The On Deck Circle

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Imaginary Player: How I Loathe Thee, Let Me Count the Ways

Posted by Blake Murphy on March 7, 2021

This article has been submitted by Trevor Smith aka The Imaginary Player.

“All that peace talk is deceased”- Jay-Z

There are a few elementary questions in this world that we must ask ourselves. Our answers to these essential questions are more imperative than one realizes, for they tend to go on to define our sense of identity and our very world perspective. Liberal or Conservative? Religion or Science? PC or Mac? In each case, the alternatives stand in such stark contrast to one another that no person can acceptably justify support for both. Vanilla or Chocolate? Godfather I or II? George W. or the English language? On these fundamental questions of existence, there can be no fence sitting. Dawson or Pacey? Jedi or Sith? Tupac or Biggie? Our responses reveal our character and decency. It truly is one or the other: equilibrium is out of the question.

It should surprise no one that these sorts of queries appear most often in the world of sports. The affliction known as fandom has a way of reducing almost every issue, almost every game, down to its lowest common denominator. Whether it is individuals (Ali or Frazier? Magic or Bird? Russell or Wilt?), teams (Sox or Yanks? Celtic or Rangers? Leafs or Anyone Else?), or philosophies (DH or Tradition? Coach’s Challenge or Ref’s Call? Jump Ball or Possession Arrow?), we as fans must all choose a side. These are the disagreements upon which a million sports bars have been built. This weekend, we will be treated to another opportunity to declare our positions on what I hold to be the most basic question of them all, a topic so pivotal that its significance is impossible to overstate. Good or Evil… or put another way, Carolina or Duke?

There are those that will tell you that Carolina/Duke is not sports greatest rivalry. They may point to India/Pakistan for cricket, Michigan/Ohio State for college football, or even the NFL’s Redskins/Cowboys, but the truth of the matter is that none of these are as fierce or as vigorous as the Battle of Tobacco Road. For those limited souls who are unclear as to the roots of the two groups’ contempt for one another, it can primarily be attributed to the proximity of the two institutions. Located a mere eight miles apart on Highway 15-501, the universities have always had disdain for one another, born of familiarity, but that hatred is brewed in social and economic imbalances. North Carolina a public state supported university, the oldest in North America (established in 1798) and one of the best academic state schools in the country. Duke, ivory towers and all, is a private school full of legacy kids and Super Sweet Sixteen alumni. Durham certainly is full of the best and the brightest America’s trust fund families have to offer…at least the ones that couldn’t get into Ivy League schools. In his fantastic book To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever, former Esquire editor and Tar Heel fanatic Will Blythe provides the most definitive and enjoyable portrait of the rivalry ever. He summarizes the epic battle for the hearts and minds of gym rats everywhere by writing that, “the rivalry may be a way of aligning oneself with larger philosophic ideals — of choosing teams in life — a tradition of partisanship that reveals the pleasures and even the necessity of hatred.”

“The thin line between entertainment and war”- Rage Against the Machine

As Dickie V will tell you, this is the fiercest blood feud in American athletics. Moreover, when one starts to peel back the layers of this feud, it becomes clear that it runs deeper than varying shades of blue and competing offensive game plans. UNC alum John Edwards (the Senator, not the Crossing Over “star”) threw political correctness out the window in 2004 and risked alienating half his voting base by publicly stating, “I hate Duke basketball.” This speaks to how this battle surpasses sports altogether. It is a conflict between the elite and the working class. It is this element, the sociological connection each team holds and the status they represent, that at least twice a year will turn friends against one another and families into rivals. Saying you bleed Carolina Blue says something about you as a person, just as does claiming you’ve camped out at Krzyzewskiville. True fans of either school have no hesitation admitting that their choice is a reflection of their identity. If someone suggested that the Capulets went to UNC and the Montagues were once Cameron Crazies, I would believe it. Grown adults behave like children and cry like babies every March as the ACC crown hangs in the balance. The fans and players alike bring out the very best, and the very worst, in one another. Ask anyone involved and they will tell you they would have it no other way.

This grudge goes beyond regionalism. How else does one explain that thousands of fans across the country and across the world hate one another over this sole issue? How else does one explain why, as a 12-year-old wide-eyed Canadian on vacation in Carolina, I was spurred to purchase a book titled “500 Reasons I Hate Duke”- a book I sleep with under my pillow. When I attended Duke basketball camp that same summer and played on the Cameron Indoor floor all week, all I could think about was tracking mud in from outside. I am literally thousands of miles removed from the eye of the storm, watching from another country, and I still feel nothing but pure hate flowing through my veins for the Reddicks, Paulus’, and Battiers of this world. To an outsider, I cannot hope to explain myself, because my behavior and attitudes are completely illogical. Most of the rituals I engage in as a Heels fan involve insulting past and present Blue Devils. I savor Duke losses almost as much as Carolina wins. This rivalry makes me insane. I am obsessed. And I don’t care. Basketball is my religion, the Dean Dome my St. Peter’s, and Coach K my version of the Morning Star. Yes, I need help.

“Got about as much compassion as The Passion”- Lupe Fiasco

With all the ardor and zest put into the feud off the court, it sometimes is easy to forget that the very best parts of this battle are the games themselves. Whether it is Jeff Capel’s buzzer beater, Marvin Williams’ and-one, or Psycho T’s bloody nose, the drama of the games themselves always delivers on the impossible hype. The Battle of the Blues dates back to the 1920s, but it escalated to its current form forty years ago, when Duke’s National Player of the Year Art Heyman fought Tar Heel Larry Brown, getting both players suspended. Soon enough the rivalry reached the level of Springfield-Shelbyville when Satan, er, Mike Krzyzewski elevated Duke into being a national contender and finally gave the Devils a punching chance against UNC’s Dean Smith, the Michelangelo of coaching (879-254 record, 96.6% player graduation rate). Coach K’s ability to recruit perfectly for his system leveled the playing field. Combine this new parity on the court with the emergence of ESPN and the increase in around-the-clock media coverage off the floor, and soon the rivalry came into the lives of every fan in North America.

The players that have taken part in this feud reads like a who’s-who of basketball legends: Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner. That said, the face of the battle lies with each school’s coaches. Smith is arguably the greatest college coach ever (he held the most wins ever until being passed by Coach K’s mentor, Bobby Knight, last year). He defined professionalism and commitment to excellence for over 35 years and is revered as someone who did things the right way, the ‘Carolina Way.’ Meanwhile, Coach K has won the sixth most games all-time, recently became the fastest ever to win 800 games, and has run a clean program for over 28 years (…that was extremely difficult to admit). Surely, star power is in mass supply on Tobacco Road, to the point that the rafters of Cameron and the Dean Dome could practically pass for a replacement for Springfield, Mass. A mere glance at the programs’ respective resumes points to the main reason the blue blood feud remains as fierce as ever, which is that by any definition these are two of the best programs of all-time:

• Duke has 3 national championships.
• Carolina has 4.
• Duke has been to fourteen Final Fours.
• Carolina has appeared in an NCAA-record sixteen.
• Duke is #4 nationally all-time in wins.
• UNC is #2.
• UNC leads the all-time series with Duke, 127-98.
• For the last 122 meetings, at least one school has been ranked in the AP Top 25. The last time UNC and Duke met when neither team was ranked by the Associated Press was on February 27, 1960.

Saturday is Senior night at Cameron. Whoever wins (writer note: it will be UNC), it will bring us another installment in the greatest reality show ever, where unscripted drama will pair with youthful enthusiasm to produce another memorable event and hopefully one hell of a basketball game. If there is any way you can be near a television, do yourself a favor, sports fan, and enjoy the best rivalry in college sports. After all, it’s March. Go on and enjoy the Madness.

This article has been submitted by Trevor Smith aka The Imaginary Player.

4 Responses to “Imaginary Player: How I Loathe Thee, Let Me Count the Ways”

  1. stu Says:

    UNC’s Dean Smith, the Michelangelo of coaching (879-254 record, 96.6% player graduation rate).

    So that’s why Vince had to go to graduation…Dean Smith kidnapped his family to protect his integrity.

    Who’s your most hated Dookie of all-time - I go with Battier. Man, I really hated him.

  2. TSmith Says:

    My most hated Dookie has to be Reddick…anyone that gives the shocker after hitting a big three at the Dean Dome needs to get slapped. The only other Devil that I can put in his category is Chris Burgess, but that is more for personal reasons (he was my coach at Duke camp as a kid and was the biggest prick I’ve ever met)

    Other notable candidates:
    - Wojo (the predecessor to JJ and Dickie V’s favourite player ever)
    - Battier (the guy flopped like it was his job…which I suppose it was)
    - Laettner (took Duke hatred to an entirely new level for everyone)
    - Shelden Williams (anyone that nicknames themselves ‘The Landlord’ is a chump)
    - Jason Williams (pre-accident, I HATEDDDDD him…now not so much)

    The only Dookie I would ever admit to liking: Trajan Langdon
    The Alaskan Assassin was one of the classiest guys I have ever met and a clean, deadly efficient player. If only he had gone to Carolina…

  3. Jack Says:

    Forget Duke and Carolina. Go Terps!

    In regards to the Battier comments: I didnt like him as a Juan Dixon/Maryland fan but you have to respect the guy for his leadership and giving it his all every night.

    I have the utmost respect for both programs and love to watch them play even when I rarely care who wins.

  4. Blake Murphy Says:

    What an awesome game. Not as razor-tight as previous encounters, but I’m excited to see the inevitable Rubber Match next weekend in the ACC tournament finals. That would go Sunday the 16th at 1pm if it happens.

    Psycho T!!!

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