The riveting inside story of college basketball's fiercest rivalry among three coaching legends - University of North Carolina's Dean Smith, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, and North Carolina State's Jim Valvano - by the king of college basketball writers, number-one New York Times best seller John Feinstein.
On March 18, 1980, the immensely powerful Duke basketball program announced the hiring of its new coach - the man who would resurrect the team, restore glory to Duke, and defeat the legendary Dean Smith, who coached down the road at UNC Chapel Hill and had turned UNC into a powerhouse. Duke's new man was Mike Krzyzewski. The only problem was, no one knew who Krzyzewski was; he had a so-so record in his short time as head coach of Army; and, worst of all, no one could even pronounce his name. The announcement caused head scratches, if not immediate calls for his head...and on this note, his career at Duke began.
The table was set nine days later, on March 27, 1980, when Jim Valvano was hired by North Carolina State to be their new head coach. The hiring didn't raise as many eyebrows, but with the exuberant Valvano onboard, two new coaches were now in place to challenge Dean Smith - and the most sensational competitive decade in history was about to unfold.
In the skillful hands of John Feinstein, this extraordinary rivalry - and the men behind it - come to life in a unique, intimate way. The Legends Club is a sports book that captures an era in American sport and culture, documenting the inside view of a decade of absolutely incredible competition. Feinstein pulls back the curtain on the recruiting wars, the intensely personal competition that wasn't always friendly, the enormous pressure and national stakes, and the battle for the very soul of college basketball allegiance in a hotbed area. Getting to the roots of the NCAA goliath that is followed religiously by millions of fans today, Feinstein uses his unprecedented access to all three coaches to paint a portrait only he could conjure. The Legends Club is destined to be one of Feinstein's biggest best sellers.
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Great Sports Book
- double s "book addict"
Great Storytelling About the Best Era of ACC BBall
Personal, Emotional, Engaging
John's best work was his telling of all three coaches origin stories into the Basketball and the ACC and his coverage of their interactions on and off the court in the early to mid-eighties. I really enjoyed these parts of John's telling because they brought me back to my childhood and made remember just how much I appreciated growing up as a Tar Heel fan in South Durham just 10 short miles away from Chapel Hill.
I was moved by several moments it's so hard to choose. But one does stand out. John's telling of his time in Dean Smith's office early in the book where Dean admonishes the, at the time, young Feinstein: "Never be proud to do the right thing. You just do the right thing."
Overall I really like this book. I think his richest amount of content past the 1980's is about Coach Krzyzewski. I didn't like that so much. This latter part was well-told for sure, but it would have been nice to have more about Smith and Valvano. On the other hand, I appreciate that getting more from Jimmy and Dean was likely a near impossible challenge. John's epic carried through the 2014-15 season. Valvano had been dead at that point for 22 years and Coach Smith had been retired since the 1996-97 season and disabled with his Dementia for some time prior to his 2015 death. The curse of John's excellent portrayal and accounting of Smith and Valvano for me may be that it did too good a job of portraying the deep void the exits of these two created in the space of ACC basketball. John's resurrection of the two was too real, too complete! Before my imagination, Coach Smith and Coach Valvano were raised from the dead and restored to their youthful vigor. Dean was the ever-sharp and cantankerous mind always in search of a psychological edge against his opponents. Jimmy once again was running around the court in Albuquerque looking for someone to hug. Suddenly I was 8 years old and 9 years old cheering for the National Champions on mom's and dad's bed for two years in a row. More than than that, I felt I got to know Smith and Valvano better than I had before. All over again, I missed them both deeply, wishing they'd both been around to fill more space in John's book with their strong, interesting, compelling personalities. I guess it's less about John's affiliation to Duke and more about me wanting the impossible: more time with Dean Smith and Jim Valvano. John made me miss them both almost as much as I miss the simpler times when, as a boy, I was there at the epicenter of three amazing college programs. I was too young then to realize how lucky I was. John let me in the lives of all three men and helped me perceive much of what i'd missed in my childhood through the eyes of an adult. Read this book if love good story telling about three determined Coaches who loved their lives and their players and made life for everyone they touched more interesting, compelling and meaningful.
- Joseph Margolis