The World

War and Basketball

Mike Krzyzewski presents President Obama with a copy of the NCAA bracket on May 27, 2010.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

It’s bad enough when coaches employ questionable metaphors to compare sports to war. But questionable metaphors comparing war to sports are so much worse.

The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reports that while accepting an award from the Association of the U.S. Army last month, Duke and Team USA basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski took the opportunity to question President Obama’s “coaching” of the war against ISIS.

Discussing Obama’s pledge not to use U.S. ground troops against ISIS, Krzyzewski said, “It’s about letting your opponent know we are going to use our best players. And whether we use them or not, that’s up to the coach. You never tell your opponent you are not going to use [them], like I’m not going to play Grant Hill, J.J. Redick, [Christian] Laettner.” He also argued that America’s willingness to employ ground troops in foreign wars is the reason “we are a free country and we don’t play home games here.”

Committing ground overseas is a bit like playing Christian Laettner in a big game against UNC, but we need to add a few more variables to really make the analogy work. It would be more accurate to say that in advance of this big game, Laettner would have put in heroic but draining performances against conference opponents in back-to-back double-overtime games. Coach K would also have been hired as Duke’s coach based largely on a pledge not to make Laettner play in any more basketball games.

Duke would have to schedule the game unilaterally, because it would be unclear whether it was allowed under NCAA rules. Duke would have to play UNC not once, but in two games taking place simultaneously at Madison Square Garden and the Georgia Dome. In one of those games, players from Michigan would be playing on Coach K’s team; in the other, they would be working to actively undermine him. Victory in either game would require convincing Kentucky and Louisville to join forces.

In both arenas, fans would be rioting, setting fire to concession stands, and flinging projectiles at the teams. The best-case scenario would require kowtowing to a tyrannical, criminal commissioner. The worst case would involve a dramatic realignment of the ACC that would throw the entire sport into chaos. No matter what, it would cost billions of dollars. Also, the game would probably end in a draw and Christian Laettner might die.

Though Krzyzewski doesn’t agree with Obama’s foreign policy, the two leaders of men do share a taste in terrible basketball metaphors. Back in January, Obama told David Remnick, in response to a question about ISIS, that “if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” What do you get when Christian Laettner sits the bench in a game against JV players dressed like Kobe Bryant? Either the worst basketball game ever or a foreign policy conversation that makes you do this: