Mike Krzyzewski’s road to retirement has one last stop at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
The Duke legend will coach his final game at the school’s home arena when the rival North Carolina Tar Heels come to town. While he has been coaching at the school for 41 years, his final game in Durham, N.C., could have come a long time ago.
Throughout Coach K’s four decades at Duke, numerous NBA teams have offered him a job. Krzyzewski never bit, though, putting together a renowned career with the most wins of any men’s college basketball coach in history.
Krzyzewski got to coach NBA talent throughout his career, even without working for an actual NBA team. Along with 68 draft picks at Duke, he also got to coach Hall of Famers on Team USA for 11 years, winning three Olympic gold medals along the way.
“I got my NBA fix, so to speak,” he told Philadelphia sports radio station WIP in 2020. “I’m really happy I got that.”
So, just how close did Krzyzewski get to coaching in the association? And which team got the closest to luring him away from Duke?
Here are six times Coach K was connected to NBA head coaching positions.
1990: Boston Celtics
The first NBA job opportunity came 10 years into his Duke tenure.
The Boston Celtics moved on from Jimmy Rodgers two years after he took over for K.C. Jones. Boston had been bounced in the first round of the playoffs in consecutive seasons, while Duke had reached three consecutive Final Fours. Following weeks of discussions with Celtics officials, Coach K announced that he was staying put in Durham, N.C.
“I have withdrawn my name from consideration for the Boston Celtics coaching position,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “I appreciate the opportunity to talk to the Celtics about the job and I appreciate Duke University allowing me to do so. I have made the decision to remain at Duke.”
The decision proved to be the correct one for Coach K. He won his first championship in 1991 and followed that up by defending the title in 1992.
Chris Ford stepped in as the next Celtics head coach and led the team to four playoff appearances in five seasons.
1994: Portland Trail Blazers
Four years after passing on the Celtics, Krzyzewski reportedly was “seriously considering” an offer from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Portland had fired Rick Adelman after five seasons – and five playoff appearances – with the team. Though the organization was interested in Coach K, it was not alone. The Celtics, Miami Heat and New Jersey Nets reportedly were also looking into the Duke coach, though the Nets were the only one of those three teams with an actual coaching vacancy at the time.
One connection between Coach K and the Portland area was his endorsement deal with Nike. Coming off his first two national titles, Krzyzewski signed with the Portland-based company in 1993.
At the time, four Duke freshmen were experiencing academic difficulties. Coach K denied that those issues were connected to his interest in an NBA gig, though.
“I am looking at other coaching opportunities; however, this activity is not based on any poor performances by my players academically,” he said in a statement in April 1994.
Two months following Coach K’s statement, the Blazers brought in P.J. Carlesimo for their head coaching job.
2003: Philadelphia 76ers
One of Coach K’s players was interested in becoming Coach K’s boss back in 2003.
Billy King played at Duke from 1984-88. Less than 10 years later, he was the GM of the Philadelphia 76ers. Once Larry Brown resigned in 2003, King reached out to his college coach to see if he had any interest in being Brown’s successor.
“I wasn’t interested in anything at that time,” Krzyzewski said during his 2020 interview with WIP.
The Sixers ended up going through three coaches over the next two seasons. For Krzyzewski, it wasn’t long before another NBA opportunity appeared.
2004: Los Angeles Lakers
Krzyzewski turned down a job at a pivotal time for one of the NBA’s premier franchises, but he later admitted it piqued his interest.
Just one year after the Sixers expressed interest, Coach K passed on a reported five-year, $40 million contract to take the helm with the Los Angeles Lakers. Phil Jackson had just stepped down after the team lost to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. Shaquille O’Neal was also on his way out of L.A., though Coach K turned down the offer more than a week before Shaq was officially dealt to the Heat.
While GM Mitch Kupchak made the first move to try and draw Coach K in, the team’s star player also made a pitch.
“You'll never guess who called. Kobe Bryant,” Krzyzewski said at a campus gym in 2004. “He wants me to come coach him.”
After 361 days and two coaches, the Lakers brought Jackson back. Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen led the team to a 34-48 record in 2004-05 and missed the playoffs for just the second time since 1976. Jackson later coached the Lakers to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
2010: New Jersey Nets
Jackson wasn’t the only coach who won a championship in 2010.
Duke edged Butler in the 2010 national title game, giving Coach K his fourth championship and soon leading to another NBA job offer.
Mikhail Prokhorov was in the process of purchasing the Nets in 2010 and wasted little time before making a big swing. Despite a reported $12-15 million annually to think about, Krzyzewski didn’t budge and said he wasn’t leaving, even before an offer was formally made.
“You would be flattered if someone would offer you a job, but I would not be interested," Krzyzewski said at the time.
The Nets went on to hire Avery Johnson as the first coach of the Prokhorov era. Johnson went 60-116 before being fired in the middle of his third season.
2011: Minnesota Timberwolves
Coach K declined the chance to coach several legends at the NBA level, but Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn thought he had drafted a player that could finally entice Krzyzewski to leave Duke: Ricky Rubio.
After firing Kurt Rambis in 2011, a “Kahn confidant” told The New York Daily News that the GM “tried to get” Coach K with the draw of working with Rubio, one of two point guards the T-wolves famously selected in 2009 right before Steph Curry went to the Golden State Warriors. To that point, Krzyzewski had coached in as many NBA games as Rubio had played in. The Spaniard had spent two years playing in Europe after Minnesota drafted him.
Safe to say, Coach K was not intrigued. Rick Adelman got the head coaching job and went 97-133 in three seasons. It wasn’t until 2018 that the T-wolves made the playoffs, and they still haven’t won a playoff series since 2004.
Krzyzewski, meanwhile, brought another championship back to Durham in 2015 and has a chance to ride off into the sunset with one last trophy this spring.