I used to really like March Madness. I was lucky enough to attend Stanford when its men’s team went to the Final Four. And I was smart enough to know that that success wouldn’t stay around forever. So my interest has waned a bit as my rooting interests have stopped being competitive. Coupled with Taylor Branch’s article last October, I was half expecting to not be interested in the tournament at all this year.

But as always, once the brackets came out and games started being played, I found myself lapsing into old habits and following the scores, supporting the underdogs, and rooting against Duke.

This year though, I found myself questioning why I’m anti-Duke since, in many ways, Duke embodies what I like seeing in the teams I support.

At the same time, there’s something which turns me off. Still. To the best of my understanding, it’s a reaction to how Duke is constantly portrayed as having the best coach, best fans, and what the sport should be about. Which makes me realize that I would probably root against Barcelona now had I not jumped on the bandwagon before they were the “greatest team ever.”

This isn’t just about gloryhunting or being a sports hipster. It’s about the sense of entitlement and expectation of success which accompanies certain teams* and their followers. And I’m disappointed to see that Barca is one of those teams now. When a fanbase takes on the persona that it feels entitled to victory, I instinctively root against that team. Same thing when the media hype machine seizes on a team or athlete.

*e.g. The Yankees, or Real Madrid

In many ways, I think this encapsulates a lot of my approach to all sports. I tend to root for the comeuppance storyline. People feeling entitled to a win?* Root against. People making the storyline about something bigger which has nothing to do with sports?** Root against. Big time media hype? Root against.

*This includes conspiracy theorists, referee blamers, and the irrationally angry since those are all manifestations of entitlement—i.e. we only lose unfairly.

**Basically any story except plucky underdog (e.g. Jeremy Lin) or redemption (e.g. Ghana’s 2012 ACN)

Especially with those sports where I don’t care as much about the style of play. I would have a hard time truly rooting against the current Barça team because of how they play the game. Ball movement, the use of space, pulling defense out of shape, etc. are all what I consider beautiful about soccer.* It’s what I like about hockey too. And what I enjoy when I watch basketball.

*I used to dislike North Carolina even more than Duke but I don’t anymore. I’ve found myself enjoying watching UNC play, mainly because the secondary break is closer to what I enjoy watching.

With basketball though, things too often degenerate into one-on-one play, impatient three-point shots, and tunnel-vision fast breaks. It’s too easy for one player to take over. So my interest wanes and I end up rooting for the team in dark jerseys.

I suppose this also explains why I can’t stand watching the NBA.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

3 thoughts on “Anti-Duke”

  1. Pingback: Winning | n j w v

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