College basketball fans really have only three options when it comes to Duke: They can hate the Blue Devils, they can love the Blue Devils, or they can root for a great hole to open in the earth and swallow the Blue Devils whole.
(Full disclosure: I don't feel anything toward Duke until they start flopping, and then -- as I do with the Italian national soccer team -- I start rooting against them like a spectator at a Roman gladiator match, screaming for blood with my thumb down. Aside from what I'll call "le floppeurs," the Blue Devils are fine with me. So maybe there are four options here, but don't let logic get in the way of a nice argument here.)
I won't argue that this is good or bad. That's for you, the reader, to determine, since unlike 98 percent of columnists, I'll trust you to have your own opinion. (Because it's Duke, and college hoops fans, by definition, must have an opinion on them.)
What I will do is try to figure out exactly why people despise Duke. I have broken down the reasons by percentage and provided a helpful graph.
Forty percent: Because they're really, really good
No one hates bad teams, because life already punishes them. The Yankees are despised; the Pittsburgh Pirates are not. Only good teams attract the kind of searing hatred Duke attracts, and the Blue Devils' three national championships and 10 ACC titles qualify them as very, very good.
Good begets other things, too. Namely: brand fatigue. When a team is so good for so long, the haterade begins to flow fast and furiously from the collective known as "the public." There are a number of possible causes for this phenomenon: an innate desire to see high-profile people fail, a natural tendency to root for the underdog in most situations, or the same feeling you get when watching a television commercial that has been shown one too many times.
Whatever the causes, being good makes a lot of people really, really hate you. That's unfortunate for you, Duke fan -- except you still root for one of the best programs in the nation, and you probably will not have to endure bad basketball for longer than one half at a time in your lifespan.
Twenty-five percent: Dukie V
Dick Vitale does Duke no favors by breaking the hyperbole machine when he calls Blue Devils games. Not a single detail fails to merit a mike-breaking phrase from Vitale -- not Coach K's hairstyle, or the freshman wunderkind working the point for the Blue Devils, or the enthusiasm of Duke fans ... Nothing avoids the exaggerated paintbrush of the man deservedly tagged Dukie V.
Twenty percent: Le Floppeurs
The collection of skilled but theatrical players at the forefront of the Duke brand haven't abated the mass antipathy toward the Blue Devils. The biggest problem: their tendency to flop, flop and flop again in the paint.
There's a long and established tradition of Duke players using fair and legal theatrics to earn trips to foul line -- Laettner, Wojciechowski, et al. -- but none have flopped as theatrically or as flagrantly as current Blue Devils point guard Greg Paulus.
If I were to compare that flop to an acting performance, it would be Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider. Nothing enrages fans like faking contact. Whether on the soccer pitch or the basketball court, flopping is unmanly no matter how you try to spin it.
Fifteen percent: They're smart and rich
To the basketball-watching public, it might be more compelling to watch teams whose players are hell-bent on futures in basketball. If they don't perform, they might lose more than a game -- they might lose their livelihoods. Is that a little sick? Sure. But as when two boxers pummel each other in the ring, the sense that players are fighting for survival adds a powerful spice to the affair. Duke players, ensconced safely in the arms of one of the wealthiest and best-connected schools in the United State, will never give the public that spice. Chances are, the world is going to spin their way in any event. Having an NCAA title is just so much greedy gravy on the proverbial biscuit.
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