As Duke ran out of its locker room for the final time before tip-off in its first exhibition game against Northwest Missouri State, the Blue Devils took the court donning all black.
But Duke was not wearing the all-black jerseys it's sported on the road over the years.
Instead, the Blue Devils took the floor wearing shirts with the word 'EQUALITY' written across the chest.
In a year when the line between sports and a turbulent political climate has blurred to an unprecedented extent, Duke made its opening statement in what is likely to be a year-long topic of interest for even casual college basketball fans.
“We had a few discussions as a team about what’s been going on in the country specifically with the national anthem, and we decided that as a team we would stand and wear the equality shirts," senior Grayson Allen said. "What that would symbolize basically is a sentence that everyone knows, 'One nation, under god, with liberty and justice for all.'”
The intrigue only built as it came time for the national anthem at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Although a slew of players across the NFL have either taken a knee or decided to stay in the locker room, it has yet to be seen what the response in college basketball would be.
“All of our guys want to stand,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Not everybody wants to put their hand over their heart, and they don’t have to do that. Some guys put their heads down because they’re praying. Some people put their hands on the side or in the back."
For the next two hours, the Blue Devils brought the Cameron Crazies to their feet with a dazzling display of cohesion for a team with a combined 12 freshmen and sophomores. The steady perimeter play of Allen and freshman Gary Trent Jr. complimented the interior presence of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. as Duke ran away from the Bearcats early in a 93-60 win.
But back in the locker room, questions remained about the Blue Devils’ opening statement—and not the one they made with their play.
“We went out and made sure that everybody was doing the same thing,” Carter said. “We were all involved. Coach brought it to our attention and we all said how we felt about the situation. We all made a plan together.”
But Carter’s explanation of the team’s motivation did not stop there. After digging in his locker for a few seconds, the freshman pulled out a picture with the message Duke plans to stick by throughout the season.
“It’s part of the Pledge of Allegiance, and it’s basically what our program and our school is about,” Krzyzewski said as he saluted military service members in attendance at the postgame press conference. “That’s what we want our country to be. That’s why we stand in reverence to the men and women who have served our country, who have protected those rights, but also for every race, every gender, every religion.”
Facing the challenge of molding one of the youngest teams in program history, Krzyzewski and his coaching staff likely expected having to consider the best way to prepare their team for the high-pressure situations it will face in conference play.
But the Blue Devils decided they needed their response to one of the nation’s most divisive topics before the regular season even got under way. Although Krzyzewski did not address any hypothetical scenarios about a player choosing to kneel, the head coach made it clear that his team will stay united through any circumstance.
“We wanted to initially let everyone know, when we stand, that’s what we stand for, and we don’t have to wear it all the time, but tonight, we did because it was the first time that this group stood together,” Krzyzewski said. “We are who we are, and we did that and so be it. I’m proud of our guys. I think it’s a heck of a statement.”
On some nights, the scoreboard at Cameron is what draws the attention of fans in the bleachers and writers on press row. But of late, it’s simply not possible for everyone involved to stick to sports.