His emotions raw, his thoughts simultaneously on the 51-year-old man he struck and killed with his car in a tragic accident three nights earlier and his job at hand, Jim Boeheim broke with habit Saturday night.
When the 74-year-old Syracuse coach entered the Carrier Dome to a standing ovation in his first public appearance since that Wednesday night traffic accident, he walked straight toward Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and hugged him.
“He’s not a hugger,” Krzyzewski said, admitting the embrace made left him emotional. “He’s not. We’ve won three Olympics, two world championships and we’ve never hugged.”
Krzyzewski and Boeheim, two septuagenarians with more than 2,000 college basketball coaching wins between them have forged a solid friendship. That’s why Krzyzewski wanted Boeheim on his staff when he coached the U.S. national team from 2005-16.
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This week, leading up to Duke’s 75-65 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Saturday night, was about far more than basketball.
While driving home from a Syracuse game Wednesday night, Boeheim was driving on Interstate 690 when he came upon a disabled car that was perpendicular across two lanes. Boeheim swerved his SUV to avoid the car and struck Jorge Jimenez, a passenger in the disabled car that had apparently hit a patch of ice and skidded into a guard rail before stopping in the middle of the freeway.
Jimenez was among the passengers fleeing to safety when he was hit by Boeheim’s vehicle.
Jimenez later died in a hospital. Boeheim cooperated with the investigation and passed a sobriety test. No charges have been filed so far in the still-active investigation.
Boeheim opened his postgame press conference reading from a prepared statement.
“First and foremost to the Jimenez family I want them to know how truly devastated I am for my involvement and the loss of a loved one,” Boeheim said. “The grief and pain his family is feeling at this time is, simply put, unimaginable. Juli, my family, and I are heartbroken. I love this community, and to see so many of my community members rally around the Jimenez family is a reminder of how special a community central New York is.”
Syracuse Police Chief Kenton T. Buckner said Thursday night at a news conference there was “no reason to believe that there are criminal charges that will be coming for anyone.”
That does little to ease the pain in the Syracuse community, particularly for Jimenez’s family. Boeheim carries emotions, too, saying the experience will “be with me for the rest of my life.”
“This is forever for me,” Boeheim said. “I’ve always felt like in life there are a lot of things you have to overcome. There is nothing like this. I can’t describe it to you.”
Boeheim added how bad he feels for the Jimenez family.
“It doesn’t matter how I feel,” Boeheim said. “It’s how they feel. There’s nothing I can say about it.”
The 72-year-old Krzyzewski said his wife, Mickie, reached out to Boeheim’s wife, Juli, this week offering comfort.
Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack decided Friday that Boeheim should return to work and coach the team in Saturday night’s game.
Krzyzewski and Boeheim met privately before the game, before Boeheim emerged from the Orange locker room and walked on to the Carrier Dome court.
“He’s my dear friend,” Krzyzewski said. “He looked strong and I’m glad he coached. What the hell else is he supposed to do? That’s what he does.”
Prior to the national anthem, a statement was read over the public address system in both English and Spanish honoring Jimenez. A moment of silence was held.
“The honoring of the family and the moment of silence,” Krzyzewski said. “Everything was beautiful.”
When Boeheim walked on to the court toward Krzyzewski, with the thunderous ovation around him, the Duke coach said he could tell his friend was “swept up in the emotion.”
Boeheim said the whole experience Saturday, from seeing his friend Krzyzewski to the outpouring of support from the Syracuse community to getting back to work, is but a respite from his grief.
“This is never going away,” Boeheim said. “Tuesday it’s not going to be better. It’s not going to be better next month. It’s not going to be better next year.”