A Definitive History of Ryan Kelly’s “White Raven” Nickname

Yesterday, Dan Patrick had Ryan Kelly as a guest on his radio show, and this exchange took place:

Dan Patrick: Uh, the nickname. Who came up with that nickname?

Ryan Kelly: The White Raven?

Dan Patrick: Yeah.

Ryan Kelly: Honestly, I don’t know. It’s stuck, I guess-

Dan Patrick: Wait, but what’s it mean, Ryan? The White Raven?

Whenever the ‘White Raven’ comes up among the sports media, it’s often shrouded in mystery. And, if we’re being honest, disdain. Dan Patrick clearly didn’t like the nickname, and Fox Sports’ Andrew Jones came out as a member of the lunatic anti-Raven fringe back in January. The article is clearly the work of a zealot and extremist, and consider this fair warning that the following excerpts might upset those readers with frail sensibilities:

  • “What Ryan Kelly really needs is a nickname.”
  • “I don’t know why that is, but apparently the fans have a nickname for me now, the ‘White Raven,'” Kelly said Saturday after scoring 22 points in an 80-62 win over Wake Forest.”
  • “And as for the White Raven deal, if the fans haven’t chanted it during games, it doesn’t exist. They haven’t.”

As I’ll soon show, this is nothing but ruling-class propaganda. And what these media bigshots don’t realize is that it’s out of their goddam hands. This is a grassroots movement that even Big Media can’t kill. The White Raven is a populist phenomenon, and the people have spoken.

I take you now back to January 5, 2011, to a blog called Seth Curry Saves Duke. I was the author of this blog, and that date happened to be my 28th birthday. That’s where “The White Raven” nickname was born. I had a feature called “Hot Potato,” where I picked one player and the commenters had to guess how many points he’d score. That day, I wrote:


The White Raven

Kelly went to a high school in Raleigh called Ravenscroft, hence the nickname. Just kinda floating a trial balloon on that one, I’m not married to it. But it makes me laugh because a) putting ‘white’ in front of anything is funny (one of my friends from high school is nicknamed ‘White Jesus’), and b) it makes him sound like a badass character from a terrible sci-fi novel. Yea, though the forces of evil do beset us, hope yet remains! The White Raven cometh ‘pon wings of glory!

I’ve invented a lot of nicknames in my time, but as far as I know, this is the only one that’s ever caught on. I even created a few works of fan-art depicting Kelly as the White Raven, and in my mind they hold up as seminal period pieces. I think it was the next season, 2011-12, when the Cameron Indoor Stadium fans began to flap their arms like raven wings, and we as a community have never looked back. You see also that Mr. Jones was wrong- the White Raven Experience is well established in Cameron, and as CNNSI’s Luke Winn noted this week, the students chant “Fly, Raven, Fly!”

Over the past two year, the name has gained legitimacy by degrees; it started with the blogs, moved to the student newspapers, and eventually reached the mainstream. The name was even briefly co-opted yesterday by GoDuke.com, the official school site, although all references to the nickname appear to have been scrubbed clean and you can only find a match via Google; the original title of that article was “The White Raven is Soaring Again.” This was the Chronicle’s spread when Kelly returned from his foot injury and scored 36 against Miami in his first game back:

Another good sign, of course, is that the fascists patrolling the Duke message boards disapprove of the nickname. They understand that the common man rising represents a danger to their fragile sense of narrative control. The local underground, meanwhile- in the form of alternative weeklies- has seized on the nickname as a symbol of the youth rebellion.

Another interesting note from the original post that I had forgotten: The inspiration for the nickname was Kelly’s high school, Ravenscroft, and not the “Black Falcon” nickname that Harrison Barnes gave himself. That contrast was a happy accident that made the nickname even better, and in later explanations I assumed it had been part of the creative intent. It apparently was not, but I like to believe fate was guiding me on a subconscious level. You’ve probably noticed by now that events around the White Raven operate with a strange kind of synchronicity, and I don’t believe this is a coincidence.

There are a few other noteworthy episodes in the White Raven saga.

*In August 2011, a fellow by the name of Zach Lambert seemed to try to take credit for “The White Raven” in an article by Dan Wiederer. This was later cleared up on twitter. (As you can see, Jim Young from @ACCSports has, at various times, also tried to take credit for the name. He’s a wildly dangerous and subversive internet element, and shouldn’t be trusted.)

*Last year, after Austin Rivers hit his famous three-pointer to beat UNC at the Dean Dome, I found Kelly outside the locker room. When the interview was finished, I couldn’t resist a last question about the nickname. Had he heard of it? Yes. He thought it was funny that the Crazies flapped their arms when he made a shot. You can read the four-line interview here.

*On January 5 of this year, my 30th birthday (there’s that synchronicity again), there was a giant misunderstanding when my stepfather texted me that ESPN announcers had just used the “White Raven” nickname for Kelly in a game against Wake Forest. This turned out to be wrong, but I tweeted it out as if it were true, which led to this appearing on the screen in the second half:

There’s more information here if you want.

So now, I hope, the air has been cleared. I was the inventor, but the people were the engine. We’ve taken the body blows from the powerful elites, and we’ve endured. Nobody can ground The White Raven. I’ll leave you now with a .gif to honor the legend:

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10 Responses to A Definitive History of Ryan Kelly’s “White Raven” Nickname

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  1. Mike zilles says:

    White raven picture in chronicle weekend wrap section monday

    1. Shane says:

      Nice. You have a link?

      1. Blue Moose says:


        You’ll love this. There’s a full page photo of RK with wings and the words “Fly Raven Fly” and an explanation of the nickname’s origin (without crediting you of course). Also, the title of the game recap is “Quoth the Raven.”

        1. Shane says:

          Awesome! Updated it in the post. Thanks for the help.

  2. William says:

    I still don’t buy the idea that it wasn’t a jab at “The Black Falcon”

    1. Shane says:

      Believe me, I would be happy to take credit for it if that was in my head. But after reading the first post, I’m not sure it was. I think I just got lucky.

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