The Diary of a Black Duke Fan
Oh, the irony!
by Carron J. Phillips / @MrPhillips1983
No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you like a Geto Boys song; I really love Duke basketball.
I’ve been a part of the minority my whole life. I’m a 27-year-old black man who has never been arrested, has zero baby mamas and I’m working on my second degree. I’m not a statistic by any means, so the fact that I’m a huge Duke fan and have no scholastic ties to the school make me sort of a super minority.
The funniest thing about this whole situation is that I’m from Michigan, and that North Carolina used to be my favorite team. Now I know what you’re already thinking. Yes, I watched as Duke creamed my beloved Fab Five in ‘91 and ‘92. I also cried the night Chris Webber called “the timeout” in ‘93 when we lost the national title to the Tar Heels. But, while the Fab Five (they still exist to me) is my favorite team of all time and Michigan football is my favorite program on the planet, my love for basketball teams has matured as I’ve grown older.
In ‘91 and ’92, I was 8 years old and I cheered against Duke and Carolina because they beat us. That’s what you were supposed to do in the state of Michigan. But as I got older and understood the game better, my attraction to the Tar Heels started to grow. It began with JR Reid and grew even more when the ’98 team hosted names like Shammond Williams, Ed Cota, Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter. I was Tar Hell blue through and through, until one day everything changed.
I’ll never forget it.
Carolina was having a down year during the ‘00-01 season with Matt Doherty as the new head coach. Joe Forte and Kris Lang were the team’s best players, and I was frustrated at what was going in Chapel Hill. One Saturday afternoon I was sitting on our dark green leather couch and decided to watch TV. Nothing that interested me was on, so I decided to watch a Duke game. I was just going to watch until something better came on.
You have to remember that this was back when the Preview Channel would only rotate three channels at a time, so it felt like it took 30 minutes to figure out what was on TV.
So I’m sitting there eating some Cheetos and half way paying attention to the game until my right eye caught a blur running across the screen. I saw this white jersey grab a rebound and push it down the floor. He broke the ankles of the defender at half court, and took it all the way to the rack.
“Wow, who is that?” I said.
Soon enough I found out that the guy wearing No. 22 was Jason Williams. By this time I had put the Cheetos down and was watching in awe as this freshmen was the best player on the floor. This little dude had boogie, and he was nice.
I watched as this team that I was instructed to hate played this full court man-to-man pressure defense, shoot a bunch of threes, and run teams out of this loud building they called Cameron Indoor Stadium. I saw this coach who everyone said looked like an evil mouse get his guys fired up in the huddle, and there was this frenetic student section that was going bananas in the stands like a zoo full of monkeys rolling on E pills; and I absolutely loved it.
As time went on I started to watch every Duke game, because every Duke game really does come on TV. And as Carolina continued to suck under Doherty’s tenure, I slowly started to switch shades of blue. But I was still torn because the prior year I emphatically told anyone who would listen that Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin were going to shock the world by beating one of the best Duke teams of all time. People thought I was crazy because that Duke squad in ’99 had names like Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, William Avery, Corey Maggette and Shane Battier; and Maggette came off the bench.
But fast forward to the 2001 national title game when Duke defeated Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson and Jason Gardner to make up for the title they should have won in ‘99. As I watched Mike Dunleavy go JJ Redick on Arizona in the second half (before we even knew who JJ Redick was), it was then that I knew that I had sold my soul to the devil — a blue devil.
Ever since Jason Williams introduced me to Duke Basketball on that Saturday afternoon, I have been hooked. I went and did all my research on the program and learned all about Coach K’s legacy and all the greats who played there. When most people realize that I’m a Duke fan, they instantly asked me why… because no 6-4 black dude from Michigan who’s a HBCU alum should ever root for Duke. But once they realize that I know more about the program than most of their graduates, they figure that I cheer for Duke because they always win. But that’s not it either; I’m a Duke fan because of the experience. I love the Cameron Crazies, the floor pounds, the un-athletic white boys who always take the charge, the pressure defense, the threes and, of course, Coach K.
People forget that when Coach K Basketball came out on Sega Genesis back in the day it was the No. 1 video game out. So don’t try to play my man like that.
But aside from all of that, I love the fact that everyone hates Duke and anyone associated with them. There is nothing like being in sports bar during Match Madness and you’re the only Duke fan taking on the entire bar just because they want to see your team lose. It happens to me every single March, and I look forward to it.
In 2007 I sat there and watched Eric Maynor from VCU cut our hearts out as we lost in the first round. The next year it was more of the same when West Virginia sent us home in the second round. In 2009, I watched what I believe to be our worst shooting night in school history as Scottie Reynolds and Villanova bounced us in the Sweet 16. But it was all worth it last March when I saw my guys Scheyer, Thomas and Zoubek cut the nets down in Indianapolis when nobody thought we could win it.
As I grown man, I can admit that I cried that night because I was so happy. And the next time we win it, I’ll more than likely cry tears of joy again.
So as another great start to a season has began in Durham. I proudly cheer for my team louder than most of the people who actually have Duke student IDs. I will continue to embrace everything that is Duke basketball. I hate Harrison Barnes because he supposedly told our coaching staff to “save the No. 40 for me,” but decided to shock the college basketball world when he signed with Roy Williams. I check Kyrie Irving’s twitter page everyday hoping that he tweets something positive about his toe. I constantly get into arguments with Duke haters, and even almost got fired from a job once because I had an altercation during the Duke/UNC game.
So the next time you go out to watch the Tournament in March and you see a tall black dude going ham during a Duke game, but he doesn’t look anything at all like a Duke alum. It’s probably me, but don’t speak to me until after we’ve won the game or you will see blue fames flickering in my eyes.