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Mar. 29 2010 - 8:46 pm | 4,724 views | 2 recommendations | 18 comments

On being a Duke fan

Duke Blue Devils logo

Image via Wikipedia

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.”

I don’t want to go into the reasons people hate Duke. A Duke grad who is an editor at Newsweek already did that last week: Don’t Hate Us Because We’re Champions.

…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.


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8 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 18 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    For what it’s worth, I always liked Coach K even though I didn’t go to Duke and, in fact, went to Emory. Although right now I am finding you despicable.

  2. collapse expand

    There are so many reasons to hate Duke basketball, it’s kind of hilarious. I mean, seriously. I could rattle of a list of 500 reasons. But no one can legitimately argue that they aren’t well-coached. It’s kind of incredible what Coach K (I won’t even try to spell his name) does every year, even in years when they have mostly mediocre players, at least one of whom inevitably seems to have stepped out of the pages of Douche magazine. Luckily, I’m a fan of Michigan State basketball, with 6 Final Fours in the past 12 years to brag about, so obviously envy isn’t behind my Duke hate. May we meet in the finals.

  3. collapse expand

    Dear God Duke makes me sick.

    I’ll start with the “Embracing and rejecting elitism all at one time” horrible problem. Duke lords it’s so-called “Ivy South” position over other area schools, and yet turns around and claims “forward thinking and tradition free” the minute an actual Ivy institution shows up. You can’t do that. Either you’re an elitist windbag institution, or you’re not. You can’t have it both ways. Gag.

    And let’s move onto their basketball team. I suppose it’s not Duke’s or Coach K’s fault that every sports announcer gushes over Duke’s “fundamental play” but every time I hear the phrase, blood comes out of my hears. “Fundamental play” is code for “good, white person basketball” as opposed to the “athletic” play marked by black athletes. Look, Sorry Duke fans, but Coach Lord and Savior does not teach more “fundamental” basketball than any other top flight college coach. Tom Izzo, Jim Calhoun, their teams always play very fundamental basketball — and they find a way to do it with (gasp) black and white athletes — not that anybody ever gives them credit for it.

    The Duke/UNLV battles back in the day ruined my ability to look at Duke without a racial lens. And Christian “If I were black I wouldn’t have been able to carry water for the Dream Team” LAMEner.

    Finally — nobody likes the overdog. Duke fans, Yankee fans, Laker fans, and (latterly) Red Sox fans, you’re all the same people. You enjoy advantages of circumstance that allows you to recruit top talent, leverage it against lesser foes, and then prance around like you’ve done something impressive.

    God, just talking about Duke makes me angry. Rarrrr. Go West Virgina brother-husbands!

    • collapse expand

      Unathletic white boys are the favorites? IS innate brain capacity the deciding factor? Please remove racist comments like this. Apparently he has never heard of Johnny Dawkins, Brian Davis, Allah Abdulnaby (sp?), Jason Capel, Grant Hill, Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Corey Maggette, Elton Brand, Sheldon Williams, Gerald Henderson, Dontay Jones, etc…

      Sorry that I couldn’t mention hundreds of others.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand


      Elie, it is apparent you look at EVERYTHING through a racial lens. When Dawkins takes over for Coach K (every Duke alum’s dream), will your perception change?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand


      Your logic belies your ignorance. If “fundamental” basketbal is synonymous with good white boy players, then how can other top coaches with “both” black and white players teach the same “fundamentals.”

      I have reached my limit for hate. Seriously.

      I respectfully request that you clarify your position on your belief that people/alums/players associated with Duke go out of their way to behave in the manner that you suggest.

      Is it objectionable that a basketball team, with a couple more “white” players than the typical squad could, consistantly compete? What are your thoughts on BYU? Purdue?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      “And let’s move onto their basketball team. I suppose it’s not Duke’s or Coach K’s fault that every sports announcer gushes over Duke’s “fundamental play” but every time I hear the phrase, blood comes out of my hears. “Fundamental play” is code for “good, white person basketball” as opposed to the “athletic” play marked by black athletes. Look, Sorry Duke fans, but Coach Lord and Savior does not teach more “fundamental” basketball than any other top flight college coach. Tom Izzo, Jim Calhoun, their teams always play very fundamental basketball — and they find a way to do it with (gasp) black and white athletes — not that anybody ever gives them credit for it. ”

      I don’t know who died and made you God, but you can’t put words in people’s mouths buddy. If somebody calls Duke’s play “fundamental”, look up the word in the dictionary if you don’t know the definition and take it for its literal meaning, not the “code” your racially-warped mind thinks it means. Your proclamation that Duke teams are a bunch of white guys is insulting to people like Shane Battier, Jason Williams, Daniel Ewing, Chris Duhon, Shelden Williams, Nolan Smith, and Lance Thomas (the Duke black player list goes on, you see, but I think I’ve made my point). These are all black Duke players who exhibited terrific “fundamental play.” Further, Izzo, Calhoun, and Boeheim-coached teams (to name a few) get glorified for their superior fundamental play, too. However, you’re so focused on hating every sentence with “Duke” in it that you fail to pick up on other teams’ praises.

      I definitely understand people who hate Duke, and there are definitely 500 reasons to do so. I have one I hold dear to me. But racism is not one of them. To take a page out of your book, “Dear God (racist people like you) make me sick”.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    Just for the record, 2 of us in the T/S March Madness bracket picked Duke. Of course, one person lives in northern France (Rachel King) and the other picked Duke to win it all kinda sorta at random (me). I had no idea I was picking the college hoops version of the dreaded Yankees!

  5. collapse expand

    I didn’t allow them to have beer. Just ridiculous. I drew the line at meth and special k :)

    Good piece. Peruse the message boards at ESPN and you will truly see the extent of the inexplicable, vile hatred of our alma mater.

    In the past, I interpreted it as jealously or admiration. Now it is just pathetic. Our country is full of idiots who have no capacity for rationality. Furthermore, hate for those who are successful is as pervasive as ever. Freakin ridiculous.

  6. collapse expand

    Eh, you’re not seriously complaining about a couple of rough Facebook comments, are you? Just agree that Dick Vitale is horrible and that Jay Bilas (Duke ‘86) is much better.

    I’m not sure why Mystal wasn’t able to look at the Duke-UNLV games but through a racial lens. Maybe he’s thinking of Duke-Arkansas in 1994, when the Devils were supposed to win because they were “smarter”.

  7. collapse expand

    I am sure you are a nice person. However I have worked as a bartender for the last 20 years and I can say without equivocation that Duke fans the biggest bunch of rude self-important assholes I have ever had to deal with in my life. I don’t care at all about college basketball and it gives me nothing but pleasure when Duke loses because I know their shitty fans are suffering.

  8. collapse expand

    Love ‘em, or hate ‘em, Duke played a good game against an impressive effort from Butler. Congratulations on cheering your team to a national championship in one of the most exciting finals in recent memory.

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    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

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