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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Post Where I Talk About Duke and UNC


Note: Tune in tomorrow for a fancy gamelog of tonight's game, replete with Dick Vitale jokes. I did one last year, too. It's a tradition just like this game!

I had originally planned some giant opus on the Duke-UNC rivalry, posturing on its cultural significance, the place within the cosmos of all its participants and, inevitably, some bit on how obnoxious Dick Vitale is. But as much as I enjoy the medium of a "blog" and its glorious place in this crazy sports world, us folk certainly do have a tendency to write -- many, many times over -- what could be best summed up far more succinctly and by perfectly capable beings much closer to the topic at hand. It's great for everyone to have a voice, but sometimes we need to make sure the voices of the masses don't drown out the voice that deserves most to be heard.

And when it comes to Duke-UNC, I don't think I could ever provide a more, compelling, insightful, earnest and downright moving portrayal than Will Blythe's book To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever, a book that seems to be mentioned a lot around this time of year, but given the appalling amount of ignorant, filled-with-hate-just-because hoops fans out there, probably hasn't been read by nearly enough people. It is my favorite sports book I have read to date (and he wrote a great piece on the game last year for Deadspin). Blythe, the former literary editor at Esquire, is a native North Carolinian, Chapel Hill grad and raging Heel fan. His book is not filled with ranting diatribes about AmEx commercials or the Crazies or Christian Laettner -- those are in still in there though, just not prominent -- instead opting to examine the true rivalry, the one that only those very close to either program can understand and the one completely obscured to 95 percent of hoops fans who choose to take a side in Duke-UNC.

It's not a matter of competition, it's a matter of culture. Duke, a small, private school filled predominantly with wealthy, out-of-state students is the antithesis of North Carolina. Duke is an infestation to a state that most North Carolinians have a very intimate relationship with, far more intimate than the transient New Yorkers or New Jersey-ites that end up at Duke have with their home state. North Carolina, and the university bearing its name -- a big, public university made up of many in-state students -- has a completely different culture than Duke. It is based heavily in Christian values; humility, family, hard work... and basketball. So when North Carolinians see this team of elite Northerners (and regardless of the players' actual backgrounds, they see the team as merely an athletic representation of the student body and the school's foundation) trying to best them at the one thing they hold dearest, and do it in a way (flopping, cursing, taunting) to which they simply cannot relate, well that's more than just wanting to win a basketball game. That's war.

And the best part about the book is the way this rivalry pertains to many other aspects of the author's life. When he moves to New York for career success and a fast-paced lifestyle, he feels as though he's betrayed his family and his state. He feels like a Dukie. And when his father becomes ill and he needs to move home, it takes that rivalry -- his love for the Heels ( symbolic of his roots, his family) and his hatred for Duke (symbolic of his Northern betrayal and his self-sufficient attitude) -- to allow him to truly appreciate the people he loves, the state he loves and the team he loves.

Now, THAT is a reason to care about this game. And, tonight, while most of us will scream at the TV, complaining about Duke's preferential calls, Greg Paulus' flopping, Taylor King's obnoxiousness or Coach K's complaints -- and bloggers and national media will write about all that tomorrow as well -- we will all, as a nation of hoops fans, think we really hate Duke. But the truth is, in the state of North Carolina -- where this rivalry actually matters -- the only voice they hear is the one coming from the other cushion on the couch.

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