While the Duke basketball name has always been loved or hated, its popularity, for good or bad, is at an all-time high.
Duke is Duke. Say the word and people automatically think of the five-time national champion Duke basketball program.
Every year around December, we seem to be treated to a great spectacle flying through the Durham skies. It shines bright and captures the imagination, soaring through the air as lights pop and twinkle in the background. We ooh and ahh, witnesses to the magical displays that make us dream of what might be as we wish hard for it to come true.
I am talking about a star, but I’m also talking about another bold four-letter word emblazoned brightly in the night. The lights of the camera focus on the letters of D-U-K-E for the whole world to see. They are a beacon for our attention, and Duke is the most brilliant star in the college basketball universe.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask ACC announcer and former Wahoo Cory Alexander, who called Duke basketball the only global collegiate brand during an ACC Network broadcast.
If you are a top recruit, it can make you shine bright and star on the court for all to see as well. Obviously, an incredible amount of hard work, dedication, and talent are requisite for this journey, but if the spark and will are present, there is no better stage than what the Blue Devils can offer.
No matter where you play, be it paint or perimeter, Duke can showcase you. No matter if you dunk it with flair or rain threes through the air, Duke will adapt to you. Whether it’s Irving or Ingram. Justise or Jayson. Jabari, Jahlil, and definitely Grant Hill. It could be Bobby or Bagley. JJ or RJ. Williams (you pick) or Williamson. Maybe it’s Christian or Dawkins. Battier or Brand. Danny Ferry and now Vernon Carey.
Mike Krzyzewski knows how to develop a team that caters to its best players.
What is Coach K’s system? The Duke basketball players are his system. Their abilities, both good and bad, are his system. Adaptability is his system. Where a player is best utilized to take advantage of his skills against the other team is his system. That’s why we have seen such a variety of players emerge from Duke, grab our national attention, and go on to continued success in the NBA.
We have all seen the commercials. We’ve all seen the video collages of tourneys past as Luther Vandross wraps the highlights of Christian Laettner’s shot and Grant Hill’s dunk in a smooth and buttery voice that makes those indelible moments even sexier than one thought possible. ESPN does not seem to have the same affinity in re-airing Wildcat or Tar Heel games as they do our Devils in blue.
It’s Jeff Capel from half-court in a game they still lost. It’s Austin Rivers from the deep wing over Tyler Zeller, stunning Ol’ Roy and UNC in a year the Heels won the title (sorry, writing that made me throw up in my mouth a little). It’s Zion Williamson doing pretty much anything and everything he wanted with the whole country, even in Kentucky and areas outside of Durham in North Carolina, people eating it up and begging for more. It’s okay, your secret is safe with us.
When you see the college basketball promos on ESPN, it always starts and/or ends with a Duke basketball jersey splashed across the screen for all to see. Duke has pros, presidents and popular entertainers coming to its games. It has Hall of Famers watching their kids play, or not, from under the brim of a Duke hat.
It’s former All-Americans and NBA multi-millionaires sitting right behind the bench, smiling and laughing and loving being back at the old stomping grounds. Duke is headline names in primetime games and the best location, as Zion proved last year, to build a brand to become a national superstar.
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Duke basketball puts a charge in the air and people in the seats. It sells out away games with fans hoping for a miracle; a memory; a court storming, party-filled night of epic proportion that gets hazily recalled in bits and pieces but grows more cherished and special each time it is remembered. It makes the pain of defeat, with a victory snatched away in yet another moment of must-see Blue Devil brilliance and bravado, that much more devastating.
Duke basketball and the royalty of its brand, as regal as the blue on their backs, makes players loved and hated. Among their adversaries, they become heroes and villains who are despised in public and admired in private.
The letters of Duke are hard to earn and even harder to excel in, but if you can do it, they can make you a legend. They can make you a goat. They can make you remembered. They can make you a star.