The Gold Standard

Building a World-Class Team


By Mike Krzyzewski

With Jamie K. Spatola

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$9.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 6, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Half a book on basketball, half a book on management techniques, The Gold Standard captures Coach K's personal style and approach to getting different (and sometimes difficult) people to work hard and succeed in reaching a common goal.

"In all forms of leadership, whether you are a coach, a CEO, or a parent, there are four words that, when said, can bring out the best in your team, your employees, and your family…I BELIEVE IN YOU. These four words can mean the difference between a fear of failure and the courage to try."

In his previous bestselling books, Coach K has guided readers to success the way he has guided his teams at Duke University—with the power of his inspirational words and phenomenal leadership skills.

But that was with college kids. Now, Coach K has stepped up to take on an entirely new challenge: volunteering to coach the US Olympic Basketball team.

Comprised of some of the biggest NBA stars, Coach K had to work with huge egos and personal rivalries in order to create an American team that could win against the best competition in the world and restore Team USA to the gold standard of basketball.

This is more than a celebratory book—it's Coach K's first-hand account of how he dealt with such stars as Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and all the rest to buy into his "total team" play. 


Copyright @ 2009 by Defense, LLC

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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First eBook Edition: April 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-55796-2


Beyond Basketball

Five-Point Play

Leading with the Heart


When deciding which individuals to select to form a team, you have to ask the hard questions. This requires a look back at what has been done before and why it may or may not have worked. Often the difficulty lay not in finding the answers but in asking the questions. In making decisions about our team, it was the first step.

The most difficult questions to ask are usually the most basic: the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and, most important, the whys and the hows. Your particular task and specific set of challenges will lend more specificity to these questions. Jerry and I prepared the list below.

• Who

• are we playing against?

• will we bring together to face that competition?

• do we represent?

• What

• are our particular challenges?

• was missing in our recent losses?

• is our motivation?

• When

• are we playing?

• do we assemble to grow together as a unit?

• Where

• are we playing?

• is our venue and what particular challenges does it present?

• Why

• was the old system not working?

• do we care?

• How

• do we change a culture?

• do we prepare to meet our challenge?

• much time do we have to prepare?

No doubt, the root answers to all of these questions lay in the analysis of where we had gone wrong. What could we learn from the past? The basic message was clear, and I think Jerry Colangelo said it best: "Guys who play together can beat a group of all-stars on any given night." Team over talent. Collective identity over individual ego. And so we looked to those teams that had been successful, that had been achieving as we fell behind. We borrowed from international teams like Argentina and Spain the need for familiarity with one another and for continuity.

In asking for a three-year commitment from the pool of thirty-three American players with whom he spoke, Jerry gave the USA Basketball program that continuity. It was easy to point fingers and blame this guy or that guy for the way he acted or didn't act in 2004, but Jerry and I both believed that it was our current system that was flawed, not the players. This system was no longer conducive to winning. I eagerly signed up to be a part of the program. I like the way Coach Mike D'Antoni, one of the three National Team assistant coaches, put it when he said, "You need to keep guys together, have them make a commitment. It doesn't guarantee success, but it guarantees you a chance." Thanks to our new system, we definitely had a chance, one that was not given to the 2004 team.

In assembling a team that would represent our country in basketball over the next three years, obviously it was important to evaluate what we might have been missing on the court in years past. In this regard, there are certain personnel components that I believe will make any team better, in basketball or business.

For one thing, there is no substitute for talent. And while a great attitude and a solid game plan will take you far, you cannot achieve at the highest level without having some aptitude. At Duke, I used to run good plays for Grant Hill. But then Grant Hill graduated, and all of a sudden those weren't good plays anymore. You need the talent to fill out your system. Fortunately for our US team, talent was never a problem. The pool from which we had to choose included the elite, professional basketball players of the United States.

I also believe that a team needs some people with experience— veterans. Often those who have been in a particular business the longest are ignored, their contributions replaced by those of the newest up-and-comer. But it's the veterans who have the deepest level of institutional understanding and who can pass this experience on to the other members of your team. The veterans are also those who grasp the concept of legacy. Legacy asks the question, "Who were you? Did you win? Did you lose? Did you do something special?" Trust me, the people who are experienced enough to ask these questions can motivate your team.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that your group doesn't need a youthful element. It absolutely does. Youth brings a certain excitement to your undertaking that helps keep the team and you, as the leader, fresh. That's one thing I have appreciated about being in coaching for so long: being around youthful energy has helped keep me feeling young. Youthful enthusiasm is an essential element for any team.

For the basketball part of it, we had to find a group that could work together offensively. But, more important, we had to select people who could come together and become one solid force on the defensive end of the court. In a business setting and, of course, depending on your goal, the best team for a particular job may be the one that can write and execute the best business plan, or the one that can generate the most creative marketing ideas. But in the basketball business, I have always felt that a great team is the one that can be unified on the defensive end of the floor. What are the core competencies that your team needs to accomplish your goal? The answer to this question will assist you in choosing the people your organization needs to go forward.

Personalities are also a factor. When I was named the national coach in 2005, I made a promise that Jerry and I would put together a team of players who would represent us well both on and off the court. So, who would be the group of men willing to give of themselves to become a part of something bigger? What group of players would be willing to buy in to the three-year commitment and new National Team concept? As it turned out, earning a commitment from the players who joined our team was a lot easier than I had anticipated.

Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade were ready to sign up again as soon as they stepped off the bronze-medal stand in 2004, the last time they had worn red, white, and blue. They knew—like Jerry—that USA Basketball needed to be turned upside down. And those who watched from afar as we lost three games in 2004 Olympic play were just as ready to redefine USA Basketball as those who had participated.

Moment: Dinner with Jerry Colangelo—July 22, 2005—Las Vegas, Nevada

In embarking on a discussion of how this team was selected, I would be remiss not to mention my own selection as head coach and not to credit Jerry with his blueprint for this team—this program—from its outset. The incredible bond that Jerry and I have was cemented at my favorite restaurant, Michael's, in Las Vegas over a dinner the two of us shared in July 2005.

The meeting was set up the previous week when Jerry called me at home. I knew he had been brought on as managing director for USA Basketball, and I knew he had been talking to former Olympians and coaches in asking those hard questions and studying what changes needed to be made. Having worked with USA Basketball in one way or another since 1979, I wasn't surprised to hear from Jerry. But I never thought that I would be his choice for head coach; I believed that my time to head up an Olympic team had passed when they began using professional players in 1992. No way would anyone bring in a college coach to lead professional superstars. Some of the guys on the team had never even played for a college coach, having chosen to go directly from high school to the NBA. In that first phone call, Jerry was gleaning my interest and, even after a long talk, he told me that there was more for us to discuss. Since I was scheduled to be in Las Vegas for recruiting the next week and Jerry was to be there on business, we agreed to meet for dinner.

It was a great evening. The décor at Michael's is a throwback to the dining rooms of old Vegas: red velvet chairs, crystal chandeliers, and a stained-glass skylight overhead, producing an elegant and nostalgic atmosphere. It's the type of place where a three-hour dinner is not uncommon and, no matter how long you've stayed, you always hate to leave. Over the years, my family and I have shared some special moments at Michael's. This night became one to add to the list.

At one point during dinner, I asked Jerry about his taking on the substantial responsibility of directing the reconstruction of USA Men's Basketball. "You've already done so much in your career," I said, "and this is a risky undertaking. Why did you decide to do it?"

I will never forget his response. "Because I love the game and the game's been good to me," he told me. "We owe the game." And he was right. The game had been good to both of us—so good, in fact, that we could never fully repay it.

I'll also never forget how I felt when Jerry told me that the position of national coach was mine for the taking. He described to me his vision for the next Olympic team, how he planned to completely turn the culture of USA Basketball around, and how he felt that I was the guy to help him do it. I knew that I needed to go home and discuss this major, life-changing decision with my wife and family, but I was compelled to accept immediately even before talking it over with the people I love most.

Of course, there are anxieties that come along with an undertaking like this one. But I can honestly say that they did not enter my mind in the moment of my acceptance. When I got back to my home in Durham, we had a family get-together to discuss the position, the challenges that came with it, and how it would all affect us. It was at that gathering that those underlying anxieties first began to surface.

"How are you going to make the time in your schedule to do this for three summers?" my wife asked.

"Can you promise us that it won't wear you down too much and that you will stay healthy?" my daughter Lindy said.

My daughter Debbie raised the question, "Do you think professional players will listen to you the same way your Duke players do?"

And, of course, there was talking all around the question that everyone had in mind but no one could muster the words to articulate: "What if we lose?"

I did not want to hear any of it. Naturally those questions were in my mind, too, but I refused to dwell on them. I didn't want to touch the feelings of apprehension that questions like those tend to bring about. It was frustrating for my family that I didn't have solid responses that night. But throughout the entire process, when the numerous questions arose, rarely did I know immediately how they would be answered. I just felt confident that the answers were there and that we would find them.

Jerry and I had known each other for many years but had operated in different worlds. We had both devoted our lives to sport, he on the professional level and I on the collegiate level. I had always had great respect for his accomplishments, but that night at Michael's there was an immediate and very special connection, one rooted in both a love of the game and a love of our country. We had both grown up in Chicago in Midwestern, ethnic, working- class surroundings. We both held a firm belief in the values instilled in us by our immigrant families. We came to discover how much we really had in common. Jerry said, "There must be something in the Chicago water." Whatever it was, from that moment on, Jerry Colangelo and I would be joined at the hip.

On October 26, 2005, Jerry and I appeared together in New York City, along with the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" Head Coach Chuck Daly and USA Basketball President Val Ackerman, for a press conference officially naming me as the national coach. After Val's introduction, Jerry made his statement to the media. "When I was asked to take on the responsibility, I looked at it and said that it would be very challenging," he said. "I knew I would be passionate about it and it was going to be important to surround myself with people who felt exactly the same way. From the get-go, when I first met with Coach K, it was pretty evident where he stood, where his passion was, and how committed he would be if he were offered the job. When it came right down to it, and I had to make a choice, this was the guy—right time, right place—this was the guy I wanted alongside me to go forward." Leadership can be lonely. But I believe you can fight that loneliness by finding kindred spirits and surrounding yourself with those people who will bring out the best in you. Jerry and I provided that for one another.

Next, it was my turn to address the press. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. "For a coach, this is the ultimate honor, to have the opportunity to coach your country's team," I said. "I'm a guy who's always gotten into commitments. I had a four-year commitment to attend West Point and a five-year commitment to serve in the Army when I graduated. And that turned out pretty well. I have a commitment to my wife that has gone on for thirty-six years. That's turning out pretty well too. And so a three-year commitment doesn't seem like much. I love the game and I love the game at every level."

I went on to express my thanks, first, to the man who had been my coach at West Point, Bob Knight. Coach Knight had also given me my first opportunity with USA Basketball as his assistant coach in the 1979 Pan-American games. "Coach Knight has been like a father to me and a great friend," I said. "I called him last night and thanked him for what he's done for me in just getting me involved." I also thanked Chuck Daly, one of the great coaches from whom I had learned so much as one of his assistants on the 1992 Olympic team. "I thought that would be my ultimate Olympic experience," I said, "and it was a pretty darn good one." But now I had the chance to be the head coach of a United States team. What an honor. What an opportunity.

Jerry said that day and many times after that I was "the right guy at the right time." More than that, I believe that the relationship Jerry and I formed and our shared vision created the right partnership at the right time. With this relationship as our basis, I knew that our team was going in a great direction.

Moment: Jerry Colangelo Interviews Michael Redd—December 7, 2005—Chicago, Illinois

When building a team, the members of that team need to be explicitly told what the parameters of their commitment are going to be, what is expected of them. The honesty and openness of your initial communication with these individuals lays the groundwork for the future of your relationship. In team building, you want this foundation to be one of trust and forthright communication. There shouldn't be any surprises. It sounds like such a simple notion, but it's just not always done this way.

In figuring out which players would best represent USA Basketball, Jerry's approach was extremely businesslike. Businesslike and old-school. He spoke to each individual face-to-face and made certain that they understood exactly what his expectations were. In business, this would be done during the hiring process. In our case, the need for a cultural overhaul meant changing the way we do business. Jerry, the top guy in our organization, took the extensive amount of time that was needed and conducted the interviews personally. That was a key first step.

Jerry did not look to precedent to guide the way he conducted these interviews, because there simply was no precedent for what we were trying to accomplish. We were starting from scratch. As such, we wanted to select those individuals who had talent but who also had high standards. Jason Kidd, one of the key members of our 2007 and 2008 National Team rosters, was asked in an interview with Charlie Rose how a group of rich, talented NBA players with big egos came together to form this team. "From day one we set a tone," he said. "We respected what each other had done but the bottom line was the desire to win." In choosing our people, we sought out individuals with a standard of excellence. We had to be on common ground with these players, and we had to be sure that we could operate with a common purpose.

Jerry told me about his interviews as he conducted them. The reactions of all the players were impressive and exciting, but his interview with Michael Redd stood out. Michael had driven straight from his team practice in Milwaukee—where he was a starter averaging more than 20 points a game for his Milwaukee Bucks team—to meet with Jerry in Chicago. When Jerry answered the knock at his door, Michael was standing there in his warm-ups with a garment bag over his shoulder. After shaking Jerry's hand, Michael asked if he could be excused to the restroom. When he emerged a few minutes later, he was dressed in a suit and tie. "Okay, I'm ready now," he told Jerry.

I love that story. It is a terrific example of a feeling that had begun to grow among the NBA players who Jerry approached, a feeling that this would be significant. The players had begun to treat the process with the utmost respect and dignity. Michael showed that in the way he dressed for the job he wanted.

In his meetings with the players, Jerry began by talking a little about his own life, about growing up in a working-class Chicago family whose home was fashioned from an old railroad boxcar. He told them about his admiration for the grandparents who had come to this country in search of a better life for their future generations, and about the opportunities that sport had given him. Jerry told them of his sincere love for both the sport of basketball and for America, and the debt of gratitude he owed to each. He told them how he would put his legacy on the line in an attempt to repay this debt. He told them all of this and he asked them to do the same.

Of course, in speaking of the element of sacrifice involved, Jerry also told the players about the reward they could receive, making them all aware of the return they could get on their investment. But this compensation would not be monetary. No Olympic player or coach is paid for participation in the Olympics. Instead, their reward would come from regaining the respect of the international basketball community and reestablishing the gold standard for the future of USA Basketball. From the start, as Jerry describes it, "there was total buy-in. And it snowballed from there." In our conversations, Jerry and I talked often about how rewarding it was to see playing for your country once again become the "in thing."

Moment: Press Conference Announcing the 2008 Olympic Team—June 23, 2008—Chicago, Illinois

On June 23, 2008, it finally came time to announce our twelve-man Olympic roster. Jerry Colangelo, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and I gathered in Chicago for the occasion. In front of a room full of media Jerry announced, "The twelve players chosen for the honor of representing the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympic games are: Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd, Dwyane Wade, and Deron Williams."

Carmelo would bring his scoring ability, his love of the game, and his million-dollar smile. I coached Carlos at Duke, so I already knew that he was the ultimate team player who had experience and great physical attributes. Chris Bosh would bring a defensive presence underneath the basket and would be an extremely versatile center ideally suited for the international game. Kobe had been the NBA's Most Valuable Player that season, so he clearly brought with him unmatched talent along with his love for being in pressure situations. Dwight's contribution would come through his tremendous strength and physical presence. And, who wouldn't choose LeBron? His combination of talent and charisma made him someone who would be a benefit to any basketball team. Jason would come to the team already a seasoned leader with unsurpassed knowledge of the game. Chris Paul, who was second in the running for league MVP, brought both playmaking and personality. Tayshaun had a willingness to accept any role on a team and the coinciding ability to be outstanding in that role. Michael was a man of great character and would contribute his deft shooting touch to our offensive arsenal. Dwyane was creative and explosive on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor and also had a heart committed to the game. And Deron brought with him great courage on the court, the willingness to be both daring and tough in his playmaking and scoring ability.

"The twelve players selected have incredible talent, and more importantly, we think this team has excellent leadership, great versatility and balance, and very good chemistry, which are critical parts in building a great team. I believe this team is a team all Americans can and will be proud of," Jerry added.

Carmelo and Dwyane had both been on the 2004 Olympic team and, when asked, spoke briefly about their experience. Both alluded to feeling poorly prepared and not understanding the privilege it was to represent your country in the Olympics. "I've always seen greatness in the Olympics, but that was never one of my dreams," Dwyane said. "I never really expected to be on the Olympic team, especially in my first year [as an NBA player]. I didn't have a clue what I was getting into… . Now, we respect the game so much. We respect the team basketball that they play internationally." Thanks to the new National Team concept, this time would be different. We had the time to grow in our understanding of the international game and of the privilege of participating in Olympic competition.

Before we left the small stage to pose for photographs holding USA uniforms, Jerry was asked the inevitable "what if" question: What if we lose? His answer was perfect, "We never worry about what might happen, we look forward to what will happen." We could not allow our team progress to be stifled by "what ifs" or the pressure of outside expectations. We had to look at our mission with a feeling of excitement for what lay ahead, not a feeling of fear for what could go wrong. Anticipation. Not expectation.

Our National Team situation was unique because we had to face three different sets of competition in each of three summers before reaching our goal of an Olympic gold medal. Every year, we would learn a great deal more about our competition and the international game. Additionally, much could change from summer to summer in terms of the injuries and family situations of our personnel. This is another reason why Jerry's concept of the pool of players served us so well. We were able to analyze who was available and who we would face each year and then determine who could best represent us against that competition. I can remember calling Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Jason Kidd prior to our selection of the 2008 Olympic roster and asking for their input. All three were deferential. "Coach, you pick the team and coach us, and we'll play," Jason told me. It felt great to know that the staff and I had their confidence.

It is important to me to emphasize the fact that because our rosters varied from summer to summer, many more players deserve recognition for the rebuilding of USA Basketball than the twelve who came home from Beijing with gold medals. We had thirty-three players make a commitment. I think a lot about the contributions of those other players, guys like Tyson Chandler, Shane Battier, Kirk Hinrich, and Chauncey Billups. I do hope they realize that they were a part of bringing the gold medal back to the United States. Because they most certainly were.


Take the time to choose your people. In doing so, be sure that you are asking the basic but most difficult questions. Let the answers to those questions guide the selections that you make.

Remember that choosing your people is the first decision you will make as a leader. Take the time to make it a good one. Great teams start with a base of talent but consist of a mixture of experienced people who bring instant credibility and institutional understanding, and young players who bring energy and keep you fresh. But be sure that all these individuals are united by a foundation of character that will make them want to give of themselves to be a part of something bigger.

In choosing your people, remember also that you are establishing the foundation for trusting relationships. Take the time to conduct personal interviews, face-to-face when possible.


On Sale
Apr 6, 2009
Page Count
256 pages
Business Plus

Mike Krzyzewski

About the Author

Mike Krzyzewski was the head basketball coach of the Duke Blue Devils from 1980 to 2022, winning five NCAA championships and 1,202 games—the most ever in Division 1. He is revered by sports fans and business leaders everywhere. Coach K lives with his family in Durham, North Carolina. 

Jamie K. Spatola is a graduate of Duke University, where she majored in English. She is also one of Coach K's daughters.

Learn more about this author