The word “hate” is one of the strongest in the English language and shouldn’t be uttered all that freely. Yet, that’s exactly what sports fans do in regards to particular teams, and the realm of big-time college basketball in no exception.
When discussing the topic of exactly which college basketball teams are the traditionally the most despised in the land, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky seem to come up in the conversation a lot. Why is this the case?
Obviously, a major reason is because (to quote rapper DJ Khaled) "all they do is win." Winning is a great source of hatred and jealousy in the sports world.
While not very many fans don't hate a perennial loser, they also don’t struggle to muster up animosity toward a winner. And with a combined 15 national championships to their collective names, the Blue Devils, Jayhawks and Wildcats have done a lot of winning in their existence.
So it’s easy to see why these three programs are loathed by packs of bitter and jealous college basketball fans. But when it comes to determining exactly which of these three is the most hated, that’s not as easy to determine.
But that doesn't mean we won't try to handicap the hate.
Regarding the Jayhawks, they’re certainly hated by arch-rival Missouri, which is totally understandable. Those two states have no love lost between each other, ever since the famous Lawrence Massacre during the Civil War back in 1863.
Since then, the Border War rivalry between the Tigers and Jayhawks has been one of the most heated in all of college sports. As far as why Kansas is so despised by fans outside of Missouri, one of the reasons is because they’re a Goliath.
And as former legendary Jayhawk Wilt Chamberlin once proclaimed, “nobody roots for Goliath.” Animosity toward a team can also translate to hostility toward that team’s fanbase, and Kansas is no exception.
Just imagine a yahoo KU fan boasting about how Allen Fieldhouse is the best venue on the planet to take in a college basketball game. Or about the fact that the inventor of the sport himself, Dr. James Naismith, was the program’s first coach way back in 1898.
It’s certainly enough to make other fans nauseous.
And it certainly doesn’t help that the hated Roy Williams was the head man in Lawrence for so many years prior to his return to his alma mater, North Carolina. Those who can’t stand Williams find him to be the equivalent of a mean Forrest Gump with a Type A personality.
He has a clumsy and awkward appearance on the bench, accompanied by often flailing arms and a bitter scowl. And just in case this isn’t enough ammunition, Slate writer Jeremy Stahl mentioned a couple of years ago in a blurb about why he hates Kansas basketball: the fact that quite a few Jayhawks under head coach Bill Self’s watch have been agitators on and off the court over the years.
During his time with the team, former Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor got into a brawl with members of the KU football squad. Last year, former Kansas star Thomas Robinson was cited for a misdemeanor battery in connection with an altercation at a Lawrence nightclub.
And back in December 2010, former Jayhawk Mario Little was arrested for pushing his girlfriend into a sink. Obviously, Kansas isn’t the only program to see players occasionally get into trouble.
But it certainly gives those Kansas naysayers justification for hating on the Jayhawks.
When it comes to disliking Kentucky these days, the rotten tomatoes are being squarely thrown at head coach John Calipari. Fair or not, lots of fans have labeled Calipari the slick snake oil salesman of college basketball.
They consider him to be a cheater, albeit a quite successful one, at that. A big reason for this is the fact that two programs where Calipari previously coached at prior to his landing in Lexington—UMass and Memphis—were forced to vacate wins by the NCAA for rules violations after he left.
And although Kentucky hasn’t violated any major rules under Calipari’s watch, that hasn’t stopped fans from being suspicious of the slick snake oil salesman, especially considering how many top-ranked recruiting classes Calipari has racked up with the Wildcats.
Calipari has proven to be a great coach for Kentucky, but he hasn’t been the only one to grace the sidelines in Lexington. The first great Kentucky coach was the man for whom which the arena the team plays in is named after: Adolph Rupp.
But for as great a coach as Rupp—who won four national titles with Kentucky—was, his legacy has been diminished over the years by allegations of racism. Former NBA, ABA and Georgia basketball star Tim Bassett (who is African-American) recalled a few years ago the time when Rupp allowed an effigy of Bassett to hang from the ceiling of the Kentucky arena during a game between Bassett’s Bulldogs and Rupp’s Wildcats.
And who can forget the sports flick Glory Road, which told the true story of when the Texas Western team of all-black starters defeated the Kentucky team of all-white starters in the 1966 NCAA Championship game. And who was Kentucky’s coach that day? Adolph Rupp, of course.
Between Calipari, Rupp and former Kentucky coach slick Rick Pitino (who famously committed adultery in an empty restaurant), some of Kentucky’s coaches alone have made them a pretty loathsome program.
In terms of “most hated,” Duke takes the cake here. Over coach Mike Krzyzewski’s legendary three-decade run in Durham, his Duke teams have won lots of games and gained lots more haters in the process.
Why is Duke so despised? Where do I begin?
Certainly, ESPN and—more specifically—commentator Dick Vitale’s admiration for the Blue Devils over the years hasn’t helped Duke’s cause. Constant reminders from Vitale about how the Dukies are “awesome baby!” during each and every Blue Devils game he calls (which is at least one per season) has rendered many college basketball fans numb and bitter.
Many fans also can’t stand how Duke plays defense. Certainly, no team in the country tries to take charges more effectively—or more frequently—than Coach K’s Blue Devils. They do it so many times that many think Duke’s players are simply floppers.
But there’s one caveat that puts Duke ahead of both Kansas and Kentucky regarding who’s the most hated. Let’s not forget that Duke is a private school, while both Kansas and Kentucky are public, state-funded institutions.
When people think of private schools, they think of the elite social class. And when they think of the elite social class, they think of snobby, spoiled brats swimming in money.
Let’s face it, for centuries people have found it very easy to despise the upper class. And, right or wrong, many consider Duke to be upper class. Perhaps this explains the arrogant floor smacking from the Dukies or the cockiness of former Blue Devils like Christian Laettner (who once stomped on a player during the Elite 8), Greg Paulus, J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers.
If that isn’t enough, how about the fact that some bitter members of the media have compared Krzyzewski’s face to that of the (Blue) Devil. Sure, he has a pointed nose, but calling a coach who’s known for running a clean program the next coming of Satan just seems wrong.
Yet, that didn’t stop the Indianapolis Star from running a photo depicting Coach K as the Devil a couple of years ago.
From fawning commentators to floppers to a money-laden background to its iconic coach’s uncanny resemblance to an evil spirit, it’s rather easy to see why out of Duke, Kansas and Kentucky, the Blue Devils are the most hated of the three.