February 26, 2017
Tiger Den Basketball
The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano,
and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry, John Feinstein (2016)
From the Introduction
In a very real sense, this book was born on February 28, 1976—Dean Smith’s forty-fifth birthday. It was on that afternoon that a very nervous reporter from Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, timidly introduced himself to the great man in a corner of the North Carolina locker room in Carmichael Auditorium. North Carolina had just finished beating Duke, 91–71, dropping Duke’s record to 13–13. The outcome wasn’t a surprise. Carolina was ranked fourth in the country and had run away with the ACC regular season title, finishing 11–1. The Tar Heels were 24–2 and had four players on their roster who would be on the U.S. Olympic team—coached by Dean Smith—that summer: Mitch Kupchak, Walter Davis, Tommy LaGarde, and the great Phil Ford. Duke had Tate Armstrong. Who was my excuse to talk to Dean Smith. Armstrong had been lighting up ACC gyms all winter, a one-man show on a struggling team. Duke coach Bill Foster was in his second season, trying to rebuild the fallen Duke program. Armstrong had just finished his freshman season when Foster arrived and was now a junior. Armstrong did have some help from a superb freshman named Jim Spanarkel, but the Blue Devils were overmatched in the ACC—as their 3–9 conference record proved. For the season, Armstrong was averaging 24.2 points per game—making an astounding 52 percent of his shots. That was with no three-point shot and no shot clock, and with other teams gearing their defenses to stop him. He was a slender six foot two and spent as much time on the floor after being knocked down as he did in his shooting motion. He had scored 29 points that day against Carolina. I was going to write a column making the case that if ever a player from a team that finished seventh in a seven-team conference deserved consideration for player of the year, it was Armstrong. I might have been just a tad biased.
Smith was talking to another writer when I walked up. When he finished the conversation he’d been having, he looked at me as if to say, “And?” Finding my voice somewhere, I said, “Coach Smith, my name is John Feinstein and I work for The Chronicle, the Duke student newspaper…” I had my hand out as I spoke and Smith shook it, stopping me before I could go further by saying, “I know who you are. I read the column you wrote last month saying that Bill [Foster] should copy some of what we do here to rebuild over at Duke. I thought you were very fair to us…for someone from Duke.” I had been more than fair. I had been gushy. But that wasn’t the point. I was standing in front of Dean Smith and he was telling me he had read something I had written. I was, to put it mildly, stunned. As I’ve written often in the past, it was later that I learned that the North Carolina basketball office subscribed to every newspaper in North Carolina—the major national papers and all the student newspapers in the ACC. An assistant coach was assigned to comb through the papers and clip anything relevant to Carolina for Smith to read. He would put the clips in his briefcase and read them on airplanes. Still stunned, I somehow got my question out about Armstrong. I’m not sure he ever answered it. Instead, he talked about how proud he was of Ford and Davis, but especially John Kuester, for the defensive job they’d done that day on Armstrong—even if he had scored almost half of Duke’s points. Somewhere in the middle of the answer he asked me where I’d grown up. I said New York. “City?” he asked. I nodded. “Well,” he said, “I guess that explains why you understand basketball.” Do you think he completely owned me at that moment? I asked one more question. Early in the game, when it was still close, a couple of calls had gone against Carolina. Some of the students had started a profane chant. It didn’t last very long, because Smith walked straight to the scorer’s table, took the PA microphone, pointed in the direction of the students, and said, “Stop. Now. We don’t do that here. We win with class at Carolina.” They stopped. Instantly. When I asked about the incident, he smiled again. “I was disappointed that happened,” he said. “It won’t happen here again.” Then he added, “We’re not Duke.” And, at that moment, Duke was miles and miles from being North Carolina.
L-R: Dean Smith, John Feinstein, Tate Armstrong