Duke basketball. When hearing the name, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Success, overrated, or a simple “I can’t stand Duke.” Think about it, what is your true feeling about a team that is the most successful men’s college basketball program of our generation. Of course haters come with the territory of winning regardless of the sport in question, but in the case of Duke, there seems to be a little something extra that fuels the fire independent of just trophies and banners.
“I hated Duke. And I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. I felt like the only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.” - Jalen Rose (2011)
In the 2011 ESPN 30-for-30 documentary 'The Fab Five', former Michigan standout and current ESPN basketball analyst Jalen Rose pointed out something that not only he was thinking but also much of black america.
While some may not go as far as an Uncle Tom, the sentiment of the undertone did however suggest that race does play a significant role in where the initial hatred stems. Preppy white guys who attend a private school that always seem to get all the calls in the balance of the game. This pretty much sums up how the negative stereotype continues through the years as there has never seemed to be any evidence that it was changing. Until now…
For many fans the college basketball season does not begin until March, or maybe for some who always tune into the classic rivalry game of Duke versus North Carolina, an annual matchup that just about always lives up to the billing. The two will clash in Chapel Hill again this week with a wide range of expectations. For those who have yet to even watch the Blue Devils this year, you may begin to adjust the color on your television as it may appear to be a bit different. In Mike Krzyzewski’s 34-year tenure at Duke, there has never been a Duke team with more African-American players than his current 2013-14 squad. In the past two decades, Duke has carried an average of 13.85 players, of which 6.7 are black (48 percent), compared to this season where 10 of the 14 players are black. The difference is noticed from game time’s tip, as only the second time in school history (1998-1999 being the other) the Blue Devils have an all-black starting lineup.
So here is the question, should it matter that Duke now has more black players than white? Does this change your perception of the program? For one, the outlook should always start from what is most important, the game of basketball. No matter the race of the players, we all want to be entertained and see the game played at the highest level possible. In my opinion Coach K was not looking to make a transition from white to black, but more so from land line to mobile. Duke teams in the past have struggled mightily with more athletic-type teams who would give them fits on the boards as well as blowing past slight-of-foot defenders. Upon coaching Team USA (since 2006) Krzyzewski has fallen in love with the up-and-down style of international play, especially when you have the arsenal of a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant at your disposal. He has made a fundamental shift in his program to adopt this particular playing style which certainly leans toward more athletically-gifted players. Is this a race issue? Absolutely not. It is a style adjustment. But does this change your perception or even rooting interest in Duke?
As of today it seems that most fans are not even aware of any such change and hate the Blue Devils regardless of who they put on the court. But its a wonder that as time moves forward and Duke begins to play a brand of basketball that most fans typically love to see, coupled with many players that exhibit the talent they most enjoy watching, will the stigma of hating the private school, preppy “black” kids still exist. Be mindful that Duke already has commitments from the three of the top 15 recruits in the country; the #1 overall player (center), the #1 point guard, and a swing man that all happen to be… well you know.
Time will tell whether the hate for Duke basketball has indeed been a race issue or based on the principles of putting the ball in the hoop. In many ways it could simply be the age-old snowball effect of family members who hated Duke growing up passed it down to the younger generation. Regardless of where it started or where it ends, its always fun to watch and even more fun to argue about. We will all continue to tune in no matter what anyone thinks, and that is the black and white of it.