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Original Issue

That's Shoe Business

Get out the Odor-Eaters for Mike Krzyzewski's new million-dollar sneaker deal

I definitely want to be like Mike.

Mike Krzyzewski, that is, the basketball coach at Duke, who reportedly is about to let Nike give him a $1 million bonus plus $375,000 a year for the next 15 years, plus all the stock options his broker can carry, in exchange for wearing Nike sneakers when he jogs.

If those numbers are right—and none of the parties involved will confirm or deny them—the Krzyzewski (pronounced SHOE-shev-ski) contract works out to $6.6 million over the life of the contract, or $3.3 million a foot. Even real estate in Tokyo's Ginza district isn't worth $3.3 million a foot. But here's the beauteous part: For the cash, Krzyzewski never has to shoot, dribble behind his back or take a charge, which is good, because he can't play dead. Three out of four guys at the Sheboygan downtown Y could post up Coach K. Even the guy they dragged out of the stands in Chicago last week had to make one basket for his $1 million (page 48). Not K. He doesn't even have to actually wear the Nikes when he's working. He can wear his black tassel loafers.

As usual in any deal sanctioned by the NCAA, it stinks.

I'm not blaming Shoe-shevski for selling his sole. Personally, for six-point-six, I would wear Nikes while naked, coated in grape jelly and strapped to a no-parking sign on the corner of Sunset and La Cienega for a month. Besides, Krzyzewski says Duke is in on the deal too and is "very happy," which means he'll probably give back a few dozen wheelbarrows full of the money to the library or the student recreation center, just as he did with his previous $250,000-a-year contract with Adidas.

No, what stinks is the way the college game works. Coach gets six-point-six to decide what shoes Player will wear. Player gets zero-point-zero to wear them, even though it's the Player who packs the stands and grabs the TV ratings and sells the Gillette Foamy. The shoe companies would gladly pay the Player directly but are banned from doing so by the NCAA, so they take the only legal route to the stars' feet—through the Coach's wallet.

Oh, riiiiiiight, I forgot. In college ball it's the coaches that the people want to see. For instance, every time I go into my local Foot Locker, I hear some kid saying, "But, Mom, you've got to buy me those! Mike Krzyzewski gardens in 'em!"

And when the athletes take their shoes and sell them for $25 so that they can take their girlfriends to the local Pizza Hut—as they did a few years ago at North Carolina State—the NCAA yelps from the bottom of its yelpers. This is the same sort of doorknob-brained logic that propelled the NCAA to let Ohio State and Michigan, among others, print up player trading cards recently and sell them for $5.95 a pack. Ohio State made $100,000 on the deal last year. Already collectors are saying that the card for Michigan star Chris Webber is going for $12. The card has Chris Webber's face on it and Chris Webber's stats on the back, and Chris Webber is getting nada.

True, Webber and Duke's Grant Hill may go on to make their own something-point-somethings in the NBA and get their own obscenely lucrative shoe deals. Then again, they may blow out a knee before they get the chance. But without the contributions of those players—and of players who will never come close to playing in the NBA—the coaches don't win any titles, and without the titles, those coaches aren't lighting people's cigarettes with 20's.

And what about Coach K's assistant coaches, especially Pete Gaudet, who is making $16,000 a year and reading about Coach K's left tongue being worth more than he is? Gaudet, 51, a former head coach at Army, is probably K's key assistant—certainly he's the best teacher on the bench—and K aches to give him more money, but last year the university presidents voted to make No. 3 assistants like Pete "restricted-earnings" coaches, meaning they have to top out at $16,000. Then the presidents all climbed into their Lexuses and went home.

Hey, Pete, you got a shoe contract? "Oh, yeah," he says. "Buster Brown." Leave it to the NCAA to allow the guy in the first chair on the bench to receive six-point-six and the guy sitting next to him point-oh-one-six. "It doesn't feel very good," says Gaudet.

To repeat: The whole thing stinks. Shoe money rightly belongs to the team, not just the guy with the biggest whistle. The NCAA ought to insist that the schools, not the head coaches, negotiate the deals with the shoe companies and then spread the wealth. "You don't have to pay the players," says Krzyzewski. "But you can help them under a scholarship umbrella. Allow them a free trip home at Christmas, some insurance, benefits that are incidental to competition." And, owing to the fact that this is not Cuba, allow assistants like Gaudet to make whatever they're worth. If that gives some schools like Duke a competitive advantage, so be it. They've earned it.

Time to get real. The players are the game. Coach K is a good man, but he couldn't dunk if you spotted him a vanilla wafer and two glasses of milk.