How Coach K, Team USA used Marvin Gaye to inspire them

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski thought the United States men's basketball team needed a fight song.

So before starting his first practice for the 2008 Olympics as the U.S. national team head coach, he summoned Kevin Cullen, his trusted video coordinator at Duke. Cullen was tasked with putting together a video to the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

But Krzyzewski didn’t want just any old cover of the national anthem. He wanted the video done over Marvin Gaye’s iconic version sung at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.

While the anthem was played, the video showed highlights and pictures from their performances as individuals and as a team. It was one of the ways Krzyzewski emphasized pride in representing the U.S.

"I said, 'Here’s our fight song, and our fight song will be played before every game, and your hand will be over your heart and you’ll feel very proud,'" Krzyzewski said. "And for this year’s team, on July 17, I told them, 'And on Aug. 21 our fight song will be played twice. The second time gold medals will be around your neck and our flag will be raised above all others.'"

Before Sunday’s gold-medal game, Krzyzewski had the song played at the end of a team meeting, and he reiterated that the team would be on the medal stand wearing gold. Just as in 2008 and 2012, the fight song helped inspire another group of players on the national team to do just that.

“They feel that,” Krzyzewski said Monday after arriving back from Rio de Janeiro at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. “We try anything that we can do to get them to feel, not just to listen and see. All the groups have been very good about picking that up.”

Why Gaye’s version when so many others over the years, including Whitney Houston’s rendition before Super Bowl XXV in 1991, have been memorable? After all, Gaye's soulful version wasn't universally loved at the time.

“Marvin Gaye will last forever,” Krzyzewski said. “… As good as they [players] think they are -- and I think I’m a good coach -- we’re not as good a performer as he was.”