A veteran sportswriter returns with an account of the basketball wars—on- and off-court—among three iconic coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Feinstein (Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball, 2014, etc.), who also writes columns (Washington Post, Golf Digest) and appears on broadcasts of sporting events, proceeds more or less chronologically from 1980, when Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski began his career at Duke University and Jim Valvano began at North Carolina State. The author charts the rises and falls of the three teams—Duke, North Carolina, and North Carolina State—and, eventually, the deaths of two of his principals—Valvano in 1993 and UNC coach Dean Smith in 2015. Feinstein’s affection for the three is patent throughout, no more so than in his accounts of the deaths of the two late coaches. But he can barely restrain his admiration (and fondness) for Krzyzewski, whose accomplishments he chronicles with almost a family member’s devotion. (In the acknowledgements, the author notes his close friendship with Coach K.) Feinstein goes into detail about some key games, delves into the biographies of some of the players, and generally becomes swept away at times by the tidal power of his own affections—perhaps most evidently (and excessively) in his clichéd final sentence that claims that the stories of these three “will undoubtedly live forever.” To his credit, the author informs his narrative with myriads of interviews with all of his principals—and with those who have survived them—and enriches all with his deep knowledge and love of the game. He navigates through the murky waters of recruiting and explains how certain rules have affected the game—e.g., the 45-second shot clock, the fairly recent NBA ruling that forbids young men to enter the draft right out of high school.
A text that will delight college basketball fans but also raises tacit questions about the effects of big-time athletics on a university’s academic mission.