On being a Duke fan
People usually like me. I’m generally pleasant to be around. I strive not to be boring, making provocative conversation without rubbing people the wrong way. I always did well in school. Teachers liked me, but I wasn’t so much a teacher’s pet that my fellow students disliked me. When I was a camp counselor one summer, the kids made a list of their favorites. I was number 2 (after the counselor who looked the other way when the high school kids snuck beer into their rooms); they said I always managed to “make everything fun.” That made me happy. I like to be liked.
So March Madness is an odd time for me. Because, when my team does well, people hate me.
When I applied to Duke, I didn’t realize the strong emotions it evoked in others. I wasn’t into college basketball as a high schooler. I chose Duke because it was a good school that seemed close to home (Florida). During Blue Devil Days for admitted students, I fell in love with the Gothic architecture on West Campus and was impressed by the school’s seeming diversity, indicated in part by the bridge between East and West Campus painted pink in honor of LGBT Week. The administrators bragged that the school was Ivy League caliber, but not restrained by stuffy Ivy League traditions. Embracing and rejecting elitism all at one time — Perfect!
Once I got there, I found things that didn’t thrill me (the Greek system that dominates the school’s social life; Duke’s isolation within the larger Durham community; the school’s oft-discussed racial tensions), but I did love that all co-eds were united by basketball fandom. When everyone’s faces were painted blue, the divisions in the student body were forgotten. Though I was not a sports fan when I got to Duke, I was swept up in the Cameron Craziness, as are the majority of Duke students. Students time their junior year study abroad for the fall semester so as to be on campus for basketball season in the spring. Camping out for tickets for the games against UNC and Maryland in Krzyzewskiville on the muddy ground outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium is a rite of passage, as important a requirement for earning a Duke diploma as your 34 class credits.
But this love of Duke is a singular thing. If you didn’t go to Duke, you are usually not a Duke fan. And if you’re not a Duke fan, you’re usually a Duke hater. A few months ago, GQ Magazine ranked Duke the second douchiest school in America, saying “They’re probably number one. But we’d rather not rank Duke number one at anything.”
…Yeah… that’s the attitude that doesn’t seem to endear us to the Duke haters.
I watched the well-matched Duke-Baylor game at Brother Jimmy’s on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. A group of people in UNC gear cheered on the Texas team. A father at another table encouraged his 4-year-old to root against the Blue Devils as well. Not because they were Baylor fans, but just because he wanted to cultivate early on a hate of Duke in his young son.
At the office today, no one congratulated me on Duke’s ascension to the Final Four for the first time since 2004. I got one lone text from a D.C. friend (who graduated from Harvard) proclaiming, “Go Duke.” When I posted a happy Facebook status, I encountered some instant hate for bleeding blue:
You likely won’t be surprised to hear that those last three are not Baylor grads. They’re just Duke haters. Gosh, sorry to ruin your day with my celebrating, folks. Another acquaintance emailed me to say:
I think I mentioned to you that I have a now-annual trip to the Final Four games. My friends are similarly such haters of Puke basketball that they’re resolved that if the She Devils make the Championship Game next Monday we sell our tickets and fly back home.
Good. Glad to hear there would be fewer fans in the audience rooting against my team.
It’s not like we’ve been a dominant force in the last decade. Since the 2001 National Championship, Dukies have been the ones hating the team a little each year, as they’ve been consistently breaking our hearts in the sweet sixteen. I know you’re sick of looking at Coach K’s familiar face — but hey, at least he brought national pride back to the basketball courts of America in 2008, leading the USA basketball team to Olympic victory in Beijing. And I know that when the camera zooms in on Kyle Singler’s gaunt face during free throws, it seems like we have a zombie vampire playing offense. And I know that the silk screen cathedrals — or whatever they are — on the back of the uniforms this year are kind of annoying.
And… well, I don’t really mind if you tell me about it. I like it when people pour on the hate. The only thing better than seeing Duke dominate in the NCAA tournament is seeing how mad it makes all the non-Dukies.
It’s the only time I get to experience being hated. And thankfully, by May, it usually fades.
UPDATE: Fellow True/Slanter (and Duke antifan) Jon Pessah responds.