The number on everyone’s minds and voices was 1,000. To the man himself, it might have been the least important number of all.
Four remains more important, the four national championships Mike Krzyzewski has won at Duke. Forty, the number of seasons he has been in coaching. Two, the beloved schools where he has coached, Duke and Army.
Three remains more important, the number of daughters he has, as does nine, the number of grandchildren.
On this day, 17 was more important: a 17th win as the Blue Devils progress through their season. So was 10, the number of points Duke was down late in the 77-68 win over St. John’s on Sunday before mounting a stirring comeback. Or six, the hand-written number of the game ball that a Duke staffer collected after the game, tangible representation of history.
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And while 1,000 wins is a numerical milestone, the real milestone of his career accumulation was arguably win No. 903, at this very same arena in 2011, to pass his mentor Bobby Knight. Duke guard Quinn Cook played two minutes that night as a freshman. Sunday, his step-back 3-pointer with 5:38 to play completed the comeback and put Duke in a lead the Blue Devils would not relinquish.
“It’s for everybody who’s been in the program, and also at Army, the wins that he got there,” Cook said. “It’s for all the players. We’re doing it for the program, doing it for coach, and doing it for the players before us. We just happened to be here and we’re all humbled and blessed to be a part of history.”
In the end, 1,000 is just a number. That has never been how Krzyzewski measures himself. He would prefer to talk about the leaders he has molded, the championships he has won, the challenges he has surmounted, the teams that became something greater than the sum of their parts.
He would prefer to talk about his family, almost all of whom were at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, two of his daughters, seven of his grandchildren. His wife, Mickie, waited patiently by the Duke bench after the game, while team managers handed out T-shirts that read “1K and Kounting,” and Krzyzewski did interviews with Fox and national radio and ESPN. Finally, he came across the floor to her, wrapping her up in his arms.
He was the last to find her. Many others got there first – assistant coaches who played for him and current players, Quinn Cook giving her a big hug, Rasheed Sulaimon whispering in her ear.
“I told her there’s only one K in basketball, but there’s really two Ks, with her and coach K,” Sulaimon said. “I just told her congratulations. Coach always tells us probably the hardest job in America is being the wife of a head coach. She’s with us every step of the way.”
Krzyzewski would prefer to talk about Matt Jones and Marshall Plumlee, both of whom came off the bench to give Duke a huge lift during the comeback. He would prefer to talk about Jahlil Okafor’s character, after the center shook off a sluggish second half to score perhaps the game’s most important bucket, backing down St. John’s center Chris Obekpa to make it 65-62 with 4 1/2 minutes to play.
“And just boom,” Krzyzewski said.
And then there’s one more number: 67, Krzyzewski’s age, a reality he acknowledged Sunday in an unusual moment of candor on the subject. He’s committed to Team USA through the 2016 Olympics, but he has said little about his long-term future at Duke – at least not in the terms he used Sunday.
“There’s an end in sight,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m going to be 68 next month. It’ll end sooner than later, but hopefully not real soon. As long as you do your job, you bring energy, right? That’s what you’re supposed to do. Energy isn’t a matter of age. It’s a matter of commitment to your position, to what you do.”
Energy isn’t a matter of age, and success isn’t a matter of numbers. The basketball world stopped to acknowledged this historic and unprecedented number, and even Krzyzewski allowed himself a moment of public reflection on the meaning 1,000.
“I glad it’s over,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m honored, don’t get me wrong. I’m a lucky guy who’s been at two great institutions, West Point and Duke.”
And then, once again, the only number that counted was one. The next one.