Category Archives: Essays

Dean Smith Endorses Obama; Is Coach K Next To Endorse?

Duke and North Carolina’s basketball programs have become more entangled with presidential politics than perhaps any of their competitors. Reggie Love, a former Blue Devil walk-on, is Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s bodyman, and last year, Obama ran in a five-on-five scrimmage with the Tar Heels, astutely observing that the players on this year’s preseason No. 1 were “a lot better” than him. Lest you think Obama has an unbreakable allegiance to the Tar Heels, he did ball wtih former Duke point guard Chris Duhon and 6-foot-7 former Duke center Alison Bales last year.

And now we can add this curveball to the equation: legendary North Carolina head coach Dean Smith and his wife, Linnea, endorsed Obama in an e-mail sent to Obama supporters Monday morning. (E-mail after the jump.) Apologies for mixing sports metaphors. Further apologies for cliched metaphors.

Most college basketball fans know that Smith and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski were never the best of friends. Smith represented the old guard, and Krzyzewski the new. And even though Krzyzewski seems more like Smith every day (a column for another day), it’s clear that they would still trade barbs on political issues. In 2002, Krzyzewski hosted a fundraiser for Republican Senate nominee Elizabeth Dole at the Washington Duke Inn on campus, inciting a swarm of unexpected and primarily negative media attention. What’s more, the event was dubbed “Blue Devils For Dole” and the invitations were sent to an undisclosed list of recipients, prompting accusations of University endorsements. (Former New York Times columnist Selena Roberts penned a witty column off the controversy four years before she failed miserably in covering another.)

Smith has made his move, supporting the increasingly popular candidate in this state that has swung from Republican stronghold to battleground to leaning Democratic in the past year. It’s not likely that Krzyzewski supports the same candidate. But will he endorse Republican presidential nominee John McCain? Given the ensuing firestorm the last time he made a political move, we don’t think so. Then again, his national profile has never been higher having led Team USA to a gold medal in August.

Moreover, should Krzyzewski publicly endorse? That is, is it the role of a college basketball coach to send out an e-mail to an (undisclosed) list of political supporters? (We must note that there is a difference between Smith and Krzyzewski; one is employed by a university, the other is not.) Professors are free to make their views public, and some are actively engaged in the local political scene. Then again, Krzyzewski is in a different position than your average tenured English professor. It is possible, after all, to associate his endorsement with that of the University–which is the exact reason Duke President Richard Brodhead has abstained from commenting publicly on the historic race.

It’s certainly something worth asking Krzyzewski at his first press conference of the season Friday. After all, the difference between Smith and Krzyzewski has has once again proven to be more than just a slight shade of blue.

–by Ben Cohen Continue reading

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What If Cameron’s Scoreboard Is Ugly?

Courtesy of Duke Athletics

Courtesy of Duke Athletics

At least for now, forget about luxury boxes, renovations, changes in student seating or any of the myriad issues that will prompt heated discussions about the future of Cameron Indoor Stadium. The most hallowed college basketball arena in the country (if Bilas says so, it must be true!) needed a new scoreboard to replace the outdated eyesore that hung from the rafters, and installing a new, high-tech apparatus (or, as Duke Athletics wrote in its release, a “centerhung scoring and video display”) filled a void. Introducing 21st-century progress to the arena does nothing to demean its unique quaintness, and is certainly not an NBA-zation of the decidedly college stadium. Upgrading the scoreboard was a surefire way to modernize Cameron without installing air conditioning or making room for Dick Vitale behind the scorer’s table.

In theory, of course. But the practical application of a new scoreboard raises a new set of objections, far from basketball purism or upholding tradition. What if the four new LED screens and instant replay don’t enhance the game because they’re too painful to watch?

That is: What if the new scoreboard is ugly?

That’s the first thing that struck me when I noticed the graphic accompanying the athletic department’s statement from Friday

Visual representations are far from perfect (and, to GoDuke’s credit, there are nine photos of workers preparing to raise the scoreboard), but the provided image is not aesthetic in the least bit. Then again, it does look like it was drawn hastily in Paint. Still, the mere notion of the scoreboard being a downgrade from the old one never occurred to me as I tried to figure out whether Gerald Henderson had zero points or eight by discerning the bulky light dots, or when my friends and I debated whether Marty Pocius really did foul (even now, the odds of the powers-that-be showing events whose replay disadvantages Duke seems slim).

I’ll be happy to eat my words, because that would imply that the scoreboard is a success, making the process of reporting a game easier for a journalist and simplifying the action for the Cameron Crazies. But if not… well, then, let’s hold off on those Cameron restorations and fix what’s broken.

Anyone been around Cameron in the last few days and have photos?

–by Ben Cohen

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Who’s Your Best High School Athlete?

Over at the always-entertaining D.C. Sports Bog today, The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg (he of “Pimp My Sneaker” fame) has a post about the best high school athletes he and some of the more esteemed members of his newspaper have ever seen. On the early list: Adrian Dantley, Dwight Howard, Tiger Woods, Tedy Bruschi and Delonte West. Not too shabby.

We’d love to hear your opinion. Feel free to name the best high school athlete you’ve seen in the comments section below.

Here’s my tome of an offering, after the jump. Continue reading

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