Tuesday, April 7, 2015
I LOVE DUKE
I just googled "I hate Duke" just to see how many websites I could find that share an obsession with hating the newly-crowned NCAA Basketball champions. Would you believe I found well over 100? In fact, not only did I find more than 100, but I simply stopped searching after that. There may be well over 1000 sites dedicated to the hatred of Duke. The list I found includes I Hate Duke T-Shirts and Hoodies, I Hate Duke Songs, Puppies Who Hate Duke, The Most Hated Duke Players of All Time, The Anti-Duke Manifesto, The Top 10 Reasons We All Hate Duke, The Completely Evenhanded and Unbiased Investigation into Why Duke Sucks, 15 Reasons to Still Hate Duke (from Fox Sports) and, inevitably, The Fresh Face of Duke Hate--Grayson Allen.
I am both amused and appalled. I'm amused because some of these sites admittedly make me chuckle. I am appalled because, in all seriousness, I believe we should embrace what Duke basketball is all about. And yet I am sad to say that the overwhelming number of college basketball fans that I've observed over the years do, indeed, hate Duke.
Is it because of head coach Mike Krzyzewski? Let's see, he's a great coach (name me one other head coach who was able to harness the collectively massive egos of a roster of NBA all-stars for the common good of the team); he's a fine human being (unlike his own mentor Bobby Knight, Coach K has always treated his players--and the press--with complete respect); and he is highly regarded in both the fraternity of college coaches and the fraternity of young men who have played for him (senior guard Quinn Cook spoke emotionally after Duke's title game win over Wisconsin about his love for Coach K for not only being his coach the last four years, but also being his chief father figure following the death of his own father four years ago). In short, what's not to like?
Is it because Duke's roster is always a collection of privileged upper-class white kids, who project a feeling of entitlement every time they take the court? Uhhh, take a good look at the current roster. Coach K consistently played a rotation of his eight scholarship players all season long, a group that included just two white players, one of them the aforementioned Grayson Allen. Last year's roster? Similar deal--it included two first-round draft picks, Rookie-of-the-Year Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. I could go on and on, but why bother?
Is it because Duke basketball wins too much? I could understand that, to a degree, but I don't see the same antipathy directed toward Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, etc. In fact, I admire Duke basketball more than any other because Duke takes seriously the notion of recruiting real student-athletes. It's not easy to consistently field a winning team when your pool of available athletes is much smaller than your competition. Jim Harbaugh figured out how to do that at Stanford--work your butt off to successfully sell your program to the limited pool of athletes you're trying to recruit. Mike Krzyzewski learned long ago how to do that at Duke.
Personally, I love Duke. I grew up loving Duke, because my father was captain of the Duke Soccer team in 1947 and '48. My dad instilled a love of Duke in the hearts and minds of his three children, and I'm forever grateful that he did that.
For his 80th birthday, 10 years ago, my brother and I took him back to Durham, North Carolina, to watch Duke play Virginia Tech. He hadn't been to a basketball game there since he graduated from Duke 60 years prior. How did I get tickets for the game? I called the university's Sports Information Office, told the kind individual at the other end of the phone about my dad, and what my brother and I wanted to do for him, and Duke took care of the rest. We sat behind the scorer's table. I asked the woman sitting to my left how she scored her tickets, and she said her husband was the Commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference. She asked me how I scored our tickets, and I told her our story. And she was kind enough to arrange for an ACC staff photographer to take photographs of the three of us at halftime. He sent all the photos to me, free of charge. My dad died two years ago, and I treasure those photos, and the memory of that experience.
Meanwhile, the USA Today is out with a story headlined, "Grayson Allen is the Duke Villain We've All Been Waiting For." What egregious behavior is Grayson Allen guilty of? Let's see, he's white, his face makes him look he's about 12 years old, and he's got serious game. I call him the baby-faced assassin. He's the guy who came off the bench last night, with Duke down nine with 13 minutes left, with its two top big men on the bench in foul trouble, to score eight straight points to single-handedly get his team back in the game. He plays with such fire that he not only scored those eight unanswered points, but he visibly inspired his teammates to finish the job, which they did. For that, he's apparently become the new Christian Laettner. I get it. Not really.