Duke basketball: Classless UNC decides to honor Coach K after all

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

The Tar Heels gifted the Duke basketball program a motivational treat.

A long, long time ago, UNC basketball was the king of Tobacco Road under the now-late Hall of Famer Dean Smith, and nobody in North Carolina was ever supposed to challenge that. Then Mike Krzyzewski came along in 1980, eight miles away, as the new Duke basketball head coach.

After that, slowly but surely, the narrative began to change.

Admirably, Coach K has made the most of the past 42 years battling the Tar Heels for the throne. Whether facing Smith, the now-late Bill Guthridge, Matt Doherty, Roy Williams, or Hubert Davis for the first time on Saturday, it’s safe to say the living legend has orchestrated his fair share of consistent success in the rivalry along the way.

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With the Blue Devils’ 87-67 start-to-finish blowout victory in Chapel Hill, Krzyzewski moved to 50-46 overall in the series. In doing so, he clinched his winning record against the Tar Heels, regardless of the outcome of the 1-3 remaining meetings this season before his pre-announced passing of the Duke basketball torch to protege Jon Scheyer.

Before taking its whooping, UNC had planned to ignore the 74-year-old’s swan song altogether. The school refused to intentionally bestow him public gifts or gratitude for his service to both the game and rivalry over the years.

But while the Tar Heels’ eventual present was, well, less pleasant than those Coach K has seen elsewhere on his final trek around the ACC, he received one from them just the same.

Loud and clear.

A backward show of respect toward the Duke basketball treasure

As Mike Krzyzewski stepped onto Roy Williams Court for the last time, Dean E. Smith Center patrons hurled one F-bomb after another at the man those folks long ago coined “Ratface.” And that barrage of bitter potty-mouthing alone proved once and for all that K is forever king.

It was, however, a shock to some. Even know-it-all ESPN commentator Jay Bilas was wrong in his prediction during an appearance on Pardon the Interruption this week leading up to his call of the blueblood clash:

“I think [the UNC fans] will be very nice and respectful at the start. But that’ll end quickly, and they’ll go back to the passion of the rivalry.”

Nope. The Tar Heel masses were neither friendly nor even mannerly, failing to exhibit noticeable decency at any point.

Now, pay no mind to the wine-and-cheese ticket-holders who might argue otherwise, for the “F— Coach K” chants weren’t limited to the student section. No, the collective verbal attack reverberated throughout every inch of the dome upon the GOAT’s arrival on stage.

It almost felt as if the vulgar baby-blue crowd would rather spend hours singing “Every Time We Touch” among Cameron Crazies than even halfheartedly paying tribute to the person who has undeniably seized what was once UNC’s presumed eternal crown.

As for Krzyzewski, whose mere existence has arguably done more for the Heels’ popularity than anyone else in history, he suggested to the media afterward that the pregame ill-treatment from UNC supporters was anything but a surprise:

“I’m used to that. Somebody just told me this was my 96th game [versus UNC]…42 have been here in Chapel Hill — not always at the Smith Center. I’m accustomed to that. I expect that. I got what I expected, and I’m always ready for it.”

That’s spoken like the one true king.

Besides the gift-in-itself final score, what King K got from the boorish Heels was a boatload of expletives that “The Brotherhood” he leaves behind shouldn’t soon forget.

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Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more on Coach K’s last dance, plus other Duke basketball news and views.