If you love to hate Duke, the 2016 Blue Devils basketball team has a lot to recommend it. It’s no fun to hate a loser, and Duke is pretty good at basketball—at least good enough to make the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 by squeaking past UNC–Wilmington and Yale, the 72nd- and 45th-best teams in the country.
This year’s Duke squad also has a Laettner-esque villain. Just ask Christian Laettner.
Sophomore Grayson Allen, the team’s leading scorer, tripped a Louisville player back in February. A few weeks later, he tripped a Florida State player. Last weekend, Yale’s Makai Mason fell over Allen’s feet on two separate occasions. It’s all a pretty fantastic coincidence.
When the ACC reprimanded Allen for that foot-related malfeasance against Florida State, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski declared that it was the “stiffest reprimand a player has gotten in our conference this year.” Wow, that sounds pretty stiff!
A quick warning: This adamantium-grade reprimand might be too stiff for some readers. Please leave the room and place a damp cloth on your forehead if you are overwhelmed by the stiffness.
Now, the reprimand: The ACC issued a brief press release noting “Allen’s involvement in the tripping of Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes,” a passive construction that suggests Allen does not control his own leg. The conference, which did not punish Allen in any way, declared that it “considers the matter closed.” Stiff!
The 2015–2016 Duke basketball team has overcome a lot more than Allen’s nonsuspension. Sportswriters, Blue Devils fans, and Coach K have also lavished praise on the “undermanned” team for bravely soldiering on despite a limited roster. With senior Amile Jefferson out for most of the season with a foot injury, this scrappy squad has relied on a core group of seven players. Six of them were McDonald’s high school All Americans. Miami, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Virginia—four other ACC teams that made it to the Sweet 16—have two McDonald’s All Americans combined.
Finally, there’s Krzyzewski himself, a legendary coach with a reputation for doing things “the right way.” Coach K took time at a press conference this week to concern-troll college sports’ graduate-transfer policy, whereby players who’ve graduated from college can go to another school and play immediately. This is a “farce,” Krzyzewski has said. He believes that all transfers should be required to sit out a year before becoming eligible to suit up.
Krzyzewski, who makes roughly $10 million annually, begrudges unpaid players the same freedom of movement enjoyed by exceedingly well-compensated college coaches. Though I have not taken any courses at Duke’s Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics, I believe the term for this is hypocrisy.
Once upon a time, laying out the reasons for hating Duke was an annual exercise here at Slate. The names changed, but the underlying point was always the same: Duke stinks because the school and its fans purport to float above the muck of college sports even as they’re standing waist-deep in a trough of mud. This argument is typically lost on Duke partisans, who believe with a religious zeal that there is such a thing as a “clean” program, when being “clean” in the context of college sports doesn’t mean anything more than being the most well-mannered thief in the gang.
You might argue that this is getting repetitive—that hating Duke is a boring cliché. You might also think that I’m a North Carolina fan or that I’m jealous because I got rejected by the Duke admissions office. You might say that I’m “a fucking smarmy and irritating douchebag.”
You have in fact said all of these things, in dozens of emails sent over the past 10 years. In the interest of equal time, I will now cede the floor to people who think Duke is great and that I am terrible. (Emails have been edited for length but not for content.)
The guy who argued that Duke is incomparable.
Date: March 22, 2014
Subject: Why it’s not surprising to read tripe like yours when Duke loses
Duke stands alone in combining academic rigor and athletic achievement on the basketball court. It’s one of a kind. So, of course we'll hear the predictable schadenfreude when Duke suffers a “devastating” loss. FYI, the loss to Mercer—a very good, experienced team—was not “devastating.” Nobody died. And we’ll be back.
The guy who believed in the hope and change of the Obama administration.
Date: March 20, 2008
Subject: I’m really disappointed
I think this column on teams to hate is disgusting, and I’m shocked to find it on this site. Even if meant humorously, why do it at all? I’ve been enjoying Slate for its great takes on Obama, and then you come out with this drivel? It’s not original, it’s not well-written, and it feeds a unreal hate against Duke. I read some of the comments made about your portion of the column, and I was disgusted by the ignorant, ill-informed, gut-level spew against Duke. … You are part and parcel of the problem. People hate Duke for a variety of reasons, but two of them are: (1) the lazy analysts like Vitale who say incorrect things about the team, in the misguided notion that they’re supporting the team, and (2) haters like you who think it’s perfectly fine for a story like this, as though it’s news, as though you’re participating in a self-perpetuating hate machine. You and Dana O’Neill (sic) over at ESPN must be good buddies. I hope you both vote for Obama and his hope for unity, while you root for Duke to lose—and somehow recognize the irony.
The guy who said I was multiple animals, both of which are disgusting.
Date: March 21, 2008
Subject: Your rantings on Duke
I have read your idiotic and ranting piece on Duke, you sleazy toad.
I see you are affiliated with Slate, whom I previously regarded with respect for the many good writers it had. However they sure did not look into their barrel to discover what a putrid and rotten worm-eaten apple you are. I wonder when they’ll get around to correct their error?
Ranting with such hatred as you show in your minimal piece shows what a small person you are, you lowly rat..
The guy who did not want there to be any doubt about his feelings.
Date: March 18, 2009
I just want to say thanks for another insightful “Sports Nut” column. Duke really is annoying! I’ve been telling people this for years (years!) but no one (not the fans, not the media, not every single website on the internet) had the guts to agree with me! Thanks again for your probing and elegant deconstruction of the NCAA tourney and for taking a stand and validating an unpopular opinion.
p.s. Sarcasm doesn’t always translate on email so, just in case there was any doubt as to my feelings, that column was not good.
The guy who did not do his research.
Date: March 15, 2012
Subject: You Suck
You’re a whining little asshole who has Duke-envy and wishes he had gone to Duke instead of the piss-poor institution that you went to—let me guess: Maryland.
The guy who did his research.
Date: March 22, 2014
Subject: so sorry
you did not get into Duke and had to go to your safety school brown.
maybe some day you will let go of your prissy grudge about that and act like an adult. until then, I will stoop to your level and tell you to go fuck yourself.
a big fan
The guy who posits that I’m jealous of Mike Krzyzewski’s literary career.
Date: March 13, 2012
Subject: SI Hot Clicks Link
I’m not asking you to like Duke University because your mind is already made up on how you feel. I just wanted to let you know the feelings I have from your article. I do not agree with anything that you said. I realize your job as a journalist is to provoke a response, so I congratulate you from that standpoint as the article is clearly an opinion and not a scholarly journal.
I for one, will continue to admire and respect Mike Krzyzewski, a man who grew up in a blue collar neighborhood in Chicago with two immigrant parents who worked tirelessly to provide for their children. Mike Krzyzewski even served our country after his graduation from West Point and has done an outstanding job preparing his players for graduation and life beyond basketball.
Perhaps it is not only Mike Krzyzewski’s accomplishments as a basketball coach that you despise, but also the fact that he is the author of several New York Times best sellers, a feat that you no doubt, salivate over.
Stay strong in your hatred for Mike Krzyzewski and Duke University. It makes all the record breaking achievements taste even sweeter.
The guy who emailed my boss to complain because he didn’t “want to bother” me.
Date: March 13, 2012
Subject: To David Plotz Re: Josh Levin
Dear Mr. Plotz—
I read Slate daily and I’d like to thank you and the writers and editors of Slate for putting out an excellent publication. As a lawyer, I think Slate’s legal coverage over the years by Dahlia Lithwick, Emily Bazelon, and others is pretty much unparalleled in a general interest publication (NYT included). I also greatly enjoy Slate’s political and economic reportage and commentary (it’s hard to beat Weigel and Yglesias), and I also enjoy Slate’s cultural and other coverage.
Given my appreciation for Slate’s coverage of the law, politics and economics, I feel a little sheepish to admit that what has motivated me to write to you is a basketball story, specifically Josh Levin’s piece from this week on Duke basketball. I’m not writing to complain or nitpick the piece. Instead, I’m very curious about a couple of things, and would greatly appreciate it if you could respond to a couple of queries.
First, I note that Mr. Levin has made an annual practice, at least for the last several years and perhaps dating back further than that, of posting an article containing essentially the same material on the same subject (i.e., how Duke is so awful) at some point during the week preceding the beginning of the NCAA basketball tournament. Granted, the concept of the piece changes (including last year’s, which included the Duke bit within a larger piece on “teams we love to hate”) and the content gets slightly updated, but the material (i.e., about the coach, players from past decades, obnoxious fans) pretty much stays the same, and concerns a subject which I think most would say is awfully played out.
I’m curious—why does Slate keep printing this essentially recycled material every March? Second, I wonder if you could fill me in on why Mr. Levin produces this piece every year. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Levin, but I would have thought that someone writing about the same topic every year would look for a new angle occasionally. I assume there’s a reason why Mr. Levin does this, and if it’s not inappropriate to ask, I’m very curious as to why. I’d write to Mr. Levin directly but, given the tenor of many of the comments to the piece, I don’t want to bother him with what might look at first glance like yet another swing at him. Again, many thanks for a terrific publication that I enjoy every day.
The guy who didn’t understand why I take all of this so seriously.
Date: March 19, 2016
Subject: yale duke
it’s a fucking basketball game.
if you can stand it, look at yourself in the mirror and say: why am i an asshole?