The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry

The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry

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, #1 New York Times bestseller John FeinsteinOn March 18, 1980, the immensely powerful Duke basketball program announced the hiring...

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Title:The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry
Author:John Feinstein
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The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry Reviews

  • Lance

    In 1980, North Carolina was already established as a legendary basketball program with a legendary coach, Dean Smith. That year, the two biggest rivals of the Tar Heels, Duke and North Carolina State, hired Mike Krzyzweski and Jim Valvano respectively. That led to a decade of intense basketball between these three schools.

    John Feinstein, considered by many to be one of the best writers of college basketball, captures the spirt of this three-headed rivalry by telling the story of not only the suc

    In 1980, North Carolina was already established as a legendary basketball program with a legendary coach, Dean Smith. That year, the two biggest rivals of the Tar Heels, Duke and North Carolina State, hired Mike Krzyzweski and Jim Valvano respectively. That led to a decade of intense basketball between these three schools.

    John Feinstein, considered by many to be one of the best writers of college basketball, captures the spirt of this three-headed rivalry by telling the story of not only the successes on the court of these three coaches, but by also exploring what made each one of them so intense despite having distinctly different personalities.

    Feinstein is a no-nonsense writer as he tells stories of the recruiting wars between the three, the intensely competitive fire inside each one against one another, and insightful stories that bring the reader inside the mind of each coach. Feinstein gives each time equal time through the time that all three coached. However, I felt that Feinstein did his best work when writing about the discovery of Valvano’s cancer and all that happened until his death in 1993. The stories have been told before, but not like this. Feinstein should also get extra kudos for getting Valvano’s widow to open up so freely about the loss of her husband. This section made for some of the best reading in the entire book.

    Readers who have enjoyed Feinstein’s previous books on college basketball such as “A Season on the Brink” and “The Last Amateurs” will enjoy this one as well. Covering the game and the three schools who were coached by these three legendary coaches in his usual informative style, “The Legends Club” is a book that every basketball fan should add to his or her collection.

    I wish to thank Doubleday Publishing for providing an advance review copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  • Amy

    OUTSTANDING! Picture me screaming this from the rooftops!

    John Feinstein brilliantly weaves together the coaching lives of three of the greatest coaches in men's college basketball -- Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, and Jim Valvano -- all three from North Carolina schools -- and all of these schools within 20-25 miles of each other.

    Some interesting tidbits:

    The interactions with their players, those they were recruiting, as well as other coaches / staff people was fascinating. Even though Krzyzewski

    OUTSTANDING! Picture me screaming this from the rooftops!

    John Feinstein brilliantly weaves together the coaching lives of three of the greatest coaches in men's college basketball -- Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, and Jim Valvano -- all three from North Carolina schools -- and all of these schools within 20-25 miles of each other.

    Some interesting tidbits:

    The interactions with their players, those they were recruiting, as well as other coaches / staff people was fascinating. Even though Krzyzewski and Bobby Knight did not speak for a number of years, Krzyzewski still applied principles that he had learned from his mentor. One, which I thought was especially interesting -- "Don't be afraid to call an early time-out if you need it."

    I also loved seeing (through the story) Krzyzewski run out onto the court and grab the front of a player's jersey, get in his face, and tell that player that he did not lose a game for them, he helped them get that far. This was a fabulous opportunity to mentor a young player, and he did it the right way. I can picture another [specific] coach doing the complete opposite.

    I cried buckets during the part about Jim Valvano's illness and death. I remember this time vividly. It's hard to believe that it's been almost 23 years since we lost this funny and dazzling man. Had he lived, Valvano would have turned 70, this year.

    Valvano once said that there are three things you should do everyday: 1) Laugh; 2) Think; 3) Cry

    Valvano's legacy in the form of the "Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research" aka the "V Foundation" is a most poignant gesture. "Don't give up, don't ever give up."

    Valvano once said, "Cancer may rob me of my physical powers. But it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. Those parts of me will live on forever."

    The information surrounding the Duke / Navy game at the beginning of Chapter 21 was [in a way] hilarious, and yet, I could totally get Krzyzewski's intense feelings (and the attitude they conveyed) about this particular game.

    I literally laughed out loud when I read about the Duke fans chanting "Abandon ship!" to Navy as their ship sunk (the basketball game).

    I did not remember Roy Williams as Dean Smith's assistant -- the interactions between these two men was very interesting, especially after Williams left and went to Kansas, and then during the times Coach Smith talked to Williams about returning to NC to take over as head coach.

    Stories about Dean Smith were hilarious! I have always pictured him as a curmudgeonly man, but I know his players and coaches loved him. I think that this is why his dibilitating illness was so shocking to everyone around him. The final visit -- when the Krzyzewskis went to see Dean and his wife was absolutely heartbreaking.

    The history surrounding Krzyzewski and Madison Square Garden was intriguing.

    The "tribute" that was done by the Duke Players & NC Players when Duke played Carolina was beautiful, especially when this moment was also shared by Coaches Krzyzewski & Roy Williams. It was sad, but in the end, it was hilarious, because curmudgeonly Coach Dean Smith really would not have liked all of the pomp and circumstance offered in his honor. He always said, "Never be proud of doing the right thing; just do the right thing." And I sincerely believe that he would have said do it without drawing attention to the situation.

    A very well researched book!

    Finally, in the words of Dick Vitale, all of these coaches are part of the "All-Michelangelo Team: Coaches who are brilliant artists at work."

  • Lesa

    With two nonfiction bestsellers sitting on my table, I reached first for John Feinstein's The Legends Club. I'm a fan of his sports books, and I've even read some of his books on golf. But, this time, he covered my favorite basketball conference, the ACC, and three remarkable coaches. The subtitle is: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry.

    It's the perfect time of year to discuss the three men who coached in North Carolina, bringing one National Champion

    With two nonfiction bestsellers sitting on my table, I reached first for John Feinstein's The Legends Club. I'm a fan of his sports books, and I've even read some of his books on golf. But, this time, he covered my favorite basketball conference, the ACC, and three remarkable coaches. The subtitle is: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry.

    It's the perfect time of year to discuss the three men who coached in North Carolina, bringing one National Championship after another to the state. But, the universities themselves couldn't be more different, and the men who coached the basketball teams couldn't have been more different. Now, only Coach K is left, the one who climbed the highest pinnacle. But, from his earliest days at Duke, and Valvano's days at North Carolina State, they coached in the shadow of Dean Smith at North Carolina. It was his state; he recruited the players from the state; and the newspapers covered and loved his program. But, Feinstein, despite being a Duke graduate, manages to write beautifully about all three coaches.

    "In March of 1980, in a nine-day period, Duke hired Mike Krzyzewski and North Caroline State hired Jim Valvano." Krzyewski was thirty-three. He had played and coached under Bobby Knight, coached at Army. At thirty-four, Valvano was coming from Iona. Valvano was instantly a hit with the media. Coach K? Feinstein says, "Every single day he found himself competing against an icon and a rock star."

    Feinstein writes a beautiful book about that competition. He takes readers to the games, to the highs of the wins, and the lows of the losses. And, although all three coaches competed on the national stage, their greatest rivals were each other. Feinstein didn't have the chance to interview Valvano or Smith for the book, but over the years covering basketball in North Carolina, he had numerous opportunities to interview both. He interviewed Coach K, and the widows of both of the other coaches, a number of former players and coaches. It's a remarkable basketball book.

    Feinstein quotes Keith Drum of the Durham Morning Herald as saying repeatedly, "There's a lot of hate in this league." He was talking about the coaches. But, Smith and Krzyzewski and Valvano found their way to respect. In fact, Krzyzewski and Valvano formed a strong bond after Valvano left coaching, went to ESPN, and then learned he had cancer. The three chapters in which Valvano's cancer is covered made me cry. Everyone who follows college basketball knows the Jimmy V story and his heard his heartbreaking speech at the ESPYs just eight weeks before he died. Jim Valvano comes alive through the words of people who loved him, especially his wife, Pam. And, he comes alive through Feinstein's book.

    I could go on forever, quoting stories from The Legends Club. It's the perfect time of year to pick up a book about three remarkable coaches. Do yourself a favor. If you love college basketball, love the rivalries, the coaches and the characters of the sport, try The Legends Club

  • Rocky Clark

    Should you read this book?

    1) Are you a UNC, Duke, or NC St fan? If so, your excuse for not reading this book is invalid. You HAVE to read it. You'll probably even walk away with an added respect for your team's nemesis.

    2) Are you at least modestly interested in college basketball? If so, you'll find this book fascinating. Read it. If not, skip it

    3) Would you like to grow as a leader? If so, this might be worth your time. It can't hurt to learn about some of the greatest leaders basketball has

    Should you read this book?

    1) Are you a UNC, Duke, or NC St fan? If so, your excuse for not reading this book is invalid. You HAVE to read it. You'll probably even walk away with an added respect for your team's nemesis.

    2) Are you at least modestly interested in college basketball? If so, you'll find this book fascinating. Read it. If not, skip it

    3) Would you like to grow as a leader? If so, this might be worth your time. It can't hurt to learn about some of the greatest leaders basketball has ever known

    4) Do you have a heart? If so, you'll be moved by Jimmy V's battle with cancer, Dean Smith's dementia, & the relationships that formed between these 3 men.

  • Fred Shaw

    The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry

    By John Feinstein

    Kindle Edition

    5+ Stars

    If you like mens’ college basketball you will love this book. You might love it a little more if you are an ACC fan or alum, which I am. It's about 3 of the best coaches in the history of the sport: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski (whom i will refer to as Coach K because I have to look up the spelling each time I write his last name) and Jim Valvano (who is lovingl

    The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry

    By John Feinstein

    Kindle Edition

    5+ Stars

    If you like mens’ college basketball you will love this book. You might love it a little more if you are an ACC fan or alum, which I am. It's about 3 of the best coaches in the history of the sport: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski (whom i will refer to as Coach K because I have to look up the spelling each time I write his last name) and Jim Valvano (who is lovingly referred to as Jimmy V) and their respective teams University of North Carolina (my alma mater), Duke University, and North Carolina State University. The book covers the coaches and players and their their play against each other in conference and nationally from 1980 to 2015. Don't worry there is not a bunch of statistics to bore you, but there is a lot about recruiting styles, game strategy and personal traits of these fine men.

    There have been great coaches in this sport, but the best, based on their successes are: John Wodden at UCLA with 10 national titles in 12 years, Coach K, 1000+ wins and 5 national titles Bobby Knight with 4 national titles and Dean Smith with 4 and 875+ total wins. Jimmy V would more than likely be ranked there too if cancer had not cut his life short. The ACC is and always has been a tough conference.

    John Feinstein is one of the top sports writers in the US, and i enjoyed each one of his books I've read. What makes him so good is his knowledge of the sport, the research he does, and mostly because of his personal relationships with the coaches in this case. He is also well versed in all sports and i highly recommend this and any of his work for that matter.

    What made this book so special, was the way Feinstein gave the reader the behind the scenes look at the rivalry. Coach K and Jimmy V started at Duke and NC State respectively, the same summer of 1980. Dean Smith had been at UNC since 1966 and in the space of 14 years had built a dynasty of recruiting and winning that stil exists to this day. Coach K, a Bobby Knight protege, was the coach at Army and played against Jimmy V at Iona, both schools in New York. When they came south, they had no idea what they were going to encounter with Smith and UNC. There was no way any North Carolina high school basketball player was going to Duke, and even NC State would be a last choice. All the kids wanted to go to Carolina and play for Smith.

    However, Coach K and Jimmy V would learn how to compete in the conference and eventually exchange wins and losses with Smith and UNC. All three schools are only a few miles apart in North Carolina and rivalry is always intense. To give you an idea, in 3 years, Jimmy V would take his NC State team to the national championship and win. Dean Smith also felt Coach K’s presence and though behind NC State in his ramp up, Coach K was good and a force to be reckoned with.

    If I don't stop now i will write a book about this book, because it has had a profound impact on me. I have relived some of this rivalry having been there during part of the years discussed. I also have a greater respect for the 3 coaches, who at one time despised each other, but eventually came to love each other.

  • Seth

    How would you feel if you were coaching against North Carolina's Dean Smith? Personally I would be very afraid. In John Feinstein's book The Legends Club, he describes three of the best coaches in basketball ever, and how they competed against each other and other teams. This book falls into the category of historical fiction. In 1980, Duke and NC State had just hired two new head coaches, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Valvano. This led to an intense decade of basketball between these three schools.

    How would you feel if you were coaching against North Carolina's Dean Smith? Personally I would be very afraid. In John Feinstein's book The Legends Club, he describes three of the best coaches in basketball ever, and how they competed against each other and other teams. This book falls into the category of historical fiction. In 1980, Duke and NC State had just hired two new head coaches, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Valvano. This led to an intense decade of basketball between these three schools.

    There were three main characters in this book: Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, and Mike Krzyzewski. If you know a little about basketball, these three people are the pinnacle of excellence at dominating there sport. Dean Smith coached at North Carolina for thirty six years. They were the best of the best, the top of the food chain. The year 1980 was huge for college basketball. Two new coaches had arrived at NC State and the prestigious Duke, both in the same conference as North Carolina. Jim Valvano got the head coaching job at NC State. Jim was a great man, a man that someday I want to be like. He treated everyone the same with love, kindness, and much glee. He treated his players the same way. He wasn't the best technical coach in the world, but he knew how to get the best out of his players. Mike Krzyzewski arrived at Duke with lofty aspirations. He’s had the privilege of coaching some of the best college basketball players ever. Christian Laettner for example, is probably the best player to ever play in college. He won two national championships in his four years at Duke. Those championships would be the first two for Duke University and Coach K. Coach K and Coach Valvano are great coaches, but they were no match for the veteran Dean Smith. While losing a lot to Deans teams over the years, in a way they were winning. They gained much knowledge through defeat, they figured out how Dean was successful. In this book, you'll see how three men can be great friends, as well as fierce competitors.

    I give this book a five out of five stars. There is so much juicy and interesting information about these three men and schools that I didn't know. I thought John Feinstein did a fantastic job of giving a lot of really cool info, without making it too long with his choice of words. I also enjoy analyzing and watching basketball. It would've been cool too watch Dean Smith fiercely coach North Carolina in his hay day, but Feinstein paints a pretty good picture in the mind of what it was like. All in all, this was a fun read.

  • Mara

    I'm a bit rusty in the art of reviewing books right now, and, though this may not mark a triumphant return for me, this read moved me enough to put that aside.

    is a prolific, and talented sports writer, particularly in the college basketball world. This time last year, with the Madness of March fast-approaching, I read his

    and found it underwhelming, to say the least. However, I can't help but think that some of that had to do wit

    I'm a bit rusty in the art of reviewing books right now, and, though this may not mark a triumphant return for me, this read moved me enough to put that aside.

    is a prolific, and talented sports writer, particularly in the college basketball world. This time last year, with the Madness of March fast-approaching, I read his

    and found it underwhelming, to say the least. However, I can't help but think that some of that had to do with bits and pieces of this book,

    , that Feinstein struggled to keep at bay.

    Why? Because this is the book that Feinstein has been destined to write ever since he first met UNC coach

    circa 1976, back when Feinstein was an undergrad covering the basketball beat for his cross-town

    , Duke. This was a few years before the other members of the eponymous trio,

    (aka Coach K), and

    , would make their way to North Carolina's Research Triangle, but it's apparent throughout the book, that the seeds of this story run deep for Feinstein.

    Actually, there are many stories within this grand narrative, which is part of what makes it so difficult to summarize in a meaningful way. With Jim Valvano's untimely death in 1993, Dean Smith's recent passing in 2015, and Coach K's continued presence as head coach of the Blue Devils, it's easy to forget that they were, in fact, contemporaries. Don't worry, I've got pics to prove it:

    These pictures, of course, fail to capture the nature of their relationships for most of the time: sheer enmity. But, that's what makes this book so special— it captures an arc that we miss when we make "rivalries" out to be all about animosity. And, though there were plenty of moments that were exactly that, a

    ,

    rivalry is also built on mutual respect.

    You don't have to be a die-hard

    ,

    or

    fan to enjoy this one. I've always been more drawn to the

    side of Bracketology, and, frankly, wasn't really a sentient sporting fan for the heyday of the clashes among the Blue Devils, Tar Heels, and Wolfpack. Honestly, as I got a bit misty-eyed toward the end of the story, my thoughts went more to likes of Beowulf than to the Sweet Sixteen (which is not to say that Feinstein neglects the basketball at all— he doesn't).

    Unless you've been living in an Air-Raid shelter for the past 30 years, I'm not spoiling anything by giving you the parting shots of the victors "cutting down the net" (each a their own time). But, there's no other way for me to close this half-baked review.

    And I guess one last shot of two

    couldn't hurt…

  • LemonLinda

    For those of us who live and breathe any one of these three ACC basketball teams, UNC, Duke or NC State, this is nostalgia. It is reliving our memories, some that make us so happy and some that are infuriating because all of our love and passion is for one of these teams and we have none for the other two. Mine is for the my alma mater and beloved university, The University of North Carolina.

    I did, however, gain a deeper understanding and some greater measure of respect for the other two coache

    For those of us who live and breathe any one of these three ACC basketball teams, UNC, Duke or NC State, this is nostalgia. It is reliving our memories, some that make us so happy and some that are infuriating because all of our love and passion is for one of these teams and we have none for the other two. Mine is for the my alma mater and beloved university, The University of North Carolina.

    I did, however, gain a deeper understanding and some greater measure of respect for the other two coaches, if not the programs they led/lead. It looks beyond their public personna and shows a side that the other two fan bases don't always consider. Well done. I enjoyed the walk down memory lane, especially the walk with a man for whom I have great respect not only for his coaching ability, but also for his moral center and his championing of causes well before they were accepted in mainstream society. Dean Smith, your legacy lives on in many ways.

  • Adam

    "The Legends Club" is a story about the passage of time and coming full circle with the coaching legacies of Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, and Mike Krzyzewski. The stories this book tells convey the depth of their intense rivalries, yearly chase for national titles of top ranked programs, the battle for coveted recruits, and the nuanced personalities that each of these coaches brought to their respective programs.

    The stories of Valvano and Coach K begin in 1980 where they assume control of basketball

    "The Legends Club" is a story about the passage of time and coming full circle with the coaching legacies of Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, and Mike Krzyzewski. The stories this book tells convey the depth of their intense rivalries, yearly chase for national titles of top ranked programs, the battle for coveted recruits, and the nuanced personalities that each of these coaches brought to their respective programs.

    The stories of Valvano and Coach K begin in 1980 where they assume control of basketball programs in the highly competitive ACC basketball conference at NC State and Duke. While these two new hires acclimated to their new roles, UNC's legendary Dean Smith managed a highly respected and successful national program despite the fact that he was chasing his first championship for the Tar Heels.

    Each of these coaches would achieve great success leading highly recruited players to a collective eight titles and countless Final Four appearances. Amidst their in-state rivalries, each coach endured obstacles both personally and professionally. This book goes a good job covering these obstacles but none more poignantly than Jim Valvano's 1993 battle with cancer. That story showcased the bond Valvano and Krzyzewski had as friends in a time of dire personal struggle.

    This book takes you on an enjoyable early journey through their coaching careers bringing you courtside to Championship seasons over their career including Valvano's 1983 "Survive and Advance" Wolf Pack title over Houston's vaunted "Phi Slamma Jamma" squad. All National Title runs are reasonably covered well but most non-title years are glossed over and carry a weaker narrative by the author as if it bores him to go into detail. I was disappointed with the rapid telling of the 1998-99 Duke season which was one of Coach K's deepest teams and runner up to Connecticut.

    The book concludes with Mike Krzyzewski's 2015 National Championship title with Duke with a team composed of many Freshman starters. Duke won that title because they were led by a coach that continues to innovate and remain a dynamic leader in a sport that is markedly different from where he began in 1980. The passage of time and battle scars these coaches earned are vividly told capturing the intense world and rivalries of ACC college basketball over the span of nearly four decades.

  • Brian Eshleman

    The book sometimes descended into the fate of so many sports books, knitting together statistics and records of season after season. I was hoping for more insight into the personalities of the participants and the ways in which those personalities were shaped by the culture at their respective schools, and shaped them in turn. A few flashes of those insights made this book worth reading, but I wasn't wowed. Dean Smith, in particular, served largely as an impersonal foil to Coach K and10.

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