Why We Hate DUKE Basketball

Guest Article BY: Smylz Austin

The Worst Four Letter Word: D-U-K-E

The Duke Blue Devils. For me, the Blue Devils represent everything that is good and right with the world. Every day I bleed blue, and every day I recognize that sentiment is not something people like to hear. To the majority of college basketball fans, both casual and committed, the Duke program is the most hated team in the country. Hardly anyone, outside of those directly related to Duke University, can bring themselves to cheer for Duke under any situation. Most would cheer against the Blue Devils in every situation, like Chapel Hill openly cheering against Duke when they played Mississippi State in the 2005 NCAA tournament. While it is understandable that our rival, UNC, would openly cheer against us, it is a little more anomalous that the majority of the nation would share that sentiment. With that in mind, this is an exploration and explanation of the causes surrounding the anti-Duke sentiment.

This piece ignores arguments that can be made about any school as redundant and irrelevant. People can argue that Coach K says one thing and does another, that the Cameron Crazies fans have said distasteful things, and that players bad-mouthed each other. While I will address some of these broadly, the realization is that specific instances of misbehavior happen at every school. Every Coach is prone to bad episodes, every school has some obnoxious fans, and not every player knows how to keep their mouth shut. Because these things happen at all schools, it would be irrational to argue that they are the reason for the hatred surrounding Duke (although they certainly don’t help the situation).

I would also avoid an argument comparing Duke to the New York Yankees. This argument has its merits. Both teams wear blue and have a history of winning. There may even be an argument about talent, with Duke annually drawing multiple McDonalds All-Americans as the New York draws free agents. UCLA, however, has a longer history of winning, and other programs draw multiple All-Americans (UNC and Kentucky to mention a couple), so this also fails to explain the hatred of Duke. With that said, Duke draws hatred for other reason, some of which are addressed below.

The Players

Duke is not without a list of cocky players, players that can display that cockiness on a national stage. With the number of All-Americans that enter the university, it is to be expected that some players may come in with over-inflated egos. The obvious examples of general douche-baggery are Christian Laettner and J.J. Redick. Then there a statements, like that made by Chris Duhon stating that every other ACC team plays for second place in the ACC tournament. People perceive statements and actions like these embodying the Duke persona, attributing the attitude of a few players to the personality of the team.

Christian Laettner, the most hated Blue Devil, is most well-known for his turnaround jumper against Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA tournament, a shot repeatedly shown during March Madness every year. He is also known, however, for the chest stomp of Aminu Timberlake earlier in the same game.

Laettner already had a questionable national persona, and the chest stomp certainly didn’t help his reputation. J.J. Redick, likewise, had a reputation as a tool from the onset of his college basketball career. He was notorious for bobbing his head after shots and throwing up the shocker when he hit threes. He embodied the player that expected to win, that felt entitled to win, and was ultimately reduced to tears in a tournament loss to LSU (as many basketball players are reduced after a tournament loss, not least of which is Adam Morrison).

The Double Standard

People hate Duke because of a perceived double standard among officials, especially when games are being played in Cameron Indoor. The notion that Duke gets all of the calls may be more of a chicken-or-the-egg argument, the debate being whether people hate Duke so they assume Duke gets all the calls or Duke gets all the calls so people hate Duke. Being slightly biased, I obviously think that it is the former, but there may be some evidence to support the latter.

A prominent example of this idea was mentioned earlier, with Christian Laettner in the 1992 NCAA tournament. Stomping on the chest of an opposing player is arguably an offense warranting ejection, yet Laettner only received a technical for the aggression. He later went on to make the game winning shot, and the entire state of Kentucky went on to hate Duke even more.

Detractors of Duke will also cite vast foul discrepancies and instances where important calls were made in Duke’s favor. Realistically, these discrepancies happen among a number of teams and can be explained with a difference in aggressiveness (leading to more fouls in the lane) and leads at the end of games (leading to catch-up fouls).

It also doesn’t help Duke that multiple players have a history of making exaggerated gestures when getting fouled. The long tradition includes such notable names as Chris Collins (now a Duke assistant coach), Shane Battier, J.J. Redick, Greg Paulus, and most recently John Scheyer. While fouls may have legitimately occurred, the exaggerated flops make it seem impossible that a referee could refuse to call a foul, giving Duke more calls.

The Media Bias

It seems as if Duke is referenced more times than any other college basketball program in the country. The Duke/UNC game is the highest rated college basketball game on ESPN, and nearly every Duke game is nationally televised every year. When March Madness arrives, Christian Laettner’s shot is inevitably replayed countless times, and this year will probably replay Gordon Hayward’s miss against Duke as well. The media enjoys Duke for the ratings and sentiment, good and bad, that surrounds them, which does more to irritate non-Duke fans than to win them over.

As far as announcers are concerned, Jay Bilas and Jay Williams tend to take a very neutral approach when talking about their former school. Bilas even (arguably) goes so far as to pick against Duke to keep from showing bias. This is the opposite of homer commentators like Digger Phelps and Hubert Davis who heavily favor UNC. The perception of bias still exists because of Dick Vitale. Nicknamed by some as Duke Vitale, Dicky V never seems to be at a loss for a complement for the Duke team. His overwhelming personality makes for the impression that Duke is beloved by the media at all levels, and his commentating is impossible to avoid. His statements give off the impression of a massive media bias among commentators that actually only exists with him.

Continuing to be the Bad Guy

Duke is, and will continue to be, the most hated college basketball team in the country. Whether this is actually warranted is up for debate, but there is no lack for reasons to hate the Duke Blue Devils. The hatred has grown to a level that none of the above mentioned reasons would actually need to exist for the hatred to continue. Duke could get all stoic players, could be on the wrong end of all calls, and be on downside of media bias and people would still believe the opposite. That isn’t to say that those do not exist now, or never existed, but rather that the hatred surrounding Duke has become an entity unto itself. The hatred is an expected attitude toward the Duke program, and as such, will continue to exist into the foreseeable future, deserved or not.

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9 Responses to Why We Hate DUKE Basketball

  1. Adnan says:

    great article. i def think hatred for duke stems from their past players’ shenanigans. People grew to hate them from there, which was further perpetuated by older people (people who remember early 90’s like parents and older siblings) influencing younger siblings aka our generation.

    A more major aspect you don’t touch on: social class. When people think Duke, they think of a bunch of rich white boys who have everything handed to them. Fans would rather see the guy who struggled through poverty, barely made it through high school because of a bad life win than the son of academics (aka Grant Hill) do work. Scheyer has a rep in Chicago of being an all around douche because of a huge sense of entitlement. Even if they’re all not players from rich backgrounds, that’s the reputation Duke holds, thus leading to people wanting a team that seems to already have it all not gain more.

    In addition, race is probably a factor. People think white boys when they think Duke. I think while in the 70’s and 80’s this was a plus factor for fanhood (see Hoosiers), in the 90’s with a kind of counter culture, rebel teen phase going on, Duke became the bad guy. The Fab Five was tight, while Duke had the likes of Bobby Hurley and stomp daddy. Then you got your boy JJ releasing a rap album, and Greg Paulus. Effin Paulus.

    So rich white boys playing basketball? That doesn’t sound enticing on any level.

    I mean I’ll be real, I tune in to see Duke lose, but I also recognize that college basketball is much more fun when you have a perennial bad guy. Look at that dude in that picture with Obama on the far right corner. He’s got Duke written all over him. Ugh.

  2. Smylz Austin says:


    I agree with your point about social class. Social class necessarily plays a factor in the composition of the Duke basketball team. Take for example Kyle Singler. Singler was projected as a lottery pick following his sophomore year at Duke, yet has elected to stay the final two years to leave after his senior year. Duke supporters may assert that Singler came back for the chance to win a national championship, and then to win another. While these may be valid reasons for return, if Singler’s family had not been well-off, he almost assuredly would have left for the draft. Son’s of former professional basketball players are also probably not hurting for money (Henderson, Smith, Curry). Duke players tend to have that luxury so there is some history and validity with the the class argument.

    As for the race argument, the average Duke student is perceived to be a an upper class white male (although the white population is just over 50 percent), the basketball team especially. People associate the Duke program with Laettner, Redick, and Singler, they tend to forget about the likes of Elton Brand and Corey Maggette because they left early, and they think of Grant Hill in the way you referenced him. They also tend to view Shane Battier as a white player instead of a black player, even though he has mixed heritage. I have trouble believing that race causes the hate, rather than the hate leading people to make race an issue, but I do agree with you that it may contribute to the anti-Duke sentiment.

    You bring up some great points for the Duke program. I’m not sure what the monetary history is behind the Duke teams v. other college basketball teams, but I do agree there is a perceived financial elitism. I also agree that watching a largely white team play basketball is probably not entertaining for the majority of the country. I do, however, think that these issues are tied to the other arguments I mentioned, as well is the Duke prominence of winning. The Ivy League teams don’t suffer for having more rich white players, Butler didn’t suffer for the same characteristics, and people aren’t as harsh on programs like Stanford either. As such, you bring valid points, but I’m not sure if they are base reasons for the hatred, or are reasons added on after Duke had already developed the hatred.

    • Adnan says:

      Yeah, I’m under the belief that whether it’s true or not, that the reputation causes our perception of it being an upper class white school. Race alone definitely not, but in combination with perceived social status of the school, Duke essentially represents “The Man”, and no one wants to root for “The Man.”

      Unless you’re a tool. Like everyone from Duke.

  3. Willie Glass says:

    I don’t know who Duke thinks they are. I don’t know what they want. If they are looking for respect, I can tell you the big east doesn’t have any for
    them. But what the big east does have are a very particular set of skills; skills they have acquired over a very long season. Skills that make them a nightmare for teams like duke. If duke lets the number 1 spot go now, that’ll be the end of it. The big east will not look for duke, they will not pursue duke. But if duke doesn’t, the big east will look for duke, they will find duke, and they will kill duke.

  4. Smylz Austin says:


    I’ve definitely seen this video numerous times, and I do find it funny. I think it makes interesting references, but I don’t think most of them are bases for why people hate Duke. Coach K may look like a rat and the cheerleaders may not be the most attractive in all of college basketball, but I don’t think people hate Duke for those reasons. I think those reasons increase anti-Duke sentiment among those that already hate Duke. But again, being a Duke fan, I still think the video is funny and not wholly inaccurate.

    Willie Glass,

    I understand your point, and I didn’t mean to convey the thought that all college basketball fans sit around their televisions hoping to watch Duke lose. I more meant that very few parties would actually cheer for Duke in a game, and those parties are more likely to cheer against Duke. I would assume (although I can not be certain because I did not attend a Big East school) that if any Big East team played Duke, you would support the Big East team. I don’t think that it is the case that any ACC fan would support Duke because of conference, but that those fans are more likely to cheer against Duke than support the ACC. Being in Big Ten country now, I don’t see people going to bars to route for Duke to lose, but certainly no one around here wants to see Duke win. Even among neutral fans, I think they are much more likely to cheer for a team like, say Syracuse last year, than to get behind Duke, and I don’t think there are very many other teams out there that draw that similar kind of sentiment. I would be interested to know if any teams in the Big East draw the same kind of criticisms. My guess would be that the Big East has so much parody that there is not one team that draws the majority of the criticism. I think that also adds to the reasons why people generally hate Duke, because they annually sit at or near the top of the ACC.

    I am most definitely not going to argue that the ACC is anywhere close to the strength of the Big East this year. While I don’t think the ACC is the last of the major conference (I think they are ahead of the Pac-10 and SEC, arguably), I’m not ignorant enough to put it on par with the Big Ten or Big 12, let alone the Big East. I would be curious to see how you would respond to the argument that the Big East beats itself up and becomes fatigued around tournament time as a product. Looking at last year, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, and Notre Dame exited the first round, Villanova and Pitt losing in the second round, #1 seed Syracuse losing to Butler in the third round, and West Virginia losing to Duke in the Final Four (although West Virginia was admittedly suffering injury problems and coming off a tough game against Kentucky). Yes, I agree Big East teams can get more practice against quality opponents, but at what point does that take a toll having to play like that all season long, while Duke does not face conference competition as fierce as the Big East. It also doesn’t abate any of the hatred towards Duke that they drew what was perceived to be the best possible draw of any #1 Seed (facing injured Purdue, injured Baylor, injured West Virginia, and then a mid-major).

  5. SC says:

    Well written piece. Being from Lexington, my hatred of Duke definitely originated in the ’92 Regional final. That is the absolutely worst loss, as a fan, that I can remember. It left you with a feeling of being robbed, and it felt sinister and unjust. Without that to build on, my hatred of Duke would be quite shallow and conditional, just as fans tend to hate any team who is good for a long period of time. It will endure throughout Duke’s run of excellence, which will likely last until Krzyzewski’s retirement, and then extend until the end of time. Sure, a lot of their players over the years have seemed like smug punks, but without the Laettner shot, the ‘seethe’ factor wouldn’t be there. A lot of college bball players are jerks. Duke would just be annoying, rather than the embodiment of all that is evil. Objectively speaking, they’ve had a great run for past two decades. Good job.

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