For years, many Black college basketball fans have held an animosity—OK, a downright hatred—for Duke’s program and its perceived rich boy, elitist school pompousness and upper-crust, trust-fund baby student body. All that, and they played a lot of white boys, too.
Why such disdain resonated is a psychological paradox that could perplex the most diverse minds. But one thing is certain: It should stop.
Duke celebrates its fifth NCAA Tournament championship today, and all the African-American fans that pushed back (present company included) should give in and embrace what is the personification of team basketball, keen coaching and a heritage of excellence.
Isn’t that why we love the game?
What the Blue Devils accomplished in defeating Wisconsin in last night’s title game was more than reaching the pinnacle of college hoops. It was a performance that should detonate the “Duke hate” that is derived from social and class biases that really should not matter.
It’s just kids playing basketball.
For sure, Danny Ferry never elicited much in the way of likability. He was utterly unlikable. Christian Laettner rubbed even his teammates the wrong way. Bobby Hurley was an irritant, just like Steve Wojciechowski. J.J. Redick was Laettner 2.0. There were other white players over the years you can throw into this mix—Cherokee Parks, Mike Dunleavy, Josh McRoberts—who were sort of non-personalities.
These Duke white players “seem to be so every-guy-like,” said Peter Roby, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Study of Sport in Society to The Washington Post. “Guys sitting in the stands might say, ‘What gives you the right to play like that when you look so much like us?’ ”
Roby could have said the same thing about Black guys, which would be part of the animus. African-Americans believe they own the game, and so when a team made up of key white players wins, they take it as a personal affront. . . instead of a testament to the value of team play. (Imagine the outrage had almost-all-white Wisconsin won it all.)
Do not get it backwards: all the aforementioned Duke players needed the likes of Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Trajon Langdon, Jeff Capel, Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon, Shane Battier, Sheldon Williams, Luol Deng and many other Black players to win—and a coach who as adept as anyone ever at meshing skills, personalities, socioeconomic backgrounds and races in Mike Krzyzewski.
And that’s the ultimate point. Sports in general, basketball in particular, is a team game. Blacks and whites can play together in harmony for the greater good of the game. If you don’t, you lose.
Duke has done it better than anyone else. So it wins. That’s no reason to hate the Blue Devils.
In reality, it’s a reason to admire and appreciate them. No, a lot of their players do not come from impoverished backgrounds or broken homes, giving many fans that inherit reason to root for their achievement more than a perceived silver-spoon kid. Jalen Rose has said that he “hated” Duke when he was a star at Michigan. Why? Because of the perception that their lives were together, that they did not come from broken homes and that they were already set up for life.
The class issue is a real thorn in the Black community, and not just toward Duke. Someone articulates and the perception among many is that he’s “talking white.” A player attends Duke and he’s no longer down for the cause?
Redick, who was mercilessly heckled on the road during his Duke days, said back then that he did not take it “personally. (But) I think if I played for another school, and still played the way I play, I wouldn’t get it as bad. I get it from fans because it says ‘Duke’ on my jersey. I’m not really sure why it’s white guys.”
It’s a complex issue, but silly, too. You have disdain for Kyrie Irving because he plays for Duke? Instead of “hating” Irving when he was there (briefly), fans should respect him and Dawkins, Hill, Amaker, Brand and all the other Black players.
Such disdain for Duke likely will persist for many, probably most. But it would seem last night that the Blue Devils—with Black players Kyle Cook, Tyus Jones, Jahill Okafor and huge contributions from white player Grayson Allen—may have won over its haters along with the National Championship.