Collins is still a wound healer at heart. He says his team should be a "sanctuary" for his players. He frets about keeping 23-year-old center Marreese Speights on the bench—not so much because of Speights's skills but because "I find him to be one of the nicest guys, one of the most engaging guys, and I don't have the minutes I'd like to get him. Mo Speights is a hell of a guy."
But he also says, "I've learned the one thing you can't do. As much as you would like to be able to change people, you can't. They have to be willing to change themselves."
He changed himself. Oh, his mind is as active as ever—in the summer he does 10 crosswords a day—and losses still chew him up. But now he vents to his coaches instead of his players.
Collins has a reputation as a perfectionist. It isn't quite accurate. "I'm an idealist," he said. "I want things to be right." A perfectionist needs every play to end successfully. An idealist needs every play run properly, to the best of the team's ability—regardless of outcome. Collins can live with missed shots or getting outplayed, but he can't accept a lack of effort and teamwork.
Fans still see the guy with sweat on his brow and anguish on his face. They don't see his favorite Bible verse (Prov. 3:5--6) tattooed on his right breast or the names of his four grandchildren tattooed over his heart, twin reminders of what matters even more than the games. In American sports culture a man is his résumé, but Collins no longer defines himself by what he hasn't accomplished. Now he is comfortable with who he is: never a champion, but always a winner. He says, "The game has been good to me."
When Chris Collins was a boy, his father told him before they played one-on-one, "I will never let you win." Wins were something you earned, and Doug would not cheapen the experience. Doug would beat Chris in driveway games, and Chris would go to his room crying. Chris would come back, and Doug would beat him again.
"I'm so fortunate for that," says Chris, 36, who is now an assistant at Duke. "When I did win, how good that felt."
"And then we never played again."
Now they talk on the phone every day. Doug watches the Blue Devils on TV, calls Chris afterward and runs through every important play, in order, from memory. And when Doug made the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster, Chris was there with a surprise. Chris had worked on Mike Krzyzewski's staff at the 2008 Olympics, and USA Basketball had given all the staffers gold medals. At a family dinner, Chris gave his medal to his father.