If you're a Duke University alumnus, booster or just a fan of the Blue Devils basketball team, stop reading. Seriously. Just turn the page, gently tap that Christian Laettner bobble doll and replay "The Shot" in your head.
Everyone knows that the Durham, N.C., university provides a top-dollar education. Most know its basketball team is one of the most successful in collegiate sports history, the kind of hardwood royalty that makes Dick Vitale regularly splosh himself from head to toe. It's also a team people really, really love to hate. Or in the case of Richmond native Reed Tucker, despise so much that he's written a nearly 200-page book listing the reasons why.
Tucker, who attended Clover Hill High School and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the early '90s, is a features writer at the New York Post. He co-wrote the new book, "Duke Sucks: a Completely Evenhanded, Unbiased Investigation into the Most Evil Team on Planet Earth" (St. Martin's).
The idea began a few years ago with a humorous basketball podcast, "Tar Heel Bred, Tar Heel Dead," which Tucker heads with co-author and friend Andy Bagwell of Cary, N.C. While researching episodes, they quickly learned that the hatred for Duke was a much larger phenomenon.
"The book is written in an over-the-top, combative style — but at the same time we wanted to have facts behind it," Tucker says. "The haters have said this stuff for years; our goal was to investigate to see if the claims held water."
The results are alternately shocking and hilarious. Among the findings: During the past decade of regular seasons, Duke has played only three true away games — that is, not in neutral arenas. There's also the fair-weather nature of the student fans, known as Cameron Crazies; easy seeding in the NCAA tournament; scandals and poor coaching records plaguing most of Coach Mike Krzyzewski's protégés; and yes, you'll even learn whether foul-mouthed Coach K dyes his unnaturally black hair.
"Some think people hate Duke because it's a rich-kids' school. I don't buy into that," Tucker says. "It's not that they have money or position, it's that they use that influence to get a better deal. They get the calls, their players get preferential treatment, they get better treatment in the media, which never calls Coach K on the bad things he does. It's fundamentally about fairness."
The book immediately sold out on Amazon.com, and there were lines outside of the bookstore in Chapel Hill. "If I learned nothing else, it was the power of social media," Tucker says. "The day of the Duke game [which Carolina lost on a last-second shot by Austin Rivers], the book rose to No. 218 Amazon sales rank — and that was us doing nothing but letting people tweet or pass it around on Facebook."
One of the book's most cutting criticisms is the school's lavish praise throughout the media, and the omnipotent Coach K's habit of calling the shots, both at the school and in the media. "I see [the access problem] in my job all the time," Tucker says. "If the news people write something nasty about a movie star, we won't be interviewing them."
So who is Tucker's least-favorite Dookie of all-time? That would be Roanoke native J.J. Redick, whose mind-numbing poetry (sample: "These words describe the soundtrack to my life's song / my mind and body united like the colors of Benetton") gets its own brief chapter, complete with a critique from a university writing professor.
"Redick probably embodied what people hate most about Duke: arrogance ... and a disconnect between the praise he gets and his achievements," Tucker says. "The media make him out to be the greatest shooter of all time. In reality, his stats show he was kind of middling. When he would return to play Virginia Tech, people from his high school in Roanoke held signs saying, 'Cave Springs hates J.J.' What kind of jerk do you have to be where your own high school comes out to tear you down?"
Tucker hasn't heard any response from the Duke program or ex-players — mostly just the expected love-it-or-hate-it blowback from fans. But the Raleigh News & Observer recently ran a piece on the book, placing it next to a story on the success of player Rivers, about which Tucker heard that "Duke basketball was not happy about and made it known [to the paper]."
"We've written our book, we've thrown our punch, now it's your turn," Tucker says, regarding the rivalry. "I don't think that will happen though, because it would be two pages of loose-leaf paper. ... I just hope we've ended the bar conversation for good." S