The Emperor’s New Clothes (or Why I Hate Duke)

Duke and Coach K - An example of what happens when a morality tale becomes real life

I’m an old-time UNC fan. When I showed up in Chapel Hill as a freshman in the fall of 1978, Bill Foster was the head coach at Duke and our hated rivals were N.C. State and UVA. I had had the privilege of meeting the Duke basketball team in the spring of 1978 because they stayed in the Hyatt Hotel in Winston-Salem for the ACC Tournament that year and I worked in the only gift shop in the hotel at the time. They were all super nice guys. I shook Bill Foster’s hand and wished them well in the tournament, although I was really hoping I could meet the UNC team and that UNC would win it all.

During my four years at UNC, Duke did little to raise our ire, except for one incident in which Mike Gminksi elbowed Dave Colescott in the eye in a Duke-UNC game that wasn’t very memorable otherwise. When a seemingly friendly, meek, mild-mannered new coach showed up in Durham in 1980, he barely registered on the radar because from 1980-1982, we all wanted UVA and that sniveling, whining Terry Holland destroyed.

In 1986, Duke played Louisville in the National Championship game. I remember it well. I was visiting my parents and my father and I sat down to watch it, fully prepared to pull for the ACC team. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but by the second half, my father (who is one of the best sports alive–always willing to cheer an ACC team on) and I were so filled with loathing for Coach K and his team that we began cheering for Louisville and we were elated when they won. I think that, even then, it was that combination of arrogance and entitlement radiating from the Coach and the players that so angers basketball fans now that made us start pulling for Louisville. Anyway, it was on that day that my hatred for Duke and Coach K was born. My father also points to that date as his turning point. I only pulled for Duke twice after that and it was in the 1990 and 1991 games against UNLV. Given how I feel about Duke now, I almost wish I could take those games back.

The arrogance and obnoxiousness of K and his minions along with the pictures of refs with farm animals that keeps them all in his pocket, which have been covered so well by others like the Sensei and I’m Just a Number to You, fan the flames of my anger and loathing. However, what kicks it up a notch to completely irrational hatred is the fact that I feel that Coach K is a fraud (as are many of the Duke players) that the mainstream media, especially ESPN, has been perpetrating and sustaining for years. Not only that, but Coach K uses a dastardly mastery of spin to feed on the fraud. It’s like an amped up version of  story of the Emperor’s new clothes. Why amped up? Well, in the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, the emperor is merely a naked stooge convinced that he’s wearing gorgeous garb, but in this real-life version, Coach K is a willing participant in the fraud. He uses his ads and his official website to further the idea that he’s not only the best coach in the land, known for brilliant coaching and revolutionizing the game, but he’s the elder statesman of college basketball, an embodiment of all that is right and good in the sport.

Bullhockey. Several years ago, a writer who is often associated with the Carolina Water Cooler and the Inside Carolina basketball message board (and whose name I’ve forgotten) wrote several blog posts detailing why K is neither brilliant nor revolutionary (unless you include stealing the flop from European soccer and using it to draw fouls on opponents who are about to win the game or slapping the floor). He said many of the things that I’ve thought for years and I wish I could find the original articles. Coach K does have the old school style of emphasizing fundamentals like layups and foul shooting, but it’s not anything special. Nor is jacking up threes. I of course understand why being great free throw shooters is so important to K – if you’re going to draw fouls and win the game based on free throws, your team needs to be good at them. I also understand that three-point shooting is the kind of thing that makes the media act like a bunch of slobbering dogs having their tummies rubbed into ecstacy. Hence their love affair with the elfin-eared J.J. Redick.

The fact is that, since 1980, many of the Duke teams have not been that special. K’s been riding his back-to-back championships for years, the second of which was won by a guy who should have been removed from the game for his intentional foul with malice aforethought. K feeds the myth that his team is invincible by not playing any OOC teams that are any good and by not traveling to many opposing teams’ courts. He also schedules teams that he can beat by 35 points to make the victory look more impressive in this new era of believing that a team is only good if it decimates its opponents – even if those opponents have just recently started a basketball program or the words Division III are associated with their names. Until this year, Duke had never lost in the Big 10 challenge, which sounds impressive, until you see that while other ACC teams were taking on Ohio State and Michigan State, Duke was playing Indiana and Michigan in their down years.

Then there’s the NCAA Tournament. The media loves to tout all of his trips to the NCAA, his astonishing (and usually undeserved) number 1 seeds and all the trips to the final four and the final game, but if you look at it another way, that’s actually a story of ineffectiveness. From 1980-2009, Duke has been in 11 Final Fours and only won 3 championships. They’ve also been seeded No. 1 11 times and only won 3 championships. They’ve taken gifts from the NCAA selection committee (such as their No. 1 seed in 2005) and still exited before the Final Four–often in the Sweet 16 and before. If any other coach had that record, he’d be ridiculed as a failure.

What gets me the most, though, is this elder statesman crap. This is a guy whose players stomp on opposing players’ chests and punch people in the nose to prevent them from making a layup. And, instead of keeping a low profile after the incidents, he takes to the media microphone and implies that his players’ violent actions were the fault of the opposing team. What’s infuriating about this is that it starts a firestorm of discussion about how long you should keep your starters in a game you’re winning, puts the other team on the defensive and completely deflects the fact that K keeps all his starters in for as long as possible, even when he’s playing the Durham School for the Deaf and the Blind and Sampson County Community College in the early part of the season. Meanwhile you can just feel the smirks emanating from his Holiness’s office on the Duke campus.

One of the biggest frauds ever

So, there you have it. Duke’s coach is a cheating, hypocritical, fraudulent spinmeister who can turn seemingly decent guys like Gerald Henderson into mob-like goons. (Beware, Kyrie Irving.)  Meanwhile, every time you turn around, you have to hear about what a great guy he is and how Duke is the most prestigious team in college basketball (with the basis for that honor being skewed by only looking at the years when Duke was a success). Add all this to a succession of overhyped underperforming, violent, whiney players like Greg Paulus, Brian Zoubek, Chris Collins, Wojo and Josh McRoberts and the recent gift the NCAA Selection Committee gave Duke in the South region and you’re left with one question. What’s not to hate?