'You should make an immediate impact'
What to do when you get rejected, courtesy of the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Quick note before the “real” part of today’s newsletter: Thanks to everyone who has filled out the Reader Happiness Survey!
I’ll wait a few days before sharing much since I hope more people will click through and fill it out, and I don’t want to skew any results. But, here’s a point or two that might interest you:
Friday’s newsletter went out to 142,000 subscribers.
About 43,000 people read it so far, so 30%. (Good numbers.)
About 2,500 of those 43,000 readers clicked through to the survey, then about 1,200 read the whole thing, answered 20 questions, and hit “submit.”
Thank you! Actually, one more thing to mention:
Besides the “happiness” questions, I also raised a few things in the survey about the future of Understandably. This includes what would happen if I had to put some of the newsletter behind a paywall to encourage more subscriptions, which is something a lot of people have encouraged me to do.
If you’d like to weigh in on that idea, please click here. (Reminder: It’s anonymous.)
OK, here’s today’s “main” newsletter…
A letter to Michael Jordan
Have you guys ever heard of a basketball player named Michael Jordan?
Back in 1980, not all that many people had. But one person who definitely knew about him was Mike Krzyzweski, who was then the brand-new men’s basketball coach at Duke University, and who was then trying to recruit Jordan to play for Duke.
Jordan, of course, didn’t go to Duke. He went instead to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he won an NCAA championship before winning six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. He's generally (although not quite undisputedly) considered the best player in NBA history.
Krzyzweski (a.k.a. Coach K) wound up leading Duke for 42 seasons; he’s retiring this year. He’s picked up five NCAA titles (so far; Duke is in the Final Four this year), plus 28 conference regular-season and tournament titles.
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, and Twitter, and the fact that we live in the year 2022, we have access today to the letter that Coach K wrote to Jordan in October 1980 after Jordan decided on North Carolina:
I am sorry to hear that you no longer have an interest in learning more about Duke University, however I do want you to know that my staff and I wish you the very best in your college career. You are a fine young man and you should make an immediate impact on whatever you choose. Take care and best of luck.
Mike Krzyzweski, Head Basketball Coach
I love this letter. I doubt it took very long to write; in fact I suspect that Krzyzweski probably sent something similar to every potential recruit who decided to play somewhere else.
Frankly, that almost makes it even more impressive. It’s not just that the letter is gracious, although that’s clear. Maybe more important, take a look at the second to last line:
"[Y]ou should make an immediate impact on whatever you choose."
Suppose Jordan (or any recruit) goes somewhere else, but things don’t work out. Maybe he doesn’t make an immediate impact. Maybe the letter sticks in his mind.
Maybe he starts thinking: “I wonder if I should consider transferring to Duke, where Coach K thought so highly of me?”
This preserved relationship between Jordan and Krzyzweski became important a dozen years later, in 1992, when Team USA sent NBA stars to the Olympics for the first time.
Krzyzweski was an assistant coach on the Dream Team; Jordan was arguably its top star. According to Krzyzweski, Jordan went out of his way to make Krzyzweski feel comfortable coaching so much NBA talent, by ostentatiously asking for advice and help in front of the rest of the team during an early practice.
As Krzyzewski later recalled:
He said, "Coach" and he said, "please," and when it was over, he said, "Thanks."
He gave me a chance to have an ego, and then he called me with respect.
There was no organizational chart where he was the top guy, and I'm here on the bottom. On his team, everybody was important.
Anyway, the letter is a fun artifact that somebody filed away long before they knew it would have any real meaning or value, but I think it's also a real leadership lesson.
It also leads me to one more quick story about college basketball, leaving on good terms, and how small the world is. This one has to do with another player Krzyzweski tried unsuccessfully to recruit.
This time, the year was 1996, and the graduating high schooler was a highly touted but undersized guard named Shaheen Holloway.
Holloway turned down Duke for Seton Hall, which was much closer to home. An injury derailed his dream of trying the NBA, so he bounced around pro leagues in Europe before becoming a coach.
Fast-forward to 2009, when Holloway was an assistant coach at Iona College, and Krzyzweski spotted him at an event. Krzyzweski and Holloway are actually the same height, and as the story goes, Krzyzweski playfully grabbed Holloway in a headlock.
"This is the only guy not to commit to me after taking two visits," Krzyzewski told the other people around them, according to an account by Pete Thamel on ESPN.com last Friday.
"I just couldn't leave my barber in Jersey,” Holloway replied.
If you’ve followed the NCAA tournament this year, you’ll recognize Holloway’s name as the coach today of St. Peter’s College, which had the the Cinderella story of the year in the tournament, advancing farther than any underdog team in history, until they finally lost last night.
It really is a small world. I think it’s always better to leave on good terms.
7 other things worth knowing today
Speaking of leaving on good terms—or not—actor Will Smith stormed the stage at the Oscars last night and literally slapped comedian Chris Rock on international television and screamed obscenities at him, after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. This overshadowed everything else about the show, including the fact that Smith was allowed to stick around afterward to collect his first Best Actor award. (IndieWire)
Speaking of overshadowed: This is probably more important than Will Smith in the long run, but President Biden gave a powerful speech in Warsaw about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, his nine ad-libbed words at the end (“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” referring to Putin) left the administration racing to explain that this wasn’t an attempt to change the foreign policy goals of the United States or actually call for regime change in Russia. (NYT; I’m using a gift link again)
Speaking of explanations: The unemployment rate in New York City is now almost twice the national average. Common theory: Office workers balked at returning to the office, so all businesses that cater to office workers (restaurants, etc.) have less demand and retain fewer people. I have another theory to add, which is that a person working from home outside the city (like in New Jersey or suburban New York state) gets credited as an employed worker in their hometown now, not in NYC. (NY Post)
There’s a bit of a kerfuffle about the army loosening physical fitness standards for older soldiers and women. My sense is that it’s not that big of a deal: slightly lower standards than the last couple of years, but still much higher than what things were like a decade or more ago. (Career military readers, of which there are quite a few: What do you think?) In other military kerfuffle news, the U.S. Marines made some slight changes to their uniform, including some new standards to accommodate pregnant Marines and new mothers. (US News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
“More women are becoming storm chasers, defying convention and breaking barriers.” There’s no real data in this article, but a lot of anecdotal evidence, and I found it interesting. (WashPost)
Acclaimed Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins died, aged 50. (AP)
Extremely controversial take: A new study suggests that Detroit is the “number-1 pizza city” in America. I admit I don’t think I’ve ever been to Detroit except to change planes, but it seems whoever conducted this study must never have visited New York, Chicago, or the North End of Boston. Please discuss. (Freep)
Thanks for reading. I wrote about some of this Coach K stuff previously on Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here. Finally, one more plug: Please take a look at the survey if you haven’t already!