Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Updated: October 26, 4:26 PM ET
The Red, White and Blue Devil
By Patrick Hruby
I hear Canada is a lovely place.
Clean streets. Cold beer. Universal health care. Home to a democratic society and the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships with a Mike Myers for every Alan Thicke.
Oh, and Mike Krzyzewski will never, ever coach the country's Olympic basketball team.
Don't get me wrong: I love the United States. I'm proud to be an American, despite our status as the world's leading exporter of Michael Bay movies. I'm not exactly standing on the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, teeth chattering, fluttering application for political asylum in hand.
But now that Krzyzewski has been tabbed to lead the U.S. national team, well, let's just say that northern Saskatchewan is starting to look a little more inviting.
Let me be blunt. For Duke basketball haters, myself included, the alliance of Coach K and Team USA is terrible news
and terribly confusing.
Imagine waking up one fine morning to discover that Dr. Phil has been appointed surgeon general. Or flipping on "Sesame Street" to find guest host Michael Jackson frolicking with Big Bird.
Picture the following headlines:
LIMBAUGH TO HOST MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
MIKE BROWN TAKES OVER RED CROSS
PARIS HILTON AND CARROT TOP SEX TAPE RELEASED
BILLY BUSH ELECTED PRESIDENT
Would you be angry? Distraught? Incredulous? Or just flummoxed?
In the case of Krzyzewski's Olympic ascension, the Duke anti-fan's answer is more like all of the above.
On one hand, we embrace the red, white and blue (and can't exactly root for France); on the other, we uniformly reject all things Blue Devils (helpful hint: AmEx cards will jam your paper shredder. Trust me on that one).
As such, we're a bit torn.
Granted, more reasonable fans might put aside petty abhorrence to unite behind a common cause, same as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. did in WWII. Up against Hitler? Stalin doesn't seem so mean.
To put things another way: Go with the Blue Devil you know. Or else pull for Slovenia.
Problem is, Duke detesters aren't magnanimous, let alone sane. We're small and spiteful, which is part of the reason we don't like the wildly successful, do-it-the-right-way Dookies in the first place.
Also, we remember Steve Wojciechowski's winning the National Defensive Player of the Year award, pretty much for leading the country in floor slaps. Oy.
Anyway, I digress. The point is that everyone who can't stand Duke faces an Olympic dilemma: Root with the heart or the spleen? For his K-ness, or against one's countrymen?
Either way, no good can come of this. And not because Krzyzewski stinks. To the contrary, Coach K, a Hall of Famer, is tops in the college game. He served as a Dream Team assistant. He'll probably perform admirably. He certainly can't do any worse than Larry Brown and John Thompson, especially since Kobe Bryant figures to play.
(Unless, of course Krzyzewski pulls a Thompson and leaves Bryant off the roster in favor of Stacey Augmon -- or some other guy who can't hit a jump shot without the help of a GPS system).
That said, a return to Olympic glory under Coach K would be at best annoying, at worst insufferable.
The Leading From the Heart (c).
The ceaseless talk of "special, special kids."
The lavish, condescending praise for bug-squashed opponents, even when said opponents hail from the war-torn Balkans and would be content with immigration visas.
Think those American Express ads were irritatingly ubiquitous (and ubiquitously irritating)? Just wait until Krzyzewski is aligned with official Olympic sponsor Visa. Duke loathers will long for the days of Dan and Dave. And if America's Coach brings home the gold? Forget a Sports Illustrated commemorative issue. Dante's "Inferno" would be more appropriate.
Sadly, an Olympic defeat wouldn't be any better.
Would Krzyzewski go home empty-handed? Sure. But not in satisfying fashion. It's one thing to enjoy Duke's losing to Michigan State; it's quite another to take pleasure in America's falling to some commonwealth that isn't even a state, such as Puerto Rico. When Team USA falls short against the likes of Carlos Arroyo, the humiliation taints all of us.
Besides, it's not like people would blame Coach K, anyway. Not after George Karl set the bar this high at the 2002 World Championships.
Win or lose, Duke detractors are bound to suffer. An Olympic post means more exposure for Krzyzewski. Which means more prep All-Americans in Durham. Which means more wins for the Blue Devils, unless said prep All-Americans turn out like Shavlik Randolph.
Worse still, the chances of Coach K's jumping to the NBA -- something I feverishly hoped for last summer -- are now remote. Rather than take over a crummy team like Atlanta and suffer a Lon Kruger-esque comedown, Krzyzewski can quell his pro jones by coaching the very best players in the world.
He gets dessert without dinner, the cure without the surgery, lottery talent without the lottery podium.
And Duke doesn't crumble in his absence, as the program did under Pete Gaudet.
GAUDET: "Do you expect me to talk, Bluefinger?"
BLUEFINGER: "No, Mr. Gaudet, I expect you to die. And also take responsibility for this 13-18 season. Into the memory hole!"
Faced with the prospect of Coach K in Beijing -- and Christian Laettner somehow sneaking onto the Team USA roster -- what's a Duke-basher to do? Grudging acceptance isn't an option. Yes, rivals become lovers all the time in romantic comedies; yes, the sports world is full of erstwhile villains becoming good guys, like Robert Horry leaving Los Angeles to play for San Antonio. However, college sports are different. They're the one place where loathing remains pure, unsullied by rampant player and coach movement.
Think of it this way: if the acquitted O.J. Simpson could still rush for 2,000 yards right now, he'd be a top fantasy pick, because pro fans have long since abandoned any pretense of loyal antipathy. Not so on campus.
Besides, Krzyzewski isn't actually switching sides; he's simply adding additional responsibilities to his ongoing role at Duke. Asking Blue Devils dissidents to look the other way is like asking consumers to buy Madonna's children's books while pretending that "Swept Away" and "Body of Evidence" never happened.
Consequently, the only real, lasting solution for Duke haters is to go bail out completely and find a new country. I don't mean a new country to root for; I mean a new country to live in.
Otherwise, we'll be no better than the legions of Duke fans who didn't actually go to school in Durham, or Notre Dame fans who haven't even visited South Bend.
Like beef? Try Argentina. Fancy the Baltic Sea? Lithuania's your place.
Full-blown expatriation may seem slightly drastic, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And really, if Coach K can learn to work the refs in Chinese, Duke detractors can learn a new language, too. Or just look north of the border for an easy way out.
Again, I'm not about to hop on the next flight to Toronto. I'm just saying that Vancouver was recently ranked No. 3 in a world cities quality of life survey. And I'm told the weather is quite nice.