The Duke faithful always back basketball coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski, but did you know that for 37 years, Coach K had a very special friend behind him, literally?
Steve Mitchell occupied a seat behind the Duke bench at every home game because decades ago, Coach K invited him to sit there, knowing how special that would be. Mitchell, who passed away in June at the age of 62, had Down syndrome, but he was such a fixture at Duke games that high-fives and hugs from players and fellow fans were non-stop. And, a handshake from Coach K was practically a ritual cemented in stone.
Coach K and Mitchell met in the 80s. Mitchell’s family was in the construction business, according to the Herald Sun, and they helped with renovations to Coach K’s home in Durham, NC. With Mitchell on site, a friendship formed quickly and the offer for seats behind the bench was extended.
“Steve became a good friend, one who had some challenges. He was loved deeply by his family. It always felt good shaking his hand before games because I admired him and was proud of him,” Coach Krzyzewski wrote in an email, according to the Herald Sun. “Steve never asked for anything. He just wanted be to down there to support us. I always felt like he had my back. That felt good.”
His family will tell you that he learned some colorful language from the Hall of Fame coach.
“He learned some words from Krzyzewski. Momma and Daddy didn’t like to hear,” his brother, Crafton Mitchell, said. “He had trouble pronouncing some of them. He said ‘Dodd-mn it!’”
But, more than that, he learned he was supported by the vibrant Duke community.
Mitchell considered Coach K his hero, but he, himself, was a hero in his own right. He 1981, he saved his sister’s life when he saw that she was having a seizure in a swimming pool and called for help.
What a guy, huh?
There may be someone else sitting in the seat Mitchell occupied for so many years, but his presence is still felt as strongly as a good firm Coach K handshake.