- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Like most Americans, Drew Curtis believes in free speech. He also believes Duke basketball is an abomination before God and Dick Vitale and quite possibly more annoying than Billy Bush.

So when the owners of Boston’s FleetCenter auctioned off single-day naming rights as part of a charitable promotion last month, Curtis knew what to do. He cut a hefty check — $2,550, to be exact — and prepared to exercise his Constitutional rights.

Welcome to … the Duke [Stinks] Center!

“It helped that they were donating the money to charity,” said Curtis, 32, owner of the entertainment Web site Fark.com. “It was also an opportunity to talk about how bad Duke [stinks]. Because they do.”

Alas, arena owners nixed the proposal, along with others deemed too profane. (See: Center, the Derek Jeter.) Still, if it’s the thought that counts, then Curtis’ idea ranks with E=MC2 and beer cozies. As the ACC tournament begins, no college squad is more loathed and envied than the third-seeded Blue Devils.

With the Duke [Stinks] Center out of commission, MCI Center will have to suffice.

“I think Duke will definitely hear it from the crowd,” Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood said. “They’re the team that nobody wants to win.”

As a former Tar Heel, Haywood is biased, as objective as male escort-turned-White House correspondent Jeff Gannon. That said, the man has a point. Nobody much likes Duke.

Not the Tobacco Road old guard, the bluebloods who despise the Blue Devils out of sheer habit. Not the ACC arrivistes, the football schools still learning the joys of a T-shirt cleverly disguising a curse at the school.

Certainly not tournament host Maryland, where students calmly celebrated a regular-season road victory over Duke by setting things on fire.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Vitale, an ESPN basketball analyst. “The Wake Forest people can’t stand Duke. Maryland, [the same]. Duke is like the [New York] Yankees. And I love the Yankees.”

Of course. Who doesn’t?

• • •

Anybody but Carolina. Two decades ago, such was the ACC’s common cause, the lament of Dean Smith’s downtrodden rivals.

And now?

“A-B-C has kind of been supplanted by A-B-D,” said Gray Boyette, a retired doctor and Wake Forest fan. “Anybody but Duke.”

Somewhere along the line — possibly when the Blue Devils adopted a black alternate jersey, probably when Christian Laettner matriculated — the Blue Devils became the college game’s Darth Vader, a program feared and reviled. Excluding the Erik Meek era.

How is Duke disliked? Let us count the ways:

• When coach Mike Krzyzewski said last year his players face “a kind of hatred,” he wasn’t kidding. ACC rivals save their harshest jeers for the Blue Devils, and Maryland officials went so far as to get a ruling from a state’s attorney to curb vulgar student chants directed at Duke’s J.J. Redick last season.

• Duke has been booed at NCAA tournament games in Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Lexington, Ky., where the school’s 2002 loss to Indiana prompted the giddy Schadenfreude typically reserved for a Martha Stewart prison sentence.

• FHM magazine printed insults specifically targeting the Blue Devils. TruthAboutDuke.com, a Web site devoted to “debunking” Duke basketball, averages around 3,000 daily hits and receives e-mail feedback from as far away as Oregon.

“When I first started it, I didn’t know that there would be much of an audience,” said Jeff Schneider, the site’s founder and a database developer in Northern Virginia. “But it seems like a national thing.”

During last year’s Final Four, an ESPN.com poll asked readers to identify the team they most wanted to see lose. Forty-five percent chose Duke.

“I don’t know if people hate Duke,” said Jay Bilas, an ESPN analyst and former Blue Devil. “I’m not aware of that in my travels. It’s not like anyone has ever tried to take a swing at me.”

Bilas, it should be noted, stands 6-foot-8.

• • •

Some of this is petty. Gilbert Arenas admits as much. The Wizards guard starred on an Arizona squad that fell to Duke in the 2001 NCAA title game.

“I hate the Dukies,” Arenas said. “Ah, memories.”

Since 1986, the Blue Devils have been to 10 Final Fours, capturing three national championships. Yet every Duke win produces a loser, probably sore.

Take Curtis, a Lexington native and Kentucky fan who saw the Blue Devils defeat the Wildcats in the 1992 NCAA East Region final, a game considered the greatest ever played. Provided you like Duke.

“I watched the first Duke-Carolina game this year at a local campus pizza pub,” Curtis said. “Kentucky had already lost to North Carolina, so you would think we’d be rooting for Duke. No. You never saw so many Carolina fans in your life.”

The animosity goes beyond winning. No one detests Lance Armstrong. It speaks to the way Duke wins, to the aura and mythos surrounding a program with vaunted student-athletes who are expected to drop words like aura and mythos casually.

Duke avoids serious scandal. Players mostly graduate. Problems pop up — former center Casey Sanders ran afoul of the law, former walk-on Reggie Love ran afoul of a North Carolina frat house and Krzyzewski cusses refs with the bluest of ‘em — but receive scant attention, barely besmirching a pristine reputation.

Speaking of which: Duke bashers consider ESPN the team’s house organ. Vitale says don’t shoot the messenger.

“If I were doing a telecast with Duke, how could I not sing their praises?” he said. “Look at the numbers. How can you not be positive?”

As it stands, the Blue Devils are the game’s teacher’s pets. That grates.

“They have so much success and so much publicity,” Arenas said. “[Other players] hate that. If I turn on the [NCAA] tournament, it’s boo Duke.”

• • •

Do the Blue Devils deserve boos? Maybe not. But as Clint Eastwood once put it, deservin’s got nothing to do with it.

College basketball needs a straw man. Duke delivers the goods. It’s the 007 thumb scanner that grants access to Krzyzewski’s campus office. It’s floor-slapping Steve Wojciechowski winning national defensive player of the year.

It’s Cameron “Indoor” Stadium, a name that’s redundant. Honestly, isn’t Duke supposed to be the smart school?

In a new American Express commercial, Krzyzewski promises to prepare his players for life beyond basketball. Commendable message. Brazen recruiting pitch. He also signs his credit card “Coach K,” which may or may not be legal.

Inspiring and insufferable, the spot is quintessential Duke. Years ago, it could have featured Smith or Wooden; years from now, similar pitches will feature other coaches. And perhaps other schools.

“When Carolina hit that slump over the past couple of years, Duke was busy going to Final Fours, putting guys in the NBA,” Haywood said. “They became the favorites. When you’re on top, everybody wants to knock you down. Hopefully, Carolina can get back to that.”

Such is the real truth about Duke: When it comes to provoking ire, the rest of us should be so lucky.

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