RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Setting aside the heated college basketball rivalry, recently retired Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski was honored Thursday by Gov. Roy Cooper — a two-time graduate of the University of North Carolina — with the state's highest honor.
Eschewing his favored Tar Heel blue tie for a darker Duke hue, Cooper held a ceremony to give Krzyzewski the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, saying he's "dedicated his life to helping others be their best” both on and off the court. Coach K came to Durham in 1980 to take the job.
“I’m a Carolina fan, Tar Heel born and bred and all that. I would never pretend otherwise,” the Democratic governor said in an outdoor Executive Mansion ceremony attended by dozens of officials, Duke graduates and fans. “You got to be true to yourself, but you also have to be able to see through your bias and not only recognize greatness, but appreciate it."
Krzyzewski retired as head coach after April's gripping Final Four loss to of all teams UNC-Chapel Hill in their first-ever NCAA tournament meeting between the schools located 8 miles (13 kilometers) apart. Cooper, who attended the game in New Orleans, did not mention the outcome during Thursday's event.
The Hall of Famer is college's basketball winningest coach, with 1,202 wins. His Duke teams won five NCAA titles, and as the Olympic team head coach the U.S. won three consecutive gold medals. He coached nine national players of the year at Duke and 38 All-Americans.
Krzyzewski and his wife also are known for their charity work for health care and education, including the creation of a community center named for his late mother. Cooper also mentioned how Krzyzewski spoke out recently against inaction by politicians after mass gun violence.
“His impact on basketball, his impact on Duke University and on Durham and our state will live on forever,” said Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Wake County, a Duke law graduate and former head of the university's trustee board.
Krzyzewski said it was a “tremendous honor” to receive the award, which was created in the 1960s for the governor to honor exemplary state service. Recipients receive the “special privilege” to propose the state's official toast “anywhere in the free world.”
Krzyzewski quipped that the event was “bringing out the best” in Cooper. Even the governor's family dog, Violet, wore a collar in the garden etched with the Duke name.
“Gov. Cooper is a Duke fan today,” Coach K said, emphasizing what brings North Carolina residents together.
“Whether you’re a Duke fan, a Carolina fan, or really don’t care about either one — and there are a bunch of people who don’t care about either one by the way — we all share a common bond of being a North Carolinian,” he said, adding that his family will "do everything we can to continue to help make this state the best state.”