The Duke Blue Devils are the most polarizing team in college basketball. It could be because of the simplistic, yet majestic uniforms with the letters D U K E prominently displayed in blue or white across the chest. It could be because of their mercurial head coach who seemingly holds every NCAA men’s basketball coaching record except national titles won. It could be because of the Cameron crazies and their perfectly choreographed chants, rants, and theatrics. While these may be legitimate reasons for the disdain of Duke in the minds of some college basketball fans, this fan knows the real reason behind the hate for this illustrious college program.
The reason for the hate for Duke basketball was the racial make-up of the team. When college basketball gained immense popularity in the 1980s, Duke’s basketball teams seemed to always feature the big white guy who could ball better than most other players. Remember Mike Gminski, Jay Bilas, Mark Alarie, and Danny Ferry? Each was a great competitor worthy of being emulated by every basketball player who wanted to see how the game is supposed to be played. Yet all of them had one thing in common that caused fans to silently root again them and Duke: their skin color. Yes I said it, and it is unfortunate that many basketball fans saw it this way.
I too held this view. I can speak to the hatred of Duke in a personal way in the early 1990s, when white players like Bobby Hurley led Duke to heights not previously experienced in the history of the program. Being from Jersey City, NJ and playing high school ball at the same time as Hurley, I saw first-hand how revered he was as a player. It made me envious of him and attention he garnered. Bobby worked harder than any high school player I competed with and against, but that didn’t matter. Unfortunately, when he teamed with Christian Laettner at Duke, I rooted HARD against them for all the wrong reasons.
Let’s fast forward to later versions of Duke Basketball. Versatile Cherokee Parks was supposed to be the next Laettner. Scrappy Steve Wojciechowski was supposed to be the next Hurley. Even recent players such as J.J. Redick and Kyle Singler appeared to be held in rarified air by the college basketball world. This wasn’t fair! They had all the advantages! I hate Duke! Wait a minute, what is wrong with this picture? It was around this time when this basketball fan accepted the truth. The Plumlee brothers could play. Ryan Kelly was an elite talent. Once I looked at them as basketball players, I came to understand that Duke Basketball and its players, regardless of the color of their skin, should be the envy of the college basketball world.
So now another season of Duke basketball is about to begin. I am sure that the resentment of Duke will be as strong as ever. Hopefully it is because they have D U K E on their jerseys. Maybe it will be because they have the best college basketball coach of the last 30 years. It could be because they have the best home court atmosphere in the NCAA. But something tells me, the reason for the hatred of Duke will be the same tired reason that I shed a few years ago.
This season, will you hate Duke Basketball, and will you come to grips with the reasons for that hatred if you do?