Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Hate Is Well Worth It

As I begin writing this column, the Duke University Blue Devils are only hours into celebrating their 2010 NCAA men’s basketball national championship. The Blue Devils barely edged the Butler University Bulldogs 61-59 to take the crown, ending the NCAA Tournament. It was a scintillating, close game the whole way through and the victory was in doubt until the very last shot. Had a half-court heave by Butler’s Gordon Hayward been a few inches shorter, the Bulldogs and all of Indianapolis might be celebrating that school’s first championship.
The result would probably have made many basketball fans, die-hards and casuals alike, much happier. Most fans, it seemed, were pulling for Butler. Or rather, they were rooting against Duke.
That Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team ended up winning the event commonly referred to as March Madness is not sitting well with many fans. After all, the Blue Devils are the “true devils” for plenty of college hoops fans. Duke’s win was poorly received by folks on Twitter as “F—k Duke” became a trending topic less than an hour after the championship game went final. Message boards were filled with angst and anger that Coach K’s crew was able to hoist the trophy, the fourth in Duke’s history. I’m pretty sure that if you talk with your friends in the office this week, at least one will tell you how much he hated seeing the Blue Devils take the title. Or you might be that guy (or lady).
People have their reasons for hating Duke, of course.
Some reasons I’ve heard:
- Coach K “looks like a rat.”
- Duke “gets all the calls from the refs.”
- The Cameron Crazies, the loud mass of Duke students that fill Cameron Indoor Stadium for Blue Devils home games during the college basketball season.
- Former players like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Steve Wojciechowski, a.k.a. Wojo, are unlikable (or dirty).
- Duke is a team of “spoiled, privileged white guys” that can’t possibly be as good as the black-dominated teams fielded by other schools. (Never mind that there has rarely been a Coach K team bereft of a black player. This year’s team had Nolan Smith and Lance Thomas starting.)

Regardless, it is clear the Duke basketball squad is now one of those polarizing teams in American sports. They’re right up there with the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots, Detroit Red Wings and the University of Notre Dame football team as outfits that America loves to hate. With rare exception, opinion of those teams is pretty cut and dry: either you love them or you hate them. And those that hate them make it known to the world that they’ll take great pleasure in seeing those teams lose – badly.
Here’s the thing, though. If a team is hated and so many people aside from fans of the primary rival, they must be doing something right. Aside from an anti-New York sentiment, the Yankees would not be hated too much nationwide if they only had two championships instead of 27. (Yes, I smiled as I wrote that.) The Cowboys would not have as many detractors sans the five Vince Lombardi Trophies in Jerry Jones’ trophy case. The Lakers are not seen as some big, bad purple and gold menace if they have five titles instead of the 15 they’ve collected. Success breeds haters.
It also breeds viewers. For as much as fans hate certain dominant teams and players for “winning too much,” they also love to watch. Check out Safeco Field in Seattle the next time the Yankees are in town to play the Seattle Mariners. Who wants to bet the place won’t be packed? And it will be filled not only because Mariners fans support their team. It will be because they want to see the Yankees – and they want to see if their team can knock them off. Have a look at any NFL game where the Cowboys are the road team. Even if it’s against a team down on its luck like the Cleveland Browns, best believe Cleveland Browns Stadium will be filled with Browns fans lusting for the chance to see their team take out the guys with the stars on their helmets.
The ratings for those teams’ games also bear out the interest in watching the big-name teams play. And you can bet that Tiger Woods, back from his hiatus due to issues in his personal life, will attract a large television rating as he returns to the course for The Masters golf tournament this weekend.
A few new teams are entering that “love to hate” discussion. The Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending NHL Stanley Cup Champions and a frequent television presence thanks to superstar Sidney Crosby, are getting more hatred tossed their way. The Boston Red Sox, a team I dislike simply because of their rivalry with the Yankees, have become more loathed since winning a couple of World Series championships last decade. I’m pretty sure that LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers are in the crosshairs of hate now, simply because LeBron is seemingly everywhere. (Heaven knows how much hate he’ll get if he leaves the Cavaliers for the New York Knicks. By the way, LeBron. If you’re reading this, consider New York heavily. But ignore your friend Jay-Z if he keeps bringing that Nets nonsense your way.)
I’m confident the ratings for Monday’s national title game will be solid because it’s usually an appealing event. It’s more attractive when you have this David vs. Goliath story in Butler vs. Duke. (Even though true college hoops fans will tell you that Butler is a damn good team and not really worthy of the Cinderella label that fit George Mason University perfectly as GMU made a run to the Final Four in 2006.)
We love to see Goliath, even if we don’t necessarily want to see him win. One thing’s for sure. Reggie Jackson was right on when he said, “they don’t boo nobodies.”
So congratulations, Duke. Your team won a great game and deserves to hoist that trophy. And frankly, I don’t hate Duke and don’t mind seeing them win once in a while. (Unless they’re playing my beloved Syracuse University Orange. In that case, I’m a major Duke hater.)

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