Coach K’s milestone is a precious gem

Savor this. Enjoy this. Remember how this felt when it happened. Realize that on Tuesday night, when Michael William Krzyzewski became the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history with his 903rd win, we finally experienced authentic greatness.

This moment did not need to be forced, shined, spun or hyped. Duke’s 74-69 win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden was the thing America loves to proclaim but rarely sees: an all-time moment, a glimpse of incredible and lasting greatness, an achievement that actually meets our desire to experience events, sporting and otherwise, that we can rank among the most important of all time.

To mark the moment, as if one needed reminding, Coach K walked slowly across the floor and found his mentor. Bobby Knight stood, his green sweater-vest almost luminous next to his protégé’s charcoal suit, and the two embraced.

“Coach,” Krzyzewski later recalled saying, “I’m not sure people tell you this, but I love you, and I love what you’ve done for me, and thank you.”

“Boy,” Knight responded, “you’ve done pretty good for a kid who couldn’t shoot.”

“I think that means he loves me too,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m going to take it as that.”

Whether you love Coach K or not — Duke haters included here — you must take this record and allow yourself to enjoy how incredible it is, and where it happened: on the hallowed grounds of Madison Square Garden, where a coaching career that went from Indiana (he served as a grad assistant to Knight there in 1974) to Army to Duke reached this milestone, and the final domino in a career fell.

It became official: Coach K is now perhaps the greatest coach in college basketball history.

What a kickoff to the 2011-12 season. What a reminder how much fun hoops still can be despite the looming end of this NBA season. What a legacy.

“It is emotional, it’s a historical thing, I realize that,” Coach K said. “It’s a big thing.”

Yes it is, and it had particular poignancy because we so strive to pretend such moments happen that when the real ones arrive they are a breath of fresh air. It’s as if, for a moment at least, all the fakery and foolishness is gone and we can enjoy something for what it actually is. How much sweeter when pretending is unnecessary.

We overvalue so much so often it has become part of our national zeitgeist. Regardless of your politics — then as well as now — much of America called Barack Obama a transformative president before he had spent a single day in office. He won a Nobel Peace Prize before being allowed to see what he actually could accomplish.

We so overvalued mortgage-backed securities that had little or no value that years after coming to grips with what they actually were worth, we remain in an economic malaise.

This list of our pressing desire to force meaning where there is none is long and crosses into every walk of our lives. Google-plus was the next Facebook and Twitter. Pets.com was going to make everyone wise enough to invest filthy rich. Aaron Rodgers is the latest, greatest quarterback of all time. Andrew Luck is the next latest greatest quarterback of all time. Edward Burns, I promise you, was once called the next De Niro (remember the movie “15 Minutes”? Neither do I).

LeBron James? He was Michael Jordan on steroids — until, you know, he wasn’t. And before him, how many did we adorn with the Jordan mantle? Too many to count; too silly a list, looking back, to believe.

Y2K was going to be the greatest catastrophe to hit humanity since the Black Plague, until it came and went with as much impact as most of the things we try to force meaning on. The end of the world in 2012 is next up; we’ll think up another one when 2013 rolls around.

Sports is particularly prone to con us into pretending greatness is around every corner. It is through sports that many of us pass the time, process larger issues, experience safer versions of life’s highs and lows and grasp what it means to compete and struggle and win and lose. And so we seek more meaning from our games and athletes; we crave historical significance when there is none; we hope so strongly that this is the next big thing that we start to believe it.

Remember Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson? Nike sold us on “Dan and Dave” before the 1992 Olympics. Remember how the Heat were going to win seven NBA titles, or at least certainly 73 regular-season wins and two or three titles in a row? Remember how Stephen Strasburg was a real-life “The Natural?” And Mark Prior before him?

Well, on Tuesday, with current and former Duke players gathering around their coach and the crowd standing to cheer, and with Coach K making his way to Knight to exchange those words and let their embrace linger, it was clear: This one was real. This moment hit on the greatness scale at the highest levels.

Think of it: 903 wins. Nine-oh-three. That means something. This is greatness measured beyond our incessant need to put every moment, man and woman who catches our eye on a pedestal.

Tom Izzo, Michigan State’s coach — and a fantastic coach in his own right — knew the weight of the moment. He joked he would die one of two ways Tuesday, either for killing Bambi or by being the guy to be on the receiving end of true greatness.

The receiving end it was.

“What Mike has done is incredible,” Izzo said. “I didn’t want to be the guy, but if I had to lose to someone, what a class act to lose to.”

Duke’s players felt the pressure, too.

“We were tight or tentative the whole first half,” Coach K said. “I don’t know if (because) the moment was so big. We tried to downplay the moment, but with you all being here and it’s in the Garden, and it becomes a big thing.”

Yes, it does. An authentically big thing. So much so that the details, the particulars of how No. 903 went into the win column, seemed to lose their stature the second the game was over and Coach K stood alone as the all-time winningest coach.

Yes, Andre Dawkins dropped 26 points and Seth Curry added 20 while pulling down seven rebounds. Yes, Ryan Kelly held Draymond Green to 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Yes, after the hoopla, two other Big K’s, No. 2 Kentucky and No. 12 Kansas, faced off. And yes, Kentucky won 75-65.

Yet those things faded afterward. For a night, at least, an achievement worthy of our desires had taken place on a basketball court as holy as any can be.

Enjoy it. Savor it. Remember it. These moments don’t come around very often.

You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter (@foxsportsreiter) or email him at foxsportsreiter@gmail.com.