Why Didn't Coach K Ever Jump To The NBA? Because He Was Too Busy Making A Bloody Fortune At Duke

By on June 4, 2021 in ArticlesSports News

On June 2, Mike Krzyzewski, aka "Coach K", announced he was retiring after the 2021-2022 season. During his 40+ years as the head coach of Duke's men's basketball team, Coach K led the Blue Devils to 35 NCAA tournament berths, winning five national championships. He is the winningest coach in Division I men's basketball history.

Over the years Mike was constantly asked if he would ever make the leap "up" to an NBA coaching job. He was courted and wooed by NBA teams and their billionaire owners with huge contracts.

Why did he universally reject these NBA overtures? Was it out of a loyalty to Duke? Nope. The simple answer is he was too busy making a bloody fortune at Duke!

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Early Life and Career

Contrary to what you might assume given that he's spent more than half his life at the school, Mike Krzyzewski did NOT attend Duke University. Coach K attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He DID play basketball while at West Point. Interestingly, his coach was future coaching rival/chair-thrower Bobby Knight.

Mike served a few years in the Army, reaching the rank of Captain before being discharged in 1974. Upon leaving the Army, Mike went to work as an assistant coach for Bobby Knight, who by then was three years into what would be a 30-year career as the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers.

After one season under Knight, Coach K was hired to be head coach for his alma mater, West Point. He coached at West Point for five seasons.

Duke University

On March 18, 1980, Duke University announced it had hired Coach K to be its new head coach.

Two quick networthy anecdotes about Duke University:

1) Prior to 1924, Duke was called Trinity College. The school changed its name after receiving a massive donation from in the will of tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke. James started from nothing and eventually grew to be the "John D. Rockefeller of tobacco." And he did it all before turning 30. After becoming successful, Duke bought out dozens of rivals, expanding beyond cigarettes to cigars, snuff and stogies. He consolidated everything under his American Tobacco Company.

At the time of his death in 1925, James Buchanan Duke was worth around $200 million. That's the same as around $3 billion in today's dollars. And while that may not seem like all that much from the lenses of our modern point of view, when you take into account Duke's personal fortune as a percentage of GDP at the time, his fortune was the equivalent of someone today being worth hundreds of billions of dollars. He is easily one of the 50 richest Americans of all time.

Upon his death in October 1925, Duke's will gifted $70 million to The Duke Endowment, a trust he had established the year before with a $40 million gift. The trust's $110 million in assets are worth the same as around $1.7 billion today. The Duke Endowment was made specifically to benefit what became Duke University, as well as Davidson College, Furman University and more than 100 not-for-profit hospitals in North and South Carolina.

2) The rest of John Buchanan Duke's estate, around $100 million, was left to his daughter Doris. Doris was 12 years old at the time and was instantly nicknamed "the richest girl in the world" thanks to her trust fund's approximate $1.5 billion modern value. After spending most of her life being hounded by reporters and people begging for money, Doris moved to Hawaii for years, where she lived in relative anonymity and even became one of the best female surfers of her era.

When Doris died in 1993, she left the majority of her fortune to a variety of charities and foundations. She also left a $100,000 trust fund to her dogs.

After her death, a woman named Chandi Hefner successfully sued the estate claiming she was Doris' adopted daughter. She wasn't lying. Duke legally adopted Chandi in 1988. Why is that weird? Because when the adoption occurred, Doris was 78 years old and Chandi was 32. At the time of the adoption Doris reportedly believed Chandi was the reincarnation her only child, a boy named Arden who died decades earlier as an infant. They had a falling out after Chandi announced she wanted to marry one of Doris' bodyguards. Chandi successfully proved she was Doris' legal daughter and was ultimately awarded $65 million from the estate.

In 1980 Chandi's sister Claudia married a billionaire named Nelson Peltz. Nelson and Claudia have eight children together including actress Nicola Peltz. In July 2020 Nicola became engaged to Brooklyn Beckham, the son of David Beckham and Posh Spice.

Thank you for indulging my Duke side stories. Back to Coach K…

It's not known how much Coach K made in salary in the 1980s and 1990s but comparable coaches were making $25-50,000 per year in the mid-1980s and $75-$100,000 in the mid-1990s. To keep it simple, and because these numbers don't actually move the needle all that much, let's assume Coach K made $25k per year in the 1980s and $75k per year in the 1990s. That's $250k + $750k = $1 million over this twenty year period.

Thanks to Duke's tax releases, we know that in 2000 and 2001 Coach K made a little under $600,000 in total compensation. His salary jumped to $750k in 2002, then $800k in 2003. He cracked $1 million for the first time (technically hitting $1.2 million) in 2005. By 2012 his base salary had jumped to $7.6 million. His total earnings in many recent years has topped $9 million.

Between base salaries and bonuses, in the 40 year period from 1980 to 2020, Coach K earned at least:

$90 million

That number does not include personal endorsement and commercial deals. In the mid-1990s Coach K was making $200k a year from a shoe deal. That was likely 3-4X his coaching salary. He likely pads his salary every year with $1-2 million in endorsement and speaking deals.

That explains Mike Krzyzewski's current net worth of $45 million, which easily makes him the richest college basketball coach in the world and one of the richest sports coaches in history, period.

NBA Offers

Over the years Coach K turned down at least five NBA coaching gigs. Five that were notable enough to reach a stage where an actual contract was offered. In 2004 he was reportedly offered the head coaching job at the Los Angeles Lakers. The offer was a five-year $40 million deal. That would have worked out to $8 million per season, roughly 4X the $2 million-ish base he was making at Duke.

He declined.

In 2010 he was reportedly offered a minimum of $12 million to coach the New Jersey Nets. That would have been around $4 million richer per year than his Duke contract.

He declined.

Why would he turn down these larger offers? Perhaps Coach K realized that at Duke he was reigning over a dynasty, and that made him special. Special enough to command one of the highest salaries in the coaching world regardless of his year over year performance.

What if he was a failure in the NBA? Would he be washed out after two losing seasons in a row with the Nets? Would a temporary bump in salary be worth potentially blowing a career?

FYI, in the 2010-2011 season, which would have been his first season as coach of the Nets, the team won 24 out of 82 games, finishing dead last in their division with one of the worst records in the league. Would Coach K had a different record? Likely not. So in his first season he would have been mocked as a huge bust. He might have been fired. Instead he cruised for another decade at Duke, making around $70 million.

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