Former President George H.W. Bush takes in Duke victory

Jan. 18, 2014 @ 07:22 PM

An arena renowned for its athletic history saw history of another kind on Saturday.

George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, became the first sitting or former president to watch Duke play basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium when he saw the Blue Devils wallop N.C. State 95-60.

The wheelchair-bound Bush, who is 89, sat along the baseline near the Duke bench.

After the game, he visited the Blue Devils in their locker room, speaking to the players and coaches and posing for photos.

“It was an amazing honor for us to have the 41st president of the United States with us today,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “For him to honor us in this way is as big an honor as we can possibly have. I want to thank him in a public way.”

Bush traveled to the Triangle to honor Krzyzewski for his commitment and leadership in working toward eliminating cancer as a public health threat.

Krzyzewski said he and Bush have been friends for two decades. They work together with the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, an organization Bush founded. Bush also started C-Change (which stands for Conquering Cancer), an organization of which Krzyzewski is honorary chairman.

Krzyzewski said the fact that his brother, Bill, died Dec. 26 at age 71 following a battle with cancer makes Bush’s visit Saturday all the more meaningful.

“Over what’s just happened the last couple of weeks, that fight has become even more personal for me,” Krzyzewski said.

Bush was hospitalized for two months in late 2012 for a bronchitis-related cough and other issues. Because of his age and health, he doesn’t travel outside of his home state of Texas often. Krzyzewski said that fact also made his visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium special.

Tyler Thornton, Duke’s senior guard and one of the team’s three captains, said meeting Bush capped a great day for the team.

“It was an historic moment for Coach K and our program,” Thornton said. “It was great to have a good win while he was here. He talked about how he and Coach K were great friends and he was excited to finally be able to come to a game.”

Saturday wasn’t the first time Bush had watched Duke play. He was at Reliant Stadium in Houston on March 28, 2010, when the eventual national champion Blue Devils beat Baylor 78-71 to advance to the Final Four.

Bush also delivered Duke’s commencement address in 1998.

The only previous U.S. president to appear at Cameron Indoor Stadium was Ronald Reagan in 1988. Reagan, the nation’s 40th president, spoke during an anti-drug seminar.