Duke coach Mik Krzyzewski
(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - For Owen Davis, it started around the time a large Duke student wrapped his hands around Davis' neck, coming from behind on press row at Cameron Indoor Stadium after Davis made a disparaging remark about a Duke player.
It was a Duke-North Carolina freshman game in 1967. Davis, who would go on to graduate from UNC in 1970 and go from there to a career in sports journalism, knew all about hating Duke long before it became the popular thing to do in this country.
ESPN's Jay Bilas knows all about it as well.
"I don't profess to understand the depth of it," said Bilas, a college basketball analyst who helped bring Mike Krzyzewski's program to prominence as a player and assistant coach in the 1980s and early '90s. "But there's no question it's out there."
For Davis, it's personal. And when he watches college basketball, he's a self-proclaimed "ABD guy."
Anybody But Duke.
"There are a lot of ABD people in North Carolina," said Davis, a former Detroit Free Press deputy sports editor who lives in Clemmons, N.C. "In this state, in terms of fan support, it's North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke, in that order. But go up to Montclair, N.J., and they probably all love Duke."
When No. 2 seed Duke (29-5) and No. 3 seed Michigan State (27-8) play in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, it will be a matchup of two of the most successful college basketball programs in the nation. That has been true of MSU for 15 years under Tom Izzo -- it has been true of Duke for nearly 30.
And for various reasons over that time, Duke has become the team people want to see lose. Simply by opposing the Blue Devils on Friday, the Spartans figure to pick up some fans.
Duke-hating websites and YouTube rants are abundant, including truthaboutduke.com, a site devoted to the trashing of Krzyzewski, his players, the private university in Durham, N.C., that employs him and the student "Cameron Crazies" who hurl clever -- some say crass -- barbs at opponents in hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"It's totally absurd," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said of anti-Duke sentiments. "I find it mind-boggling."
Duke is viewed by many as an elitist institution, filled with affluent students from the Northeast, cheered on only by those students or by people with no affiliation who just want to latch on to a winner.
"Their students would yell, 'You're just a bunch of grits!' at us," Davis said of a derogatory reference to Southerners. "Their fans are either at a very high income level or a very low income level."
Krzyzewski is viewed by some as a whiner to officials, and his low number of media interviews contributes to the image of a high-and-mighty ruler, bunkered up in basketball offices that require all would-be entrants to run their fingerprints through a biometric scanner.
He's actually a great guy, Bilas said, a "roll-up-the sleeves" hard worker who has much in common with Izzo. But when health problems threatened his career longevity in the mid-'90s, he decided to cut way down on his public obligations.
"And when your image is presented for you," Bilas said, "that creates problems."
But it's not just Duke the school and it's not just Krzyzewski the coach. It's the players. Christian Laettner. Bobby Hurley. Steve Wojciechowski. J.J. Redick.
"How do you not like Shane Battier?" Bilas said of the Birmingham Detroit Country Day product.
"We used to call him Shane Floppier," said Davis, a reference to the many, many charges Battier took as a Blue Devil.
Duke has given college basketball some of its biggest villains over the years, whether they deserved it or not.
"Let's take Mateen Cleaves and Steve Wojciechowski and have them switch jerseys," Bilas said. "Michigan State fans would have absolutely loved Wojciechowski, that toughness. Christian Laettner is a really good guy, but when he got on the court people didn't like him -- for one thing, because he beat them.
"Laettner would have loved playing for Tom Izzo and Tom Izzo would have loved Christian Laettner. Now imagine Draymond Green in a Duke jersey. The nation would have found a way to hate that smile."
At the same time, Bilas said, Green "probably would have been national player of the year" in a Duke jersey last season.
And that's where much of the backlash seems to originate. And much of it is aimed at Vitale -- snidely nicknamed "Dukie V" by anti-Duke fans years ago.
The perception that Vitale favors Duke is so prominent, the Wall Street Journal did an analysis this month of five Duke games called by Vitale this season. It was determined that 13% of his comments were "gushy" toward Duke, but he was 11% "gushy" toward Duke opponents.
Vitale pointed to that as evidence that he isn't biased toward the Blue Devils, but he also said they've earned more praise than others by winning consistently and "doing it the right way."
"What is there to criticize?" Vitale said. "People say, 'Dick, you favor Duke.' I don't favor anybody. I tell the truth."
But to some, the "truth" is a matter of opinion that ends up downgrading others. As Bilas said, saying a program "does it the right way" suggests others do it the wrong way.
Izzo's first NCAA tournament encounter with Duke came at the 1999 Final Four. It was MSU's first national semifinal in 20 years, but Andre Hutson, then a sophomore forward, said the chance to take it to Duke might have been the biggest motivator for the Spartans.
"The media makes Duke look like a higher-class team or school," Hutson said. "So as a player at another school, you develop that hate for Duke pretty easily. It was almost like if you weren't recruited by Duke, you weren't looked at as that quality of a person or player. Like you were a bad guy. So you really wanted to beat them."
That Duke team, one of the most talented of Krzyzewski's tenure, beat MSU, 68-62, in St. Petersburg, Fla., before losing the national title game to Connecticut.
Former MSU guard Maurice Ager said he and his teammates had similar motivation entering a 2005 Sweet 16 game with Duke, the only other NCAA meeting between Izzo and Krzyzewski. The Spartans won, 78-68, and the prevailing image was Ager soaring over the head of Redick for a dunk.
The play was celebrated because it was an extraordinarily athletic play -- but also, perhaps, because it came at Redick's expense.
"I must hear about that play once a month, still," Ager said.
It wasn't always this way. Bilas remembers when he was an assistant for Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils were trying to upset mighty, unbeaten UNLV in the 1991 Final Four.
Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels were the bad guys. Laettner, Hurley and Co. were the good guys, trying to avenge an embarrassing title game loss from a year before.
UNLV guard Greg Anthony had been told that year by the NCAA that he would have to give up a T-shirt business or be ruled ineligible.
"If he played for Duke," Bilas said, "he would have been entrepreneur of the year."
The Blue Devils prevailed in a thrilling stunner, won it all two days later, and that may have been the tipping point. Laettner and Hurley weren't gritty underdogs anymore and they repeated the next year - the first two of four Krzyzewski titles.
He also has 11 Final Four appearances, a Division I record with 956 victories and the most NCAA tournament wins in history with 81. And for all the reasons people find to hate Duke, that consistent success provides constant fuel.
"People hate the Yankees - no one hates the San Diego Padres," Davis said.
"People want to take shots at you," Vitale said. "They build you up and then they look to bring you down. It's just a simple fact of life."
That doesn't mean it's true for everyone. Even Ager, all these years later, said that while it's "easy to hate Duke," he'll find himself enjoying Blue Devils basketball if it's on the tube.
"To be honest," Ager said. "Duke has given me some of the best basketball watching of my life."
So the Duke family and the Duke fan base aren't totally alone in saying nice things about the Blue Devils. There are basketball purists out there who enjoy the way they play, and there are upcoming opponents on the schedule.
Take MSU senior center Derrick Nix, who was asked Monday why so many people dislike Duke.
"I don't know," Nix said. "I like Duke."
Contact Joe Rexrode: 313-222-2625 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode. Check out his MSU blog at freep.com/heyjoe.
Detroit Free Press