Countdown to Craziness, October 2021getty images
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus has spent his career visiting some of the most famed and hallowed stadiums and arenas in the world. Even so, the 1977 Duke graduate thinks there are few that can match his alma mater’s bandbox of a home court.
“There’s something so magical about Cameron Indoor,” McManus said. He recalled attending a recent “Countdown to Craziness,” the annual Duke basketball return-to-practice celebration with fans and the team at the Blue Devils’ 82-year-old, on-campus, 9,314-seat arena.
And much of that magic is attributable to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who spoke to the crowd at Cameron Indoor following the open practice session, McManus said.
“And he said, ‘There are a lot of arenas that you see and a lot of arenas that you hear.’ He said, ‘But Cameron Indoor is a place where you feel.’ And that is so true. There’s something so incredibly magical that you really can’t describe until you’re there.”
McManus pays regular visits to Cameron Indoor and the Duke campus, where, in recent years, his children have followed in their father’s footsteps as undergrads. McManus, when he spoke to SBJ, was looking forward to attending Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor — home of Coach K Court — on March 5 against, yes, archrival North Carolina. (Duke lost 94-81.)
Of course, Cameron Indoor and the famous-infamous students known as the Cameron Crazies didn’t become brand names until Coach K came to Durham and began building a dynasty that is now in its fifth decade.
According to the university and other media accounts, the tent village known as Krzyzewskiville originated in 1986 with a handful of students seeking first dibs on the best seats for the annual grudge match against North Carolina — and things snowballed from there. (The Devils and Tar Heels play twice per season, once in Durham and once in Chapel Hill.)
Along the way, McManus has joined a cavalcade of notable athletes, coaches, executives and celebrities who have made their way to Durham to see the Blue Devils.
Former President Barack Obama showed up in 2019 to watch the Zion Williamson-led Duke team take on North Carolina. He came with Reggie Love, the former Obama White House aide who played for Coach K in the early 2000s.
That same night, director Spike Lee, actress Hayden Panettiere, and baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. were all at Cameron, too. The following season, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson were spotted sitting next to each other at a Duke-Colorado State game in Durham. Both are Duke parents.
Others drawn by a combination of tuition bills and Coach K’s near-infinite winning have included Rob Lowe, whose son graduated in 2016. The elder Lowe was part of Cameron’s full house on many occasions in recent years and, in 2015, he narrated and executive produced ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary on former Blue Devils standout Christian Laettner. Another actor, Ken Jeong, known for roles in “The Hangover,” “Community” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” pops up on occasion at Blue Devils games, proving that despite an undergrad degree from Duke and a medical degree from North Carolina, his basketball allegiance remains with his undergrad alma mater.
Intersport CEO Charlie Besser became familiar with Cameron Indoor during his son Brennan’s playing career at Duke, which ended in 2019. Peyton and Eli Manning, star pupils of David Cutcliffe, who coached the Duke football team for 14 years ending in 2021, both paid Cutcliffe visits in Durham and developed a friendship with Krzyzewski.
Another notable NFL quarterback, Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys (and now of CBS), even sat with the Cameron Crazies during one of his visits.
Others seen at games in Cameron include Apple CEO Tim Cook (Duke MBA, on board of trustees); NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (Duke undergrad, board of trustees); and former ESPN presidents George Bodenheimer and John Skipper. Former presidents Donald Trump (before his presidency) and George H.W. Bush (after) also made visits.
Coach K, all the great players, the throwback gym — it’s hard to resist. And, McManus said, remember one other important element.
“It’s like the New York Yankees,” he said. “When you win as much [as they do] and you are as consistent, people love winners. And Mike and the Duke program are winners.”
And as for the Yankees? Retired All-Star Alex Rodriguez has made the pilgrimage to Cameron Indoor, too.
Crazy for Cameron
Student fans known as the Cameron Crazies Photo: getty images
Former President George H.W. Bush Photo: getty images
Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has a Duke MBA Photo: getty images
Actor Ken Jeong Photo: getty images
Actor Rob Lowe Photo: getty images
Former quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning Photo: getty images
Hall of Famer David Robinson Photo: getty images
Former quarterback and current CBS commentator Tony Romo Photo: getty images
Protecting, enhancing Cameron
Coach K provided a glimpse into what awaits him in retirement at season’s end. Krzyzewski has said that he and his wife, Mickie, will serve as ambassadors for the university, but Coach K will take a special interest in one of the most unique venues in college athletics — Cameron Indoor Stadium. No, he’s not planning to make any wholesale changes to the building that was his home-court advantage for 42 years.
“Everyone recognizes this is a very special place,” Krzyzewski said. “One of the things I would like to do in that new role is, how do we enhance Cameron by taking a look at what people have done around the world for, not just arenas, but great places, to keep them alive. … These are historic places. They’re not just buildings, they’re not arenas — they’re more than that. They are basically the very fabric of our university. They are part of that fabric. I’d like to try to figure that out. It’s something the Duke Endowment should be involved in because it enhances that, plus they’ve got a lot of money. That’s my little sneaky way of maybe making someone think about that.”
From Coach K, with (Reggie) Love
Former Duke player Reggie Love remembers receiving a call from Coach K in November 2008, just after Barack Obama had defeated U.S. Sen. John McCain to become the nation’s first Black president.
Gerry Brown, Krzyzewski’s longtime executive assistant, called Love and told him Coach K wanted a quick word with him.
“He says, ‘Look, Reggie, I want you to know, I’m not going to put this out for publication, I’m not going to make a big deal out of this,’” Love said. “But someone had written in one of these sports magazines that Coach K hadn’t voted for Obama. And, so, he just said, ‘I want you to know that I voted for your guy. So, you don’t have to get in a fight in some pickup game when someone starts spouting off.’”
How does that story end? In the Rose Garden in Washington in May 2010, with Coach K presenting President Obama with a framed tournament bracket while surrounded by the Blue Devils team that won the national championship that year. Obama, as ever, was never far from Love, who had, by then, become the president’s personal aide.
In awe of the man
Agent David Falk represented Michael Jordan, so it only makes sense that he would represent the Michael Jordan of coaching, as Krzyzewski is often described. Falk told SBJ that Coach K’s demeanor always impressed him.
“What’s really difficult is to be successful and manage it well,” Falk said. “Because he was confident without being braggadocious. I thought Mike had a really great balance of being confident. He would tell you he was good at what he did, but he did it in a comfortable way. He’s always worn his success well.
“When you’re as successful as he is, it’s natural that people are going to be resentful. When you’re No. 1, people always want to pull you down. I think he’s worn his success so well, it’s almost more impressive than the success he’s attained.”