Hating Duke basketball is more of an American sporting institution than Duke, itself. When it comes to Duke, it’s not a “love-em-or-hate-em” type of split so much as it is a “hate-em-or-we’re-not-friends-anymore” line in the sand. If the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team, then the Duke Blue Devils are America’s Cobra Kai Dojo.
But Duke isn’t all bad. Even if you can’t be convinced otherwise that they’re the damn devil, there are still a few reasons you can root for them. To be good, that is. Root for them to be good. Whether you want to be open and explicit about that kind of thing is really up to you, but we’ve laid out the argument in five pieces.
5. Balls-in-the-Face Dunks
If Duke wasn’t on TV every other night during the season, you’d miss out on many prime-time balls-in-the-face dunks. If this were hockey, we could satiate our sadistic appetites with sanctioned mid-game brawls. But that’s not basketball’s way, so we hoops fans take what we can get, which is balls-in-the-face dunks. Balls-in-the-face dunks occur when one guy jumps high enough to bring his package eye-level with the guy he’s dunking over, thereby imprinting said package on the guy’s face and metaphorically removing his package.
Duke cranks out AWJSs (awkward white jump shooters) at a rate unseen since the movie Hoosiers, AWJSs who never cease to take the bait when a guy who clearly will not be denied dunking all over somebody’s candy ass drives the lane, and they step in front hoping to take the charge. What they get, instead, is posterized…with balls in their face. If you like laughing at that kind of thing (you do), then you like Duke being good and getting on TV to provide the opportunity. Thanks, Greg Paulus. Thanks for everything.
4. The Kurt Rambis Factor
Long story short: Kurt Rambis was a dorky-looking white dude with awesome horned-rimmed glasses who was a reserve on the Showtime Lakers teams of the 1980s. He was embraced—nay—beloved specifically because of his lack of flair and high-flying talent. But mostly it was the glasses. He stood out like a sore insurance salesman on a Lakers team that was blacker than Carl Winslow.
Year-in, year-out, the majority of Duke’s roster physically resembles Rambis’ progeny, as if he decided to apply his loins to the college basketball landscape like that king who founded Saudi Arabia, got busy humping and had a hundred kids who rule the place to this day. Look it up. Anyways, if Duke has anything going for it, it’s the Rambis factor—the “we’re so blatantly, anachronistically out of place, it must be cute” factor.
At the very least, it strikes a nerve with every kid who loved basketball growing up, but was told by the world they weren’t tall enough. But since they loved basketball, they didn’t listen. They used the discouragement of their parents and coaches to fuel their desire, intensify their efforts, and after years of hard work and personal sacrifice…yep, still not tall enough.
3. Their NBA Failure Makes You Feel Better about Yourself
The landscape of college basketball would be a helluva lot less interesting if Duke wasn’t good every year. And they are good, every year, a fact that gets perplexing when one considers that their best players mostly suck at the professional level. So they are like the Yankees of college basketball, but not really. More like Notre Dame, except…yeah, more like Notre Dame.
If people really want to believe that Duke’s roster is annually stacked with privileged, snobby rich kids, then they might as well be happy when they crash and burn once the NBA whistle blows. Remember Bobby Hurley? He raises horses, now. Or William Avery? Yeah, he’s somewhere in the Eurasian triangle. Shavlik Randolph may or may not be deceased. Trajan Langdon plays Russian roulette with Christopher Walken in Saigon. Jason Williams had some trouble with a motorcycle. Greg Paulus still has Danny Green’s balls etch-a-sketched on his face. Their crop of most famous players is a graveyard of professional fail.
2. Conspiracy Theories Abound
Sports wouldn’t be sports without conspiracy theories, and college basketball is no different. Without conspiracy theories, college basketball would be, well, just a game. And that’s unacceptable, dammit. When it comes to Duke, two conspiracy theories come to mind:
In the spirit of being a fan, it doesn’t matter if there’s even a flutter of truth in either of these ideas, because conspiracy theories just plain-old make sports more fun. Imagining college basketball outside the influence of some kind of conspiracy theory is like imagining Hollywood sans Scientology.
1. Haterade is good. Haterade heals.
Bottom line: college basketball needs villains. There’s a lot of reasons (most of them petty and unfounded) why people hate LeBron James. One of them is the buddy factor he ushered in when he decided to play with his friends D-Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Nobody likes to tune in to a basketball game and see opposing sides yukking it up like it’s a high school practice scrimmage or admitting they’re all really just good friends. We want vitriol. We want color. We want to see somebody’s pride get smashed, and maybe a crazy guy to jump into the stands and start swinging (ah crazy Ron Artest, how we miss thee).
Just because Duke only views North Carolina as a rival doesn’t mean the bulls-eye on their back gets any smaller against anybody else. Duke elicits a much-needed continuity of hatred to a game that’s been hamstrung by talented players defecting early to the NBA. Duke players typically aren’t talented enough to jump early to the NBA, which gives their teams a personality everybody can pinpoint and hate together, like one big happy family.
“Someday, all this will be yours.”
“I talked to social services, pa. They agreed it’s pretty weird you keep saying that and dropping your pants.”
“Look at Jon Scheyer. He’s like a gayer version of that guy from Beaches.”
“That’s pretty gay, pa.”
“Yes it is, son, yes it is. Let’s never fight, again.”
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