Duke Basketball vs Black America

duke target
In the world of sports there are generally teams that are disliked or even hated simply for the fact that they are successful; The Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA, the New York Yankees in professional baseball and in college basketball of recent years it has been the Duke Blue Devils…

Generally there is no in between either you love them or you dispise them… Seeing the Lions, Pistons, and Tigers beat the “hated” team in their respective sport always brought me joy. I still will always remember the 1991 season for the Lions because their only playoff win of my ere as a fan came against the more popular and favorited Cowboys team. The 2004 NBA championship for the Pistons was so much more sweeter because they were able to obtain it by beating the Lakers who many felt were the superior team. Also in 2006 to see the Tigers beat the Yankees to get back to the World Series was wonderful.
Growing up a HUGE U-M fan I usually disliked any team that gave them trouble in sports. For football it was always Ohio State and Notre Dame, and in basketball it was Duke. I can go back to my gradeschool days of watching U-M play Duke and truly hating them because it always seemed that U-M could never get past them. The 1992 season was especially frustrating because not only did U-M lose in teh regular season but they also fell to the Blue Devils in the National Championship Game. After that season I became one of the biggest Duke haters their were… there were some successes like the 2008-09 season where a young scrappy U-M team was able to beat a more talented Duke squad, but often times Duke came out on top.


Recently there was a great documentary done by ESPN on the Fab Five. And in one segment each of the players who participated gave their input on how they felt about the Duke basketball team during that infamous 1992 season. Each player had no qualms expressing their dislike and almost hatred that they had for the team at the time going as far as saying disparaging things about specific players like Bobby Hurly, Christian Laettner and more specifically Grant Hill. In talking to Jalen Rose, who grew up in innercity Detroit who was raised by a single mom and had no relationship with his son until on his deathbed, he was very candid about his issues with the type of player Duke recruited. Paraphrasing, he felt that Duke would never recruit a black athlete like him and only went after players who he described as Uncle Toms. He then went on to specifically call out Grant Hill who grew up in an affluent educated two parent home, and you could tell that even though he was reflecting on his thoughts as an 18 year old young man those thoughts still lingered in him even today.
While I do feel that his comments were VERY misguided, unfortunately they are the thoughts of many inner city blacks who ignorantly equate education/success/desire to do and be better with being an Uncle Tom. I feel that Jalen incorrectly targeted the players and would have had a greater argument being critical of the coaching staff who recruited these players. As a distant fan, I always felt that Duke and specifically Coach K, recruited a certain type of black basketball player to play at Duke. The majority of black players fit into that “safe negro” category, whether it was Trajan Langon (whose father was an Anthropology professor at the University of Alaska-Anchorage) or even super freshman Kyrie Irving (who was born in Australia while his father played professional basketball.) Even when it came to recruiting in the state of MI the three players I remember them recruiting the hardest were Chris Webber, Shane Battier, and Mike Chappelle. All three players upbringings were similar: two family household middle class, higher regarded educational background

There is only one player that comes to mind who didnt fit that typical mode of black recruit and that was Elton Brand. Brand was from Peekskill in upstate New York and grew up in a single parent household and had an upbringing that was very different from many of the black players that had previously played under Coach K . There are various accounts in which Brand speaks of not being comfortable at Duke and upon leaving after his sophomore year, experienced backlash from fans because he was the first player to ever early-declare for the NBA Draft under Coach K. A female co-ed went as far as to send him a very disrespectful email about tarnishing the Duke name in which Brand took the high road and responded in a sarcastic yet professional manner
letter from a duke “fan”
Now is it wrong for Coach K to recruit only a certain type of player, alot of people will say no. Programs all over the country do it, and generally base it systimatically (coaches look for players that can run the weave, fast break, 3-point offense) but rarely has it had as great of a socio-economic undertone as playing at Duke has. I guess what he is doing is no different than what Eastern Michigan football coach Ron English said he wanted to establish with his struggling football program, recruiting a specific type of player; one that comes from a two parent household. STORY He later adjusted the statements stating that he knew it was an unattainable due to today’s society make-up. I did see where he was going and agreed with a lot of it, too bad he wasnt allowed to stand by what he said due to pressure from the university and the court of public opinion. (IMO)
Two MAJOR differences in the comparisons is that 1) Duke wins Eastern Michigan footabll hasnt in 15+ years and 2) Coach K never publicly stated that he is purposely being selective in recruitment.

Now I know there are some that are reading and may say “well Duke is a prestigious intitution and the admissions process and standards may too high for inner city recruits.” And to that I ask is the University of Michigan not one of the most prestigious academic insititutions in America, some even consider it part of the “Ivy League of the midwest” along with Northwestern U? And even with its high academic standards, football and basketball coaches have always recruited the inner city well, a la Jalen Rose (who later one stated felt that because of his elevated social status, that his kids would be the type that Duke recruited.)

At the end of the day there is this great cultural dilemma in the black community; should we expect Coach K to deviate from his own established and very successful (I will not deny his ability to win games) process of recruiting black athletes just so he can have a couple inner city hardship cases on his resume or should we accept the fact it could all be just a demographic coincidence and he is entitled to recruit who he wants long as he stays within the scope of NCAA rules and regulations in doing so.

Just as in life, sports will never be able to fully escape the racial and cultural undertones, so it may just be up to those who watch, support and play them, to perhaps change how we see things.
To many the ONLY color that matters in college hoops is the orange of the ball, the jersey of the last team standing in April and the green of the dollars being made off the backs of these “amateur” atheletes, oops did i say that…

UPDATE:
I can add another notch to the “I hate Duke” meter with them eliminating my beloved Wolverines in this years NCAA tournament, it was a hardfought game and the team showed alot of heart to be so young… NEXT TIME DOOKIES… NEXT TIME…

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About Q_Crush
A kritical thinker that has a lot on his mind... Lover of all things good great conversationalist that will discuss anything if you are courageous enough to bring it up

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