Guest Article BY: Smylz Austin
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.
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).
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.
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.