"Thank you very much, for reminding me of the reason why I left Duke. People like you cannot and will not (sic) ever understand my situation. I’m sure daddy worked very hard to send your rich self to college. While real people struggle. I would also like to extend an invitation for you not to waste your or my time ever again. Never being considered a part of your posh group of yuppies really hurts me to the heart. Yea Right because I don’t care about you or your alumni." Elton Brand, after being harassed by the Duke faithful for leaving school early for the NBA.
Dynasty or decaying empire? That’s the question Duke will be answering tonight as they square off against the Butler Bulldogs for the NCAA Men’s Championship. Right now, for fans, it’s an open query shaped by our love or hate of the most polarizing college sports program on the planet. Is the Duke program, under the reign of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the gold standard of college sports with its high graduation rates, three national championships, 11 Final Fours (tied for second most in history), and an NCAA-record 76 NCAA tournament victories? Or is this the team of entitlement who skated to the finals with a bracket utterly absent of serious challenges, all in the name of the NCAA’s six billion dollar television contract with CBS? As the Daily News wrote, “When considering why Duke was conveniently placed on a fast track to (the Final Four by NCAA bracket makers), the power of the Blue Devils as a TV attraction must be factored into the equation…Duke has a history of juicing TV ratings.” Or is it all as simple as former player JJ Redick once said, “We’ve done things the right way. So people hate us.”
Then there is Mike Krzyzewski, the rock-ribbed Republican coach who brought in Armed Forces amputees to inspire the USA basketball team in 2006. Is Coach K the pinch-faced autocrat with a mouth that would shame a sailor? Or is he simply the man we all wished was coaching our favorite college team? The mother of former player William Avery once said, "Coach K is selfish. He wants what’s best for him. He says it’s for the players. It’s not." But his supporters say that the sour grapes of former players like Avery only speak to Coach K’s stringent standards.
But facts are stubborn things for both sides of this divide. While Coach K speaks about the glories of amateur sports, he collects millions in sneaker money as his players model Nike’s latest up and down the court. His team also sports a 93% graduation rate, by far the highest of any team that made the NCAA tournament.
So who is Duke? Avatar of evil or exemplar of purity in the sewage of college sports? Are they the dynasty we all secretly wish we could root for or a decaying empire whose success has been defined by a roadmap of elitist posturing that should be nothing but scorned? One thing is certain: the Butler Bulldogs will partially resolve the answer to these questions tonight. If Duke wins, I’ll be the first to tip my hat. If they lose to unheralded Butler, as Coach K goes profanely apoplectic on the sidelines, then the rot at the core of Durham will be revealed in front of the largest possible audience.