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To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever

Bill Radke

Suzie Lechtenberg

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To Hate Like This...
(Harper Collins)
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The Object of My Affliction
MY LITTLE DUKE PROBLEM

by Will Blythe

"A man who lives, not by what he loves
but what he hates, is a sick man."
--ARCHIBALD MACLEISH

I AM A S I C K, S I C K MAN. Not only am I consumed by hatred, I am delighted by it. I have done some checking into the matter and have
discovered that the world's great religions and wisdom traditions tend to frown upon this.

Therefore, dear reader, I need your prayers. But even more than I do, the University of North Carolina's basketball team, the object of my
obsession, needs them. Here is the depth of my sickness. It is several years back on a beautiful afternoon during basketball season. The cable
is out. (Note to self: Kill Time Warner.) I am alone in my apartment in New York City, frantically hitting the refresh button on my computer screen, getting the updates of Carolina's shockingly bad performance against its archrival, Duke. So far, the Heels have shot 18 three-pointers and hit exactly five.

There is no end to my gloom. My father is in his grave, my marriage is kaput, my girlfriend is said to be in Miami (though what she is doing
there I can't say, since we're not speaking), I have no income, and yet the thing that is driving me over the edge is a basketball game that I can't
even see. North Carolina, my beloved North Carolina, is being brutalized by Duke, being outplayed by opponents who are too kind, too mannerly even to gloat. At least when your rival gloats, you know victory over you means something. Again and again, I hit the refresh button and am transported anew to a message board resounding with rending cries and moans from fellow Carolina obsessives, posting their dismay, miss by brutal miss. It's like tuning in to the distracted mutterings of old men alone on park benches, all over America. There are so many of us.

Grown men, presumably a lot like me, are spending their Sunday afternoon on the Inside Carolina message board, writing things like "I wanna hurl." BlueBlood cries, "My sixth-grade students are gonna rip me a new one."

While I myself never post, content to lurk, I've come to know the personalities of some of the posters. The clever but doomsaying Jeff Brown
opened one season by writing an amusing, if despairing, list with the title "We Just Have a Few Minor Problems." A guy calling himself The Critic, who gets on my nerves with his constant pessimism, says, "Good night, folks."

I won't eat. I can't eat. Or maybe I should eat, since there is the possibility, faint perhaps, that through a small, apparently unconnected action, like ordering sushi from the Malaysian place down the street, I will change the karmic pattern at work in this game. It's chaos theory and not to be sniffed at. What's that classic example--a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and two weeks later a major hurricane devastates the Bengal peninsula? Or, to put it in my terms, perhaps a tuna roll inside out will allow Jason Capel to actually hit a three-point shot. Maybe a bowl of chirashi will cause Brian Morrison to stop booting the ball out of bounds. And a nip of sake may teach goddamn Kris Lang (as he is known in my household) to hold on to the ball.

A former teacher of mine, a great scholar of Southern literature, believes that he can control games by maintaining the same posture throughout the contest and by doing some kind of weird voodoo gesture with his fingers every time an opposing player shoots a free throw. I'd rather try eating, so I order the sushi, but nothing works. Carolina is shooting 29 percent from the field, and Lang has exactly one rebound. Like a cancer patient, I continue to make bargains with God (who I am not sure even exists). But He must not be watching this game. Another Tar Heel three clangs off the rim. They lose by 26.

The message board erupts. Coolheel: "I could have shot 5 for 18 from 3 myself after having a six-pack, which was much needed to endure the flow of this stinker." UNCodeCorrect: "It's a huge shit sandwich and we're all going to have to take a bite."

Another fan writes, "I may have to sit out this year with a bad back," a pointed reminder of the hated Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's condition during the 1994--95 season, when the Blue Devils suffered a beautifully horrible time of it, finishing 13 to 18. Overburdened, Krzyzewski took a leave of absence from coaching that year. Rumors swirled through the Research Triangle of the Duke coach in tears, huddled in his bedroom, wrapped in a bathrobe, muttering more inanities than Dick Vitale. Now, the normal human certainly would feel sympathy for a man in such pain. But I am a North Carolina fan and by definition, at least when it comes to Duke, not a normal man.

***

I came naturally by my prejudice in this matter from my father, William Brevard Blythe II. He was a lifelong North Carolinian, born in Mecklenburg County in 1928. His childhood during the Great Depression was paradisiacal, or so he portrayed it to his children, whom he liked to tease for being "city kids." (Until we got older and learned to hit back, we would actually cry when he called us this.) He had a pony and a dog; he roamed through the woods and the fields without supervision; he and a couple of friends had the initiative to build their own tennis court when they decided they wanted to learn the game. Like his father before him and like me after him, he graduated from the University of North Carolina. He could not understand why you might want to live in some other place. He loved his home state (trees, birds, soil, fish, crops, counties, ladies, barbecue) in a way that few people seem to love their home states anymore, home being a quaint, antique concept in a nomadic and upwardly mobile America.

My father used to love to tell a joke about Duke, or, more specifically, about the difference between the University of North Carolina, in our hometown of Chapel Hill, and Duke University, which was only about eight miles from our house but a universe away in our affections. In a sense, it was a riddle about the difference between being and seeming, and it went to the heart of my father's values. He would even tell the joke to international visitors to our home, who had no idea what he was talking about but usually chuckled valiantly at the punch line. I remember in particular one homesick, bespectacled Egyptian grad student whom we had signed up to host one semester and who sat at our table one Friday night eating country ham and biscuits, earnestly trying to understand our views on Duke and North Carolina. How well my father understood this poor man's homesickness, having once spent three months in Alexandria helping set up dialysis units, listening every day to the muezzins' calls to prayer ringing from the minarets, which seemed to be summoning him not to Mecca but back to North Carolina.

"How can you tell the difference between a Carolina man and a Duke man?" my father asked the Egyptian, who thought for a while and finally shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of defeat. This was not a fellow who had spent much time pondering the fiery temper of Art Heyman or the buttery jump shot of Walter Davis. And then, proudly answering himself, my father said, "A Duke man walks down the street like he owns the whole world. A Carolina man walks down the street like he doesn't give a damn."

The Egyptian student laughed conscientiously, looking from one member of my family to the other to see if he was doing the right thing. We nodded; yes, yes, you got it. "Oh, that is so funny," he said. There are two kinds of Americans, it seems to me, with my father representing the first. Those for whom the word "home" summons up an actual place that is wood-smoke fragrant with memory and desire, a place that one has no choice but to proudly claim, even if it's a fallingdown dogtrot shack, the place to which the compass always points, the place one visits in nightly dreams, the place to which one aims always to return, no matter how far off course the ship might drift.

And then there are those citizens for whom home is a more provisional notion--the house or apartment in which one sleeps at night, as if American life were an exhausting tour of duty, and home, no matter how splendid, equaled a mere rest stop on the Interstate of Personal Advancement. I am biased against this kind of nomadism, no matter how well upholstered the vehicles. The loss of adhesion to a particular place seems ruinous, and those without the first kind of home wander through our nation like the flesh eaters from Night of the Living Dead.

A great many of these flesh eaters pass through the pseudo-Gothic arches of Duke University, "pass through" being the relevant phrase. Duke is the university as launchpad, propelling its mostly out-of-state students into a stratosphere of success. While hardly opposed to individual achievement, North Carolina, by contrast, is the university as old home place, equally devoted to the values of community and local service. That, at least, is the mythology many of us swallowed as we grew up. So that when one roots for one team or another in the Duke--North Carolina rivalry, one is cheering as much for opposing concepts of American virtue as for adolescent geniuses of basketball.

***

The basketball rivalry between Duke and North Carolina has become the greatest rivalry in college athletics, and one of the greatest in all of sports. It is Ali versus Frazier, the Giants versus the Dodgers, the Red Sox versus the Yankees. Hell, it's bigger than that. This is the Democrats versus the Republicans, the Yankees versus the Confederates, Capitalism versus Communism. All right, okay, the Life Force versus the Death Instinct, Eros versus Thanatos. Is that big enough? This is a rivalry of such intensity, of such hatred, that otherwise reasonable adults attach to it all manner of political-philosophical baggage, some of which might even be true. I know because I'm one of them. During the 2004 presidential campaign, candidate John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, could not resist jumping into the fray when he told a reporter for The Oregonian, "I hate Duke basketball." Yes, cautious John Edwards, a man determined to wage a coast-to-coast campaign in which he alienates not a single voter. But there he was out in Oregon, watching television in the company of a reporter, and there was the Duke basketball team, trashing another overmatched opponent on national TV, and Candidate Edwards, a North Carolina law-school graduate, could not contain himself, could not choke back his distaste. A grown man who had otherwise put away childish things, he still had to say it, how he hates Duke basketball. Of course, he has his counterparts who feel similarly about North Carolina basketball. Why should this be so?

The answers have a lot to do with class and culture in the South, particularly in my native state, where both universities are located. Issues of identity--whether you see yourself as a populist or an elitist, as a local or an outsider, as public-minded or individually striving--get played out through allegiances to North Carolina's and Duke's basketball teams. And just as war, in Carl von Clausewitz's oft-quoted formulation, is a continuation of politics by other means, so basketball, in this case, is an act of war disguised as sport. The living and dying through one's allegiance to either Duke or Carolina is no less real for being enacted through play and fandom. One's psychic well-being hangs in the balance.

What is behind the hatred, the collective ferocity? The solution to that mystery begins not with basketball itself, but with the universities in both fact and perception. The schools stand a mere eight miles away from each other off 15-501, the heavily traveled thoroughfare between Chapel Hill and Durham. Put two different notions of the universe in the same atom, as it were, and there's bound to be disturbances at the molecular level. In quantum terms, it's matter meets antimatter. In basketball terms, it's Duke versus North Carolina. As Mike Krzyzewski once said, "Forget the Big Ten. . . . We share the same dry cleaners. . . . There is no other rivalry like this. It produces things, situations, feelings that you can't talk to other people about. Because they have no understanding of it." So while the two schools are geographically close, they're a world apart in just about every other way.

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