“White Devils” was originally published in March 2010, shortly before Duke University’s men’s basketball team won that year’s National Championship.
Duke’s 2010 team was remarkably White, even for Duke. So was Duke’s final opponent, Butler University, whose “Cinderella” squad was lead by academic All-American Gordon Hayward. The match, considered one of the best Championship games ever played, has since come to be known as “The Hated vs. The Hoosiers.” Krzyzewski would later remember the game, in coded language, as somehow existing outside the realities of “big time” college basketball:
When the teams were out there, nobody watching was thinking, This pro and that pro. Where will they go in the draft? It was just about these kids at Butler and those kids at Duke. The word people kept using with me was pure. It just seemed pure.
Much has changed at Duke since 2010. Its 2013-15 squads have had all-Black starting lineups. More important, the team does not feature the stand-out White athletes whom Krzyzewski recruited in the past, that is, the smart, tough, cocky, often good-looking players—Ferry, Laettner, Wojo, Redick, Scheyer—whom opposing fans love to hate.
Deadspin charted the racial makeup of each Duke team since ’94. Though no pattern emerges in terms of wins and loses, what is clear is that these past few years’ teams are Duke’s Blackest, and that its teams have been darkening for the past eight years. In other words, it appears that Duke is becoming just another Division I college basketball program.
It’s worth speculating about what inspired Coach K to buck the dominant recruiting trends in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. It’s also worth asking, What changed?
Perhaps these past years have been an aberration? After all, Duke became noticeably Whiter during the period of 2002 through 2009.
There is reason to believe, however, that Duke and Krzyzewski have engaged in an “image makeover” of the team and university.
The Duke Lacrosse Hoax of several years ago remains important and relevant today not only as an example of prosecutorial misconduct but of how a major university can be mobilized around race hysteria. A scandal occurred, one that, as I wrote at the time, reached the faculty “as a kind of fulfillment of a dream . . . an affirmation of what they always knew.” The facts be damned—committees were convened, anti-hate vigils were held, and the spoils were enjoyed. That is, the existing “diversity” infrastructure in admissions, programming, and curriculum were permanently ratcheted up many notches.
Krzyzewski has been so successful at Duke that a quasi-cult exists around him and his teams; he seems un-fireable and far too powerful to be swayed by the “tenured radicals” on campus or even the administration. But perhaps he was? Or perhaps the Duke Hate finally got to him? In an effort of “civic nationalism” (Coach K is a Republican donor), he may have chosen to create yet another institution that is implicitly White (preppy, disciplined, corporate, etc.) yet explicitly “color blind” (in this case, mostly Black).
So much of my youth was dominated by playing sports (not particularly well, I must admit) and sports fandom. As I’ve reached my 30s, my desire to follow any major team has all but vanished. This is due to age, to be sure, but also to my sense that sports exist as a false consciousness (quite powerful and widespread amongst lower- and middle-class White people) of community, belonging, and victory. As such, contemporary sports block real community, belongings, and feelings of victory.
Nevertheless, Duke’s most memorable (and most hated) players and teams remain as a kind of “alternative reality” to the fate of American sports—and to that of the country itself.