After losing to the Pistons in the ’04 NBA Finals, the Kobe-Shaq era officially came to an end. Shaq was traded to Miami, and the Lakers organization decided to build the team around Kobe. But with Phil Jackson also being out, finding a guy to manage an ego of 25-year-old Bryant, while having all-time great shoes to fill, was the biggest challenge for the franchise.
However, they were able to find their guy – Mike Krzyzewski – one of the greatest college basketball coaches in history. Krzyzewski, who at the time was a 3x national champion with Duke, received a 5-year, $40 million offer, as the Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak reportedly also offered him part ownership in the organization. Financially and legacy wise, it doesn’t get better than that. But it still wasn’t persuasive enough for Coach K to leave Duke.
‘Your heart has to be in whatever you lead,’ he said after announcing he would stay. ‘It became apparent that this decision was somewhat easier to make because you have to follow your heart and lead with it and Duke has always taken up my whole heart.’
Now, 16 years later, in an interview with his former player JJ Redick, Coach K discovered just how close he was to taking that Lakers job.
Closer than any other offer I ever had.Mike Krzyzewski, The Old Man and The Three Podcast
During his tenure at Duke, Krzyzewski has been given the opportunity to coach in the NBA at least five times. According to Coach K, only two of those received serious in-depth consideration. One from the Celtics in ’90, and one from the Lakers in ’04.
I was 57 and I said, ‘Is there something more?’ I love what I’m doing, but is there something more?‘Mike Krzyzewski, The Old Man and The Three Podcast
The Lakers’ pitch was out of this world. Tens of millions of dollars and the part ownership aside, they also offered Mike to pay for the construction of Emily Krzyzewski Center. Combine that with the generational wealth he would’ve received; Coach K had no other option but to consider it.
But after thinking about it, he decided not to go for it. There was nothing more in the NBA for Coach K. He stayed at Duke and won two more national championships while getting the opportunity to work with NBA talent as the head coach of Team USA, leading them to 3 Olympic gold medals and two world championships.
Looking back on it, Coach K has no regrets. Turning down that Lakers’ job was ‘the right thing to do.’ But you can’t help but wonder, how would he transition from working with college kids to working with pros? And better yet, how would’ve Kobe’s prime years been different had he accepted the offer in ’04?
All we can do is wonder.