Anti-Duke Manifesto

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Mike Krzyzewski and his players don’t understand the antipathy. They know it’s out there, but they truly don’t know why. Fans of all schools love to hate Duke, with growing enthusiasm it seems, and the trend is baffling the great coach to no end.

As a lifelong basketball fan, and as a graduate of both the University of North Carolina and the Duke University School of Law, I feel infinitely qualified to eliminate the confusion. Although many writers, in piecemeal fashion, occasionally comment on isolated reasons behind the ABD (‘anybody but Duke’) movement, I am aware of no comprehensive piece that discusses all the interrelated reasons why this basketball program is loathed so intensely by so many. I will attempt to do so herein.

–Chapter One –

The Duke Persona

First is the persona shared by the coach, his team, and the supporting student body. A rarely seen blend of obscene arrogance and shameless hypocrisy is the cornerstone of Duke basketball. Whether it is Christian Laettner wagging his tongue after a lay-up, Brian Davis tauntingly skipping across the floor after a break away dunk, or Chris Duhon matter-of-factly stating that all other ACC teams simply compete for second place in the annual conference tournament, (ironically said before Maryland defeated Duke for the 2004 title), the rank conceit and condescension are insufferable.

As for the equally unrelenting hypocrisy, examples abound year after year. In every close game, for instance, Coach K spews profanities at game officials for the extremely rare call against his team, while, at the same time, starring in a television commercial promoting the importance of good sportsmanship. Admittedly, his boorish behavior gets results, as every ACC official reacts to each outburst by calling an offensive foul against his opponent at the next possible opportunity.

Nevertheless, Krzyzewski, unabashed and blind to his hypocrisy, stated during the 2004 ACC tournament that because nothing is gained from working the officials, it is something he does not do.

The language this coach spouts is truly appalling, even by competitive sports standards, yet the media anointed him to sainthood status long ago. Gary Williams shouts game profanities with similar regularity and is understandably criticized by the media for doing so. Bobby Knight is similarly blasted for his well-publicized misconduct. And yet Coach K – a Knight disciple – not only receives a free pass but is worshiped as the great gentleman – ‘an officer and a gentleman’ as one commentator said during a game break last year. MSNBC sports writer Mike Ventre called him, ‘the closest thing we have to royalty in college basketball.’ Somehow the media equates the man with class, when, in reality, he is two letters removed from the word.

Duke students and fans similarly experience difficulty with consistency. As all basketball fans know, the student body is legendary for decades of orchestrated efforts to humiliate opposing players. They, for example, threw snack cakes at Dennis Scott because he once had a weight problem; they dressed as Frankenstein in an Eric Montross replica jersey; they named an ‘All Acne Team’ of opposing players and further named Mike O’Koren the Oxy 10 poster boy; record albums were thrown at an N.C. State player accused of stealing a stereo; pizza boxes were hurled at another Wolfpacker accused of robbing a delivery man; Maryland forward Herman Veal was showered with condoms and women’s panties after being accused of sexual misconduct, (a charge of which he was exonerated – precisely like Shelden Williams); Steve Francis received a serenade of ‘SAT’ because of academic struggles. The list goes on and on. All of these coordinated stunts were performed on regional, often national, television – the better to publicize the ‘creative genius’ of the Duke student body.

In the face of this churlish history, J.J. Redick, during the 2003-04 season, complained of opposing fans’ insensitivity towards Duke players. ‘Just from this year,’ he whined, ‘there have been so many incidents from other team’s fans, saying rude and crude remarks to us.’ Which is the more amazing: that Redick would be surprised or troubled by opposing fans’ comments or that he would show the gall to complain of the perceived unfairness publicly? Last season, Duke fans flooded North Carolina newspapers with letters expressing outrage that UNC fans affirmatively cheered for Mississippi State during its second round NCAA regional match-up with Duke in Charlotte. To these clueless prima donnas, Carolina fans ‘crossed the line’ by simply cheering for a neutral third-party school to defeat its hated rival.

Duke hypocrisy reached a record zenith only a few years earlier during Matt Doherty’s first year as UNC head coach. At Duke, Doherty concluded a closed team huddle, in a raucous environment where his team struggled to hear his words, with the statement, ‘Duke still has the ugliest cheerleaders in the ACC.’ Somehow word of this statement reached the media. The Duke students and alumni immediately exploded in outrage. How, they asked, could a coach utter such a callous remark? Surely such insensitivity could not be tolerated.

Unbelievable, but true. Somehow in the Duke mindset, a half-century of mocking the physical appearances of individual, teen-aged players, on national television is good-natured fun, while a coach’s private comment to his own players about a group of cheerleaders is grounds for persecution. Bringing its hypocrisy full-circle, the Duke student body, in its 2005 Maryland pre-game ‘cheer card,’ (yes, they actually print and circulate such a thing), encouraged the students to continue to spout cheers and jeers about how ugly they believe Steve Blake to have been – even though he had graduated and left the team the year before.

The biggest irony of this Duke tradition of insulting opposing players’ appearances is presented year after year by the student body itself. As each panning of the crowd consistently shows, the student body does not exactly comprise Britney Spears and Brad Pitt look-a-likes. There clearly is a compelling reason why so many of the students cover their faces with paint, masks, basketball nets, etc. Nevertheless, their personal taunts and jeers continue in a way that would make Joan Rivers proud.

Beyond the hypocrisy, it is difficult to select the word that best describes the Duke students who attend the school’s home games. Haughty, impudent, smug, egg-headed nerds – all capture elements, but none come close to painting the full descriptive picture. The Washington Post, roughly twenty years ago, coined a useful but dated phrase in labeling the students, ‘Yuppie Brats.’ Another article credited the students with ‘majoring in smart ass.’ Still, a full understanding of their detestable nature can be gathered only through experience, not description.

And yet the sports media, for reasons that baffle, glorify this same group. Led by Dick Vitale, who affectionately refers to the student section of Cameron Indoor Stadium as the ‘Cameron Crazies,’ sports telecasters and analysts regularly state that the Duke student body is what’s ‘great’ about college basketball. These same commentators credit the students for their creative and clever game rituals, and they seemingly cannot say enough times what a ‘classy’ program Duke is. It’s an insane commentary on students who, as opposing players are introduced, chant such creative phrases as, ‘Antawn sucks.’ Another Duke trademark is the united chant of ‘bullshit’ in response to any unfavorable official’s call. Before losing to UNC in 1989, the student body, referring to Carolina’s star center J.R. Reid, raised a sign that read, ‘J.R. Can’t Reid This.’ The same statement was chanted, even though Reid was actually a quite intelligent and scholastically accomplished student athlete.

This is the stuff of class?

Now back to the hypocrisy factor. Dean Smith was badly troubled by the latter incident, which he understandably construed as a racial slur. Because Coach Smith had also recruited two of Duke’s big men, Christian Laettner and Danny Ferry, he knew what these players scored on the SAT. In a press conference, he rebutted the crowd’s baseless innuendo by explaining that J.R. Reid and frontcourt mate Scott Williams accomplished a higher combined SAT score than did Laettner and Ferry, both white. Smith revealed no specific scores, nor did he provide any individual comparisons. In response, the same group that slanderously labeled Reid illiterate berated Smith for his audacity in disclosing the completely true, but purportedly ‘private,’ information of its players.

Still unconvinced? Consider the case of J.R. Reid’s frontcourt running mate, Scott Williams. By all accounts, a great person, Williams suffered the worst imaginable tragedy when he lost both his parents in a murder-suicide shooting. Several of the good-natured, creative Dukies responded at the next Duke-UNC game with clever shouts of ‘Orphan, Orphan!’ as Williams was introduced.

Enough said.

– Chapter Two –