Duke is back in the Final Four and not too many people outside of Durham are celebrating. Now the Evil Empire of college hoops, it’s hard to believe they were once perennial bridesmaids that had America cheering them on to bring down mighty UNLV in the 1991 Final Four. Since that colossal upset, the public’s perception of Duke has been all downhill. We have the 10 moments that help explain why.
10. Duke wins first national title
After knocking off UNLV, Duke trumped Kansas for the 1991 national title. This wasn’t the very moment the national perception of the Blue Devils changed (we’ll get to that later), but life is always just a little bit different when the perennial second place team finally wins it all. Ask baseball fans about the Red Sox. For the fan that doesn’t have a horse in the race, once a team has won a title, it feels wrong rooting for them to win another. Once the Blue Devils reached the mountain top, it started to become a wee bit easier to begin hating on them.
9. Wojo’s “broken arm”
By the time March Madness rolls around, the Oscars are long gone. But following this tangle up with Kentucky’s Jamaal Magloire during the 1998 Elite Eight, Steve Wojciechowski could’ve picked up some hardware. Making matters worse for Duke haters was Billy Packer’s incredulous response to the entire play. It bolstered the stereotypes that the media is in love with Duke and that Duke players are cry babies.
8. Dickie V becomes Dookie V
It’s tough to find the moment where Dick Vitale was labeled a Duke lover. The earliest clip we could find came from a 1997 game between Kentucky and Maryland. That’s right. Vitale showed his zest for Duke during a game Duke wasn’t even playing in. Even his play-by-play man called him out for it. Granted, he may have done it on purpose considering how he was called out for his Duke bias the night before, but it’s moments like this where America just shakes its head at Duke and the attention it gets.
7. Chris Collins flops
Which time? Just kidding. But fairly or unfairly, many fans across the country accuse Duke players of flopping and being overdramatic. One of those players with a history of histrionics is Chris Collins, who played from 1993-96. In the clip below, Collins gets blown away like he was in an action movie – mostly all of his own doing. Shane Battier took the flopping torch from Collins, and it was most recently on display during the Greg Paulus era.
6. Speedo Guy
The fact the media latched on to Speedo Guy in 2003 is another reason college basketball fans hate Duke. While we think it’s pretty funny (try not to laugh when he slowly stands to start his dance), the rest of the nation sees this as an example of the media fawning of Duke and, in this case, the “Cameron Crazies.” Student sections all over the country do weird stuff. But it’s Duke who gets the national attention and TV features years after the fact.
5. J.J. Redick’s freshman season
By his own account, J.J. Redick acted like a tool his freshman season in 2003: “Early on in my career, I definitely had an annoying persona, a brash persona on the court. I’d talk trash or head-bob after making a shot. A lot of that stemmed from insecurities.” Unfortunately for him, that reputation stuck even as he mellowed out over time. The university’s reputation as elitist didn’t help Redick either. He became the next Public Enemy #1 from Duke, following Christian Laettner, Chris Collins and Wojo. And listening to commentators drool over his shot (yes, it’s perfect) got old.
4. Coach K’s leave of absence
We won’t get into any conspiracy theories about Mike Krzyzewski abandoning his team when he knew they’d be bad in 1995. Coach K left during the season due to back problems and the losses from that period (15 out of 19 games) were assessed to his assistant coach, not him. Instead of worrying about his health, a cynical America labeled Coach K a faker and a selfish jerk for sticking his assistant with a bunch of losses. It’s still used today as ammo by Duke haters, especially with those American Express ads trumpeting his leadership.
3. Wojo’s floor slap
Yes, Wojo is on here twice. It’s nothing personal against Wojo, we promise (although the nickname “Wojo” would probably be #11 on this list). His histrionics were well-chronicled as he and many other Dukies have been accused of flopping. But Wojo also sticks out for his annoying habit of slapping the floor on defense almost every time after a big play, regardless of the actual game situation. You can’t knock someone for something they do in the heat of the moment, but it became clear to America that Wojo knew exactly what he was doing and was preening for the cameras. Much like a lot of other items on this list, the media’s infatuation with pointing this out was a bit nauseating – as if to show he had more passion than anyone else in the history of college hoops.
2. Gerald Henderson nails Tyler Hansbrough
Was it on purpose or is Gerald Henderson’s hand-eye coordination really that bad? Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, we can all agree it was a hard foul in 2007 and is an example of what some Duke haters claim is a consistent pattern of the Blue Devils playing dirty. And it drives critics crazy that Duke’s reputation is playing basketball “the right way.” When Coach K defended Henderson, even going so far as to say the incident was unfortunate for him, fans lost their minds. When you can get fans to defend Tyler Hansbrough, you’ve done something wrong.
1. Christian Laettner’s stomp
Christian Laettner stomping on the chest of Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake in the 1992 Elite Eight was the turning point in everyone’s opinion of Duke. Consider this: Duke was a defending champion; they were playing an underdog Kentucky team with four seniors known as “The Unforgettables” and the player who made the game-winning shot committed an ejectable foul and only got a technical. There was no way the Blue Devils were coming out of that game loved. And the fact Laettner went on to win the game and the stomp was brushed aside by the media was when Duke was transformed from “good” to “evil.” Just ask Kentucky fans, who speak of the play to this day and are now tortured by the fact Duke is in the Final Four and they aren’t.
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