The Week has a piece that outlines five theories why everyone seems to hate Duke.
1. Americans hate monopolies, and love underdogs: Think of Duke as Microsoft, says workplace psychologist Paul Damiano, as quoted in Newsweek. Duke’s basketball prowess, like Microsoft’s software near-monopoly, makes people mad. Americans love underdogs that fight for victory with few resources. Conversely, we hate dominant businesses and sports teams — the New York Yankees are a prime example — on the assumption they buy the best players, or get cushy treatment from the regulators (“aka the referees”). Case in point: Many writers have complained that Duke got easy opponents to help it go far in the tournament, because Blue Devil hatred translates into good TV ratings.
Sure…only Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four in six years. They are still a top 10 basketball program, certainly, but they aren’t the dominant program they were in years past. If that were the case, why doesn’t everyone hate North Carolina or Michigan State? And I don’t like the comparison to the New York Yankees. Duke can’t go around and buy up all the best free agents. If anything, Coach K is at a disadvantage due to Duke’s stringent admission standards.
2. The “Cameron Crazies”: No school has more infamous fans than Duke’s Cameron Crazies, says John Gasaway in Basketball Prospectus. And many Duke haters believe the rowdy — some would say obnoxious — student fans who cram into Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium for home games and relentlessly taunt opposing players give their team an unfair advantage. Or, as a student at nearby arch-rival University of Carolina put it: “When I see those Dookie boneheads shoe-polishing their faces navy blue on television, squandering their parents’ money with their fratty elitist bad sportsmanship antics and Saab stories, I want to puke all over Durham.”
Really, we’re going to ask a Tar Heel fan to comment about the Cameron Crazies? That’s like asking Sarah Palin to comment on Dennis Kucinich’s single-payer health care plan. I suspect even most Duke haters wish that their team had a home court advantage like Duke does. Unfair advantage? Give me a break.
3. Coach K: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski inherited a team that was down on its luck 30 years ago, and rebuilt it into a dominant force in the basketball-addicted Atlantic Coast Conference. Duke haters find Krzyzewski “annoying and self-important,” and they love to mock his nasal twang. Coach K is a constant presence, says Monte Poole in the Oakland Tribune, and, depending on whether you’re a Duke supporter or a fan of another school, he’s “either your own personal god or he’s wearing horns and holding a pitchfork.”
I can absolutely understand not liking a certain coach’s style or demeanor. For example, K-State’s Frank Martin drives me nuts the way he stomps around on the sideline (often wandering onto the court during play) screaming at his players and staring down officials. But you have to give Coach K credit — he turned Duke into a top tier program and has never even had a sniff of any impropriety or recruiting violations. His teams are always at or near the top in terms of wins and graduation rates. That’s hard to do in such a cutthroat business. Plus, he wrangled 12 of the biggest egos on the planet and guided Team USA to a gold medal in Bejing. That has to be worth something, even to those that hate him.
4. “Elite” is a bad word: Duke is an elite school — expensive, with high academic standards, and a high graduation rate for its athletes. The pride Duke’s coaches, players, and fans take in the school’s academic reputation comes across to fans of rival programs as just another example of Duke’s arrogance. Duke is always included in lists of college athletic programs “capable of properly balancing academics and athletics,” says Ben Miller in The Quick and the Ed, and such talk makes its team stand out as a teacher’s pet in a basketball world full of huge state schools, some of which have trouble with low graduation rates.
I’ve been following Duke basketball since the (playing) days of Johnny Dawkins and I don’t once remember a Duke player talking about how high the school’s academic standards are. Besides, does anyone hate the basketball teams from Stanford, Cal or any of the Ivy League schools because they’re difficult schools to get into? Now, it’s understandable if people dislike the Duke student body because they’re a bunch of spoiled white kids, but the Duke basketball team doesn’t have anything to do with that.
That said, I fully admit that there was an era — let’s call it the…um…Christian Laettner era — where there was a certain air of elitism emanated by a few players on the team. This era’s namesake along with (maybe) Bobby Hurley ruffled more than a few feathers in their day. But since then — can anyone really accuse Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Shelden Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Luol Deng, Corey Maggette, Dahntay Jones, Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer or Kyle Singler of being elitist on the court?
Oops, I forgot about J.J. Redick. Still, there was a long gap there…
5. It’s about money: Duke hatred is class warfare, says Al Lee in Payscale.com. Of all the teams in the NCAA tournament this year, Duke ranks No. 1 in alumni wages, with the average ex-Dukie making $104,000 a year. Thats nearly $30,000 more than alums make at the top seeds in the other regions in the tournament, and it’s more than twice the figures for the tournament schools at the low end of the pay scale.
Well, I doubt very many Duke haters out there can quote any alumni wages, but maybe I’m wrong.
In the end, I think it’s a combination of all of these factors. Duke is a top tier program (monopoly), with an extremely spirited yet bratty student body (Crazies), that has remained squeaky clean (Coach K) and has an air of superiority (elitism) that surrounds them. Or at least that elitism is perceived to be there…by people who hate the program. It’s a vicious cycle, I say.
I don’t care. I like the Blue Devils. Coach K always has good teams that play good defense and take care of the ball. The Cameron Crazies are just icing on the cake.
Photo from fOTOGLIF