Know the Role: Billy King's Defensive Philosophy (1 of 2)
October 28, 2011
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—NETS general manager Billy King, who joined the franchise in July 2010, never played a minute in the NBA. But he did spend four years frustrating opposing offenses at Duke University in Durham, N.C. King's efforts culminated in recognition as National Defensive Player of the Year (1988) and his experience affected his attitudes as a basketball executive. NJNets.com explores that history in this exclusive feature.
Photo Credit: Duke University
Twenty-three years after last suiting up for Duke and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, Nets General Manager Billy King still plays good defense. Joking with an NBA writer on Twitter, King quickly responded to a flopping accusation: "Those were charges my man."
Behind his desk, set opposite a whiteboard in a sunny corner office of the PNY Center in East Rutherford, King laughs. He knows he won't escape the thought. Not when he's No. 2 on the Blue Devils' all-time list for charges taken. Not when his then-record of 63 lasted 13 years before being broken by Shane Battier, a defender so notoriously good (annoying?) he was dubbed "The No-Stats All-Star" by The New York Times Magazine.
"That was my thing," King says. "I couldn't shoot, so I had to play defense. If I wanted to play for Coach K, if I was going to get on the court, I had to do something that was going to make it so he couldn't take me off it, and that was to play defense. I looked at my role as vital as (teammate) Danny Ferry's role scoring. I always think there's a role for that, so I took charges and did everything I could. I just looked at it growing up, in any sport – especially a team sport – do what it's going to take for that team to win."
That attitude permeates King's team-building as NBA executive, an endeavor that includes the construction of a literal "team" both in definition1 and sports-cliché concept.2 Upon arriving in New Jersey, when scouts mentioned a certain player(s) couldn't shoot, King redirected the focus to team needs for rebounding and defense and what the roster offered in those areas. Instead of building an All-Star team, he set about creating a complementary roster in which each player is as vital as any other.3
The foundation for that attitude was formulated at Duke in Durham, N.C. but King nearly attended nearby UNC-Chapel Hill. Having watched Michael Jordan win the NCAA Championship in 1982, King envisioned himself playing on the floor of the "Dean Dome." Yet Carolina began cooling its recruitment, pulling back as options with more cachet began to sign.
King still cannot say why he mentioned this to Coach Krzyzewski during a call, but it proved to be the moment an entire future unfolded. Krzyzewski told King that if he still wanted to play for Carolina, now was the time to get on the phone and start recruiting them.
Realizing anyone offering that advice had his best interest in mind, King knew then he'd don Duke Blue and White4: "I think (Krzyzewski) was honest with me and we developed a relationship where he could be honest with me; I think we still have that relationship today. I look at it as the same thing with players (now): I try to develop that relationship where you can be honest with them and they don't take it the wrong way if you give them advice."
Krzyzewski's communication skills, and those of his staff, helped King and his fellow high school standouts5 find – and accept – their roles on a team already endowed with the foundation for a 1986 Final Four appearance: Mark Alarie, Tommy Amaker, Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins and Dave Henderson. Those upperclassmen taught the incoming freshmen what they needed to know and do to succeed, as others had for them, and as King would do for those to follow. It is the reason, King feels, Duke has remained a perennial contender.
A late-season freshman year matchup with Georgia Tech6 helped King discover his defensive prowess. Relieving Dawkins for a five-minute stretch in the second half, King helped shut down standout point guard Mark Price. I can do this, King thought. There's an opportunity here.
King focused on defense, developing alongside Ferry, a friend from the D.C. area who followed him to Duke the next season. Ferry's scoring ability – he'd go on to lead the ACC as a senior – complemented King's lack of offensive aptitude.
"It was Danny Ferry's job to score, and his responsibility to score," King says. "When we threw it to him, his job, he knew, was to score. My job was to play defense. We all accepted our roles, and there was no animosity. I wasn't saying I wanted to shoot more – because I figured if I shot more, we'd lose."
Ferry can't help cracking similarly wise, even while heaping praise: "Our friendship was a part of the reason I ended up at Duke. As a player, (Billy) was a great teammate and leader. I hope he is not helping the Nets' players with free throws, as that was the only rough part of his game. Billy was a smart player on both ends of the court. He was tough and a proud defender. Billy was a player that helped you win games."
King helped Krzyzewski win 110 games (against 25 losses) in four years, making two Final Four appearances and twice winning the ACC Championship. The venerable coach remembers most that King wielded – and still wields – tremendous leadership ability, praising him as one of the best leaders and communicators to pass through his program.
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Photo Credit: Duke University
|1—Merriam-Webster: a number of persons associated together in work or activity.|
|2—Every championship player/coach/executive ever: the combined roster's success proving 'greater than the sum of its parts' due to 'everyone knowing and accepting their roles.'|
|3—See: Philadelphia 76ers, 2000-01;
PG: Eric Snow; SG: Allen Iverson (NBA MVP); SF: George Lynch; PF: Tyrone Hill; C: Dikembe Mutombo; Bench: Aaron McKie, Raja Bell, Kevin Ollie, Jumaine Jones, Matt Geiger, Rodney Buford
|4—"Duke Blue" dates back to the 1880s: http://library.duke.edu/uarchives/faqs/duke_blue.html|
|5—McDonald's All-Americans Danny Ferry and Quin Snyder joined a year later.|
|6—Feb. 23, 1985: Duke won, 67-62. King played five minutes, recording only a personal foul. Price finished 13-of-18 with 26 points and two assists.|