It's good vs. evil, America's darling vs. the team people love to hate
You can hate Duke if you like, but the Devils set the bar for a hoops program
Butler is a classic underdog, the mid-major who made it to the title game
For Duke, hatred is a status symbol; face it, everyone would love to be Duke
INDIANAPOLIS -- When I arrived at the Indianapolis airport on Friday, I walked past a newsstand. And as I walked by, I noticed that somebody -- probably the guy who runs the stand -- had drawn awkward pen markings over the sports section's front-page photo of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. There was Coach K with devil horns and goofy eyebrows and a goatee and a target on his forehead. Below, the headline said "Duke" and the rest was crossed out. Somebody had written below it: "Is No Good."
Well, I thought, maybe the guy who runs the stand is a Butler fan. Or maybe he's one of the many people in the world who despise Duke. Or maybe he thought it would drum up business among the many potential customers who, apparently, despise Duke.
Whatever, I didn't think much of it. Until the next day.
And that's when I heard that it was THE NEWSPAPER ITSELF that drew the horns and goatee and target on Mike Krzyzewski. That drawing was in EVERY paper -- that is, until the Indianapolis Star editors realized the horror of it all and judiciously stopped the press run.
"It's very juvenile," Krzyzewski said when asked about it. "We have great kids. They go to school. They graduate. If we're going to be despised or hated because we go to school and we want to win, you know what? That's your problem."
Questions and answers with 33-year-old Butler coach Brad Stevens:
Q: Brad, how often do you get carded?
A: I said this the other day. I don't have any time to go anyplace that cards you.
Q: If this would really happen, what would it do?
A: Well, I don't know. I have no idea how to answer that question.
Q: Do you embrace the whole David and Goliath?
A: You know it makes me feel good. David won.
Yes, the scene is set here in Indianapolis. The storyline is written. You have already read the script. Tonight, Cinderella Butler faces Hated Duke in one of the most tantalizing national championship games in memory. Tonight, America's shining knight Butler takes on the fury of fire-breathing Duke. Tonight, crime-fighter Butler takes on the henchmen of Duke. Tonight Butler tries to become the most unlikely national champion since ... well, frankly, it's hard to find a more unlikely champion than Butler. And tonight, Duke tries to win its fourth national championship in the Reign of Coach K. Oh yes: The scene is set.
Only ... is the scene even real? Is this really David vs. Goliath? Is this really good vs. evil or, anyway, the bright new team vs. the tiresome old one?
Is there really a wide gap between Butler and Duke? They have both been ranked in the top 10 most of the year. They are both relatively small private schools. Their tuitions are both exorbitantly high. Kurt Vonnegut briefly attended Butler. Richard Nixon got his law degree at Duke. Jim Jones -- yes, THAT Jim Jones -- went to Butler. Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates, went to Duke. Butler was a bit of a bit of a power in the 1920s and then, not again for about 75 or 80 years. The feeling is that Duke has been great forever but the Blue Devils, believe it or not, were only sporadically good for much of their history.
In fact, I remember Duke as being a college basketball doormat in the early 1980s. That was when my family had moved us to North Carolina and I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I had to (by law) pick an ACC team to cheer on. This team would be my entire identity throughout high school, so I had to choose well. When I arrived, North Carolina had a freshman named Michael Jordan. N.C. State had a coach named Jim Valvano. And Duke had a losing record, a coach with a name like my own and a 6-foot-5 guard named Vince Taylor who could light it up, thus making the Duke beatings seem more palatable.
"You're a Yankee," I was told. "You should pick Duke."
I chose North Carolina, of course. I mean ... they had Michael Jordan, for crying out loud. But the feeling I remember so clearly was how hopeless it seemed at Duke. Yes, they had played in the title game as recently as 1978 -- John Feinstein's Forever's Team -- but they had clearly fallen into third or even fourth place in the state's basketball hierarchy. How could Duke win? Duke had these extreme academic standards -- I would not even have merited a rejection letter from Duke. The coach with the long last name was clearly about to be fired if he kept losing. How the heck were the Blue Devils going to beat Dean Smith's North Carolina machine or Valvano's charisma at North Carolina State or even plucky Wake Forest or the powerhouse they were building up at Virginia with Ralph Sampson. They weren't. Hopeless.
And that's what I thought -- that's what a lot of people thought about Duke -- not so long ago.
Mike Krzyzewski has never really known how to answer the "Why do so many people hate you and your team" question. Maybe this is because he has never really seemed entirely clear on why people hate Duke in the first place. Is it because Duke has been so good? Is it because of Christian Laettner? Is it because there seems to be arrogance oozing at Duke where the kids are all "special" and they do things "the right way?" Is it because announcers never stop singing their praises, and referees tend to call the charge a lot, and the Duke students, those Cameron Crazies, are praised relentlessly -- like they just discovered the secrets of perpetual motion -- every time they come up with a semi-clever chant? Is that it?
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