Saturday, April 3, 2010

What We Hate About Duke When We Hate Duke

With Duke’s unfortunate Final Four appearance, journalists have found a new parlor game: to venture, all anthropologically, to explain Why We Hate Duke. Their detachment has not really touched upon the actual reason we hate Duke; instead, they have offered plausible theories.

A common theory is: success. We hate Duke because it’s successful. David Sirota elaborates that we hate Duke because of privilege; Chris Good concurs that privilege and class is a reason and also offers the little-used “too many white people” defense (perhaps the first time in American history a group has been hated for having too many white people), with his gem of a paragraph:
Coach K recruits mostly white players, and mostly upstanding, clean-cut guys from middle-class backgrounds. You don't see Duke players with tattoos; you don't even see them with headbands. There are no thugs in the Duke basketball program.

Duke seems to be a rigid, mechanical unit that suppresses individual play and turns everyone into a role player. (Perhaps that's why some of its best players haven't become stars in the NBA, unlike waves of Carolina players.) Duke haters see it as old-school to a fault. Coach K doesn't recruit NBA-bound, one-and-done players, opting instead for guys who will stay four years. It's anachronistic, people say; it perpetuates an idealized, stubborn, unrealistic vision of NCAA basketball and how it works. And it's holier-than-thou.
Yes, Mr. Good, we hate Duke because they don’t commit enough crimes. This is why America’s hearts have warmed to Butler, a team full of gangbangers, hoods, junkies, cheaters and incestual hillbillies, coached by noted jerkoff and jackass Brad Stevens. (Late update: Another rich theory is provided by Seyward Darby, who thinks we hate Duke because we hate gay people. TO BE FAIR, there is a point there and I in no way condone homophobia. But it's ridiculous to somehow make this a central issue in our Duke hate. Our Duke hate stems from the reality of Duke's basketball play producing worse results in uglier ways than they have been portrayed.) 

Indeed, it seems as if the theories of Why We Hate Duke is a more reliable indicator as to your personal priorities than why We Actually Hate Duke. As a Duke hater, I’m pretty qualified to tell you…at least why I hate Duke.

We can do away with success, for example. We don’t hate North Carolina or Kansas, and they’ve had far more success recently and historically. Nor can our hatred of Duke be explained in the same way as the Yankees or Notre Dame. Notre Dame hasn’t been successful, and yet it’s hated. We hate the Colts, but we don’t hate the Steelers; yet the Steelers have quadruple the number of Super Bowl rings. Success doesn’t breed hatred.

No, we hate Duke for three reasons. First, hype. Second, arrogance. Third, insufferable basketball. They’re all related reasons here: Duke acts as if it has what it doesn’t have, and is loud about the fact that it thinks it has what it, in fact, doesn’t have. They’re putting on airs.

Hype: Duke is routinely hyped beyond its capabilities. Freshmen coming into Duke are always made to seem like potential worldbeaters. Lance Thomas was improbably rated almost equivalent to Robin Lopez coming out of high school, which is, ah, bizarre. The trouble is, unlike football, that we can have a pretty good idea of how good any given basketball player is as they’re playing. So we know when the hype is ridiculous. We know that Lance Thomas is a supremely average player. If we were simply told Lance Thomas (or other hyped Duke player here) were average or above average to begin with, we wouldn’t hate him. But we aren’t. It’s not really Lance Thomas’s fault that he was overrated, but it nevertheless looks as if he’s claiming something he doesn’t deserve.

Then, when the season rolls around and Duke begins play, Duke always plays fairly well--good enough to be a top 10 or 15 team, and yet we are always told that Duke's importance is greater than it is. Subtle watchers always know that Duke's weaknesses are apparent and know which teams will victimize them...and which players are overhyped...and eventually the coverage grates. Then, usually, Duke gets upset.

Arrogance: Not the kind of arrogance you’re thinking of. We don’t mean arrogance of your personal abilities; if it’s appropriate, I personally don’t mind it. I’m thinking of the arrogance of how to live your life. There’s a Coach K Center for Ethics and Leadership at Duke, to tell you what I mean. And the commercials of Coach K, lauding him as a great human being, blah blah blah. It’s the arrogance to tell us how to live our lives. In reality, we’ve watched Duke. We know Coach K has shaky moments in game. We know that Coach K is a fine basketball coach, but we don’t think he’s Mother Theresa. Also, he looks like a sourpuss.

Insufferable basketball: We all know Duke gets upset practically every year (except for this one, natch.) In fact, we know exactly what team Duke will get beaten by every year. It’s always a more athletic team playing a more attractive brand of basketball, and almost always tougher too. Duke’s players play the same way we stereotype the Millennials and their helicopter parents: rote learning as basketball, as attractive as a fat man wrestling a toddler. And whenever the fat man has a real matchup…bam. Always taken out. There’s little of the grace or quickness associated with my favorite basketball teams. Their defense usually works well, but like most lacks flair (not their fault). This year, Duke has some of the toughness they usually lack, but was gifted a great schedule by an insane committee. You might offer a conspiracy theory. I’ll decline to, but this appearance in no way validates Duke. They’ll always be hated by me for the gap between their affect and their reality.


  1. They are hated for the reasons you deny. They are routinely ranked in the Top 10 while other programs are in and out of it almost every year. The race and thug theory Mr. Good writes about is also unfortunate but true. Regardless of which team you support, with Duke fans the hate would not be returned. Take a deep breath Darius.

  2. Well, I guess we have to disagree. Duke is in the top 10 most years, true, but so is Kansas. No one I know hates Kansas. UNC won a national title recently and has had more recent success than Duke. No one I know hates UNC. Florida won two consecutive national titles. No one I know hates Florida (basketball). Prior to this year, Duke's record is one of underachievement and overhype. And many of the people I know hate Duke. It's not success.

    Race has little to do with it. Basketball is the most racially tinged sport in our nation, without question, and yet I doubt the white people I know hate Duke for being white. For one, players like Battier, Boozer,Henderson, Deng, Williams, Smith, Dawkins (Andre or Johnny) are all black. You might make the claim that these guys are seemingly more middle-class black folk rather than poorer ones, which is true in some of these instances (Battier went to a Detroit private high school, Henderson was a pro player's son...), but certainly not all. I don't think race is a controlling factor at all.

    Duke is hated because of the hype that far exceeds the reality.