Duke's Basketball Team: Uniquely Hated
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The arrival of the college basketball season means the return of a team that many people love to hate. Here's commentator Frank Deford.
The preseason basketball polls are out, and Duke is a solid number one. This is great news for Duke fans, but also for all the people who root against Duke. This just gives them more incentive to vent their ugly wrath against the Blue Devils. Why do so many people hate poor Duke? `ABD,' the cry goes up, `Anybody but Duke.' Opponents save their worst trash talk for the Dukey players, homophobic slurs seem preferred. Coaches and players alike grouse that Duke gets sweetheart coverage from television networks. Mike Krzyzewski, the Hall of Fame Duke coach, says it's a confounding phenomenon, totally out of character in amateur athletics.
In fact, there's really been nothing like it in college sport, unless you go back many decades to when Notre Dame's football juggernaut often faced an anti-Catholic bias. Besides, everybody used to think Duke was cutie-pie; the superb little private school that got absolutely clobbered every week in football, then took it out on all of big state universities in basketball. But, hey, remember back then, nobody was more popular than Princeton. The Ivy League's poor little rich kids were the people's choice whenever they played the just folks scholarship students from state U. And Duke, why, go back only 15 years ago at a time when Duke was playing UNLV in the Final Four, and the Blue Devils were everybody's darling underdogs. Heavens to Betsy, it was Duke, puppy dogs and amber waves of grain.
How did things get so completely turned on its ear? Well, first of all, Duke kept winning. The worm turned. No more sweetie underdogs. The Duke students who would camp outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium for nights before big games and then cut up during the games in a most original fashion were, at first, seen as delightful. As the victories piled up, though, the Dukeys began to come across as spoiled brats, condescending snobs, not court jesters. Moreover, unlike the few other excellent private universities who compete big time--Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Rice--Duke remains pretty much a prophet without honor in its own land. OK, maybe Duke's the pride of Durham, but there's the University of North Carolina a few miles over here and North Carolina State a few miles over there, and the general feeling in the state is that Duke is some kind of a fifth column of a team, cheered on by all these Yankee preppies who come down to Tobacco Road and help deny our beloved Tar Heels and our beloved Wolfpack victories that they truly deserve. Oh, well, maybe the antipathy will spread around this year. The women's basketball team at Duke is also ranked number one.
INSKEEP: Those are the comments of Frank Deford, the top-ranked senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
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