Christian Laettner replied to my tweet, Coach K is retiring, but I can't root for Duke | Goodbread
For a minute there, Duke was all right.
Check that, Christian Laettner was all right.
It was the night of the 2015 premiere of the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, "I Hate Christian Laettner," and as a longtime fan of sports docs of all sorts, the film was appointment television in the Goodbread house. And somewhere amid the intentionally-exaggerated depiction of Laettner as a college basketball supervillain, I tweeted a rebuttal to the way the doc framed his NBA career as a bust. He played for some awful teams and never developed into an NBA star by any stretch, but he did put the ball in the basket a lot better than most would ever remember. The guy averaged 16-18 points a game in each of his first five pro seasons.
Laettner, clearly eyeballing his Twitter mentions during the doc's unveiling, tossed some thanks my way for the acknowledgement.
Admittedly, that made Laettner a little harder to hate.
As for his Blue Devils? I'd like to see North Carolina dump Mike Krzyzewski squarely on his outgoing butt Saturday night when the ACC rivals meet for the first time in NCAA Tournament history in a Final Four matchup.
Somehow, though I've never lived anywhere near Tobacco Road, Duke hate got to me, too.
Maybe it comes from rooting for a mid-major as a kid: Jacksonville University, which played on a Duke-like level for only one brief span in history when Artis Gilmore patrolled the paint for the mighty JU Dolphins in 1970.
Maybe it comes from having a couple relatives who are dyed-in-the-wool Tar Heels; a week ago, I watched Carolina's Sweet 16 win with a UNC-graduate uncle who barely blinked for two hours.
Or maybe it’s just the way Duke hate tends to permeate anyone who's not a Duke fan.
Whatever the reason, seeing the Blue Devils get bounced out of the tournament has always brought me just a touch of satisfaction.
In 2010, a couple hours before Alabama thrashed Duke’s football team 62-13 at Wallace Wade Stadium, the Blue Devils’ media relations team offered Alabama beat writers a guided walk through the fabled basketball grounds of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
A kind gesture, but I passed.
At the time, I rationalized it easily – The Tuscaloosa News hadn’t sent me all the way to Durham, N.C., to miss warm-ups. But the truth was, I just didn’t care for Duke basketball, and a tour of Cameron Indoor appealed to me no more than a look at the science building or the admin office.
To this day, I’ve still never seen Duke’s banners with my own eyes.
I don't carry the red-eyed hate for the Blue Devils that some do – there's a level of respect that a championship program and a coaching legend like Krzyzewski deserves even from detractors. I don't have a problem tipping a cap to Duke's sustained success, I'd just rather tip it to any underdog who comes along and upends it.
Carolina, of course, is no underdog in any classic sense of the word. It's a blue-blood program with a rich history of its own, which naturally engenders some outside hate of its own. But the spread on the game is Duke by 4, and it's a 2-seed vs. an 8-seed, so round up the slingshots.
The giant is ripe to fall.