Blue Devils beat Pittsburgh.

The Krzyzewskis and the Blue Devils are working their way through the grief, clinging to the good times.

“Those two Olympics,” Mike Krzyzewski said, “those are moments in time.”