Saunders: Duke hatred has nothing to do with race

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMarch 23, 2014 

Grant Hill hasn’t made many public missteps, none at all that come quickly to mind.

That’s why it was so weird to hear attributed to him the baffling statement in a story published last week.

Hill, who played basketball at Duke from 1990 to 1994, said he thinks he knows why so many people hate Duke’s basketball team. “We’ve had a lot of really good white players,” Hill said. “I think that plays a role.”

In the story, published in Bleacher Report, Hill, who is black, said that most of the fans booing Duke when the team traveled were white. It’s hard to tell if the thoughtful ex-player was being whimsical when he said, “I played with Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner, and they were despised when we went on the road. ... But you look into the crowd and it was nothing but white students at the games, so it was white on white hate. It’s sad.”

Trust me, the facts that neither Hurley nor Laettner was known for his humility and that the 1991 and 1992 teams were so good and won the NCAA championship are what made them unlikable every place they played except Durham and New Jersey.

If there is indeed anyone out there who hates Duke’s basketball team because of the number of really good white players the team has had, all I can say is “They’re wasting a good hate,” because there are sooooo many other reasons to detest the Devils than that.

That many of its best, most hateable players have been white is irrelevant. Baseball fans used to think there was something magical about the New York Yankees’ pinstripes, that any player who put them on suddenly became a star.

The same goes for the Blue Devil uniform, only, instead of making them instantly better, it makes any player who puts one on instantly unlikable to all but the school’s fans.

The school’s fans? Now there, Grant, is another reason to loathe Duke. They are too self-reverential and get too much credit for being clever.

Players such as Bobby Hurley, Danny Ferry and Christian Laettner would’ve been easy to abhor regardless of race or ethnicity. They seemed to get all of the close calls – probably because their coach started working the refs from the moment they awoke on game day – and they look like the kids we know who went to private schools whose name ended with the word “Day,” like “Country Day.”

Take Ferry and Hill, for instance. Ferry’s father was an NBA player and general manager, and the son became both, too. Hill’s father was an NFL star and front-office executive, and he played in the NBA 14 years and now does TV analysis.

Now I ask you, what’s not to hate when someone’s success seemed so preordained?

Of course, had either matriculated to the school that wears a lighter shade of blue about 7 miles down 15-501, he’d be revered by the same fans who now revile him.

Someone not from this area may have a hard time understanding why Duke is so loathed by UNC fans, why N.C. State fans hate UNC and vice versa.

The answer is simple: That’s just the way it is.

In a memorable episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” – shoot, they’re all memorable – Andy tried to get to the bottom of a feud between two mountain families. When asked why they were shooting at each other, the feuding family patriarchs answered “Because he’s a Wakefield” and “Because he’s a Carter.”

If you dig beneath the surface, you’ll probably find the same logic in the university feuds: “Because he’s a Tar Heel.”

“Because he’s a Wolfie.”

“Because he’s a Dookie.”

And don’t forget “Because they flop anytime you breathe on them.”

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or

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