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.
John Feinstein 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 Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four 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, The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry, 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 Dean Smith circa 1976, back when Feinstein was an undergrad covering the basketball beat for his cross-town alma mater, Duke. This was a few years before the other members of the eponymous trio, Mike Krzyzewski (aka Coach K), and Jim Valvano, 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 good, legendary rivalry is also built on mutual respect.
You don't have to be a die-hard Duke, UNC, or NC State fan to enjoy this one. I've always been more drawn to the March MATHness 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 GOATs couldn't hurt…