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A love letter to Duke Basketball

cameron cravings

Graduation is just over two months away, and I couldn’t be more excited to leave. I want to no longer live, work, eat and sleep all in the same place. I want to not run into vague acquaintances on a Saturday morning when I’m disheveled and eating a cookie for breakfast. I want to never have to read or write another Sakai forum post in my life. I cannot wait to graduate.

But this week, I will go to my very last game as a Cameron Crazie. And that hurts like hell.

I’m admittedly not the Craziest person in the student section. I don’t own striped overalls, a blue wig or even a Duke jersey. I’ve only tented twice and I’ve probably missed more than half of the home games in the last four seasons. But despite these shortcomings, I have never felt as at home at Duke as during basketball games.

People joke a lot about how Duke Basketball is a religion of its own, and I think there’s truth to that. We have a god that we bow down to whenever we come into His presence. We have rituals, prayers, chants and sacraments. We have sacred texts, like Grayson Allen’s Player’s Tribune or the opening hype video that plays before every game. We have holy days and hymns

And like the members of a particularly passionate religious sect, Cameron Crazies are intense and overwhelming. People hate us, but I know we only act out of love. We care deeply about the coaches, the players and their families. We mourned and hurt with Zion over his busted Nike and injured knee. We rejoice to see alumni players reunited on the same NBA teams and celebrate their successes with them. We prayed for Mrs. Jones when she was battling breast cancer and wept tears of joy when Tre brought her onto the court for his Countdown introduction. We care so much, and won’t ever stop caring.

Something about the sheer tenacity of the student section is especially compelling. The precision and perseverance of remembering every player who has missed the net and calling “Airball! Airball!” whenever they touch the ball for the next hour is nothing short of artistry. During games, I pay more attention to when a member of the opposing team’s jersey has come untucked than I usually commit to my own appearance. And when we put our arms up for a free throw, you had better believe that every bit of our brain power is also committed to willing a perfect foul shot into existence. 

This kind of large-scale unity and dedication is practically unrivaled at Duke. Someone is always playing devil’s advocate or buying poster board for protest signs, and I believe this kind of expression and diversity of opinions is part of what makes this place so special. College should be about meeting and having conversations with people who are different from you. Disunity and disagreements can be healthy, and help us grow and make progress. 

Which is why our shared devotion to our basketball team is so unique and meaningful. There is simply no feeling like moving and cheering in sync with hundreds of my classmates in the student section. I don’t know most of these people; I will never interact with most of these people. I am pressed up against strangers and concerned that I smell bad, and when we link up for the alma mater I will worry that they can feel how sweaty I am. 

But everyone is just as exhausted, giddy, sticky and smelly as I am. As we jump and hex in unison, I feel more at home at Duke than ever. Because we’re all in this together, I know that no one is singling me out; no one is resentful of how much space my body takes up; no one is commenting on the way I look or smell after jumping up and down for several hours. There is no other time at Duke that I feel so intimately, irresistibly connected to so many of my classmates at once. And isn’t that kind of amazing?

This sweeping feeling of belonging extends outside of the student section, and even outside of Cameron. Nothing makes me happier than talking to strangers about Duke Basketball, and I always try to wear Bluedevil paraphernalia of some sort when I’m traveling, just for the chance that I’ll meet someone who is also connected to this place and team that I love so much. 

In early summer after my first year, I was walking into a Dunkin’ Donuts in Cape Cod when a man leaving the store saw my Duke sweatshirt, raised his fists in the air, and yelled “We got Tatum!” Last March, while walking down the aisle of an airplane leaving Orlando, someone high-fived me and told me I was pretty gutsy to be wearing a Duke hat the morning after the UCF game. I live for these brief interactions because they show me that, if you’ll forgive the cliché, Duke really is everywhere. 

I’m still deeply, deeply sad that my time as a true Cameron Crazie is ending. I have accepted that however the UNC game this Saturday goes, I will cry—likely before the game even starts. But what a comfort it is to know that Duke Basketball will continue to connect me to other people when I’m no longer a student, whether I’m in Massachusetts or Florida or North Carolina or anywhere else. 

So I’d like to say thank you to Duke Basketball. Thank you for giving me, and so many others, this place of home and belonging. There is no feeling in the world like chanting “Our house” in Cameron with a thousand other Crazies. Stomping, clapping and yelling so forcefully that my joints ache, my fingers sting and my throat burns, feeling the vibrations coming through the air and bleachers, resonating throughout my whole body. Our house. Our house. Our house. 

Thank you, Duke Basketball, for this. 

And by the way—go to Hell, Carolina.

Gretchen Wright is a Trinity senior who would like “We jump on defense” engraved on her tombstone. Her column, “cameron cravings,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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