The Champs!

New readers –

This is launch week on Tobacco Road Blues, the new site dedicated to Duke and UNC sports. All week, we’re going to be running two of the ‘greatest hits’ from Seth Curry Saves Duke!, our previous blog, every day. The new content begins on Monday the 15th.

Today’s afternoon post was written on April 6, 2010, the morning after Duke beat Butler for the national championship. As you will see, I had a bee in my bonnet about the perception of Duke and all the hate, so I felt the need to write this diatribe. This was me at my most partisan, and I hesitated to include it here just because it won’t necessarily be the tone of this site. But it did have an impact, and anyway, tomorrow we’re going to feature some Carolina writers. So this will be a final hurrah, a nostalgic tip of the cap to extremism. Enjoy.

-Shane

The Champs

Here’s the problem with all the Duke haters: they don’t allow for any gray area.

That may seem like a strange sentence to lead off a post in the immediate aftermath of Duke’s first national championship since 2001. My words should be pure joy, right? My thoughts should be pure elation. And believe me, joy and elation exist. I’m on cloud nine. This is epic, this is fantastic, this is inspirational. I’m proud, too, if that kind of sentiment is allowed.

But after withstanding weeks of rabid hate directed at our team, the two main emotions I feel right now are relief and swagger.

The problem with relief is that you spend entire games on a knife’s edge. You root for your team, and your players, but a big part of you is concerned about the haters. You do not want to give them what they crave. They have the luxury of watching every game, hoping and praying for Duke’s failure, and they’re always ready to pounce if that failure comes to pass. So instead of just hoping for the win and being able to accept the loss like a normal sports fan, you spend absurd amounts of mental energy holding off an emotional tidal wave from your enemies. A fan of any perennial winner has to deal with that, and it is what it is, but the Duke hatred goes a step beyond.

Last year, when UNC was on its title run, I wrote an admiring piece about Tyler Hansbrough. I enjoyed his character, and I wanted him to win a title. Whatever, right? No big deal. I’m just a fan of sports and a fan of interesting people and stories. So I wrote what I wrote, UNC fans responded positively, and then everyone forgot about it. But at least everyone was being fucking honest.

You know how many UNC fans, or folks from the anti-Duke crowd in general, said something nice to me about this year’s Duke team? A team that had been through a lot of adversity, and featured one of the more inspirational players ever in Nolan Smith?

A big goose egg. Zero.

Lesson learned. In the future, when I have the impulse to say something nice about Carolina, I’ll fight it down and write more Nolan Smith fan fiction.

The problem with swagger is that it’s a reaction to hate. I constantly hear a chorus of voices tell me that everyone who ever went to Duke is a smarmy elitist asshole. There are many times, particularly when I’m meeting someone new, when I honestly feel the need to prove I’m not one of their kind. Do those type of people exist? Of course. Were there smarmy elitist assholes at Duke? Yes. At a higher rate than the average population? Probably, yeah.

But is every single Duke grad like that? Are there no good people that graduated from the school? Is there no gray area here? Are we that simple and mean that raw generalizations are going to suffice? Give me a break.

But when nobody ever does give you a break, you react in one of two ways. You either capitulate and become a total pussy, and say “yes, you’re all so right, I should be ashamed of myself and my program and my school, because everything associated with Duke is corrupt and unlikeable.” Or you get sick of it, and you say “go fuck yourself.”

My ideal reaction would be this: “You raise some fair points, but we can agree that despite the shortcomings of the basketball team, the school, and the student body, there’s a lot to admire.” But that reaction is forever met with a cacophony of hate speech. Coach K is a cretin! The players are arrogant! The students are self-righteous upper middle class snobs!

So, fine. Here’s my new response: go fuck yourself. Consider that the reaction for the near and distant future. I know it’s not a great one, but I’m painted into a corner here.

Hey, remember JJ Redick? Remember how smug he looked on the court? Well, here’s something you didn’t know about JJ Redick:

He wasn’t hated because he was arrogant. He was arrogant because he was hated.

It’s the exact same process I described above. When he came to school, he was wildly talented, but his personality was muted. Nobody remembers that. It’s true, though. He was actually kind of quiet. But when enough people call you a fag, or insult your family, or threaten to kill you, or whatever else, you either break down and spend the rest of your life in a mental hospital, or you tell them to go fuck themselves. If you’re Jon Scheyer or Nolan Smith or Brian Zoubek, you take that last option by working hard and coming together and sticking it to everyone the quiet way. If you’re JJ Redick, and you’re all alone out on that limb, you assert yourself by smiling at the hate; by putting on a cocky demeanor to show you can’t be rattled.

And because nobody wants to see the gray area in Duke, the divide becomes wider. On a smaller and much less important scale, it’s exactly what’s happening in our country’s politics. If you call someone the worst thing you can think of, and things get too personal too fast, and you won’t allow for any intricacy in the argument, you can bet they won’t feel overly eager to give you the benefit of the doubt. So both sides become more extreme, the hate grows, and ideals like decorum and respect are thrown out the window. When you extend an olive branch and have it slapped away, that’s the natural reaction.

Well, I’m no better than the average dude. So I have a sincere message for everyone who hates Duke and isn’t intelligent or sanguine enough to see the positive side:

Go fuck yourself.

To every idiot who said Duke had an easy road:

Go fuck yourself. Cal and Louisville were the toughest 8/9 teams on paper in the entire tournament. Even without Hummel, Purdue was a physical brute of a team that could play with anyone. And hey, you know who would have had a really good shot to win the national title if Duke didn’t? Baylor. And we beat them on the road! We beat them in the second largest regional crowd in history, with everyone and their mother rooting against us! Oh, and remember that team that was supposed to have been the 4th #1 seed, who was from a far superior conference and was clearly better than Duke by leaps and bounds? We buried them. And then we won the championship on the road.

To every idiot who said the refs were in Duke’s pocket:

Go fuck yourself. If Heyward’s shot had gone down last night, I would have considered it the stolen national title. Between the phantom travel call on Singler, the touch foul on Scheyer when the Butler guards were grabbing and holding us on every play with no consequence, the Bulldogs getting bailed out on weak fouls when they couldn’t make a field goal to save their lives, Zoubek getting ripped to the floor after Singler’s miss, the blocked/held shot on our defensive end that mysteriously wasn’t called a jump ball, and the egregious, dirty pick that Howard set on Singler just before Heyward launched his halfcourt shot, we got absolutely jobbed. For most of the game, the refs were horrible for both sides. But in the last five minutes, following in the footsteps of insecure, awful referees everywhere, they began to sway toward the team with the loudest crowd.

We still won. We won despite having the nonsensical David and Goliath canard shoved down our throats. We won with Jim Nantz bringing up Milan and underdogs every five seconds. We won despite CBS actually playing the theme from Hoosiers before a late tv timeout.

But this morning, when I checked out the front page of a UNC basketball forum, they were blaming Duke’s win on the refs. Classic. They’ve actually gone blind. Go fuck yourself.

To every idiot who paints Coach K as a demon with no redeeming qualities:

Go fuck yourself. Coach K can be a hypocrite and a control freak, and sometimes he makes really questionable game decisions (he can justify it all he wants, but having Zoubek miss that last foul shot was mind-bogglingly stupid). But he’s also a kid who grew up poor on the streets of Chicago, and worked hard to become one of the most successful basketball coaches in history. And he has four national titles (double the total of the infallible Dean Smith and the irreproachable Roy Williams), and he cares about having his players graduate, and he’s remarkable in a lot of ways. It makes me sick to see an abusive bully like Bobby Knight revered while Coach K gets trampled.

I can already imagine the responses to this post. They’ll remark on how atrocious it is for me, a Dukie, to play the role of the embattled victim. After all, I must be from a fabulously wealthy white suburban family, right? Like everyone else who ever attended the school, I must have never experienced hardship. I must be a total prick. I must be half nerd, half elitist. And how dare I pose as anything other than apologetic! How dare I bristle at anyone else’s complaints, no matter how ridiculous and misplaced!

So conclusions are drawn. And the sad part is, it’s all inevitable. They were drawn beforehand, and by now we’re just playing into each other’s hands. Let the cycle of hate go unbroken. Call us reactionary, call us entitled, call us smug. But guess what? You set the terms. And as of last night, around 11:30pm, there’s only one difference between us:

We’re national champions. Go fuck yourself.

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