Kimberly Reed, Trinity '86, was part of the group of students who originated the annual Krzyzewskiville tradition of tenting for the home North Carolina game, a story that was introduced in a 2001 Chronicle article. Reed has since appeared in a number of other stories and documentaries, including HBO's "Battle for Tobacco Road" documentary, ACC Network's "ACC Traditions" series and The Chronicle's tenting documentary.
The Chronicle spoke with Reed over the phone to discuss in more detail her experience watching Michael Jordan play live in Cameron, how the old Cameron Crazies differ from today, her legacy as one of the founders of Krzyzewskiville and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Chronicle: With The Last Dance, Michael Jordan has entered the spotlight over the last couple of months. Your freshman and sophomore years, you would've been able to watch Jordan play in Cameron. Did you go to any of those games? What was it like watching Jordan play live in college, and did you or any of your classmates have any idea of the kind of player he would end up becoming?
Kimberly Reed: I went to all home games, so yes I did see him play in Cameron. I thought he was a good college player, but I did not think he would be anything special. I thought he would be a good NBA player, and to be honest, I didn't give him that much thought. He was just on the opposing team, and we wanted to beat them and he was a good player that we had to look out for, but I never really gave him much thought at all.
TC: People were occasionally tenting before that 1986 North Carolina matchup, when you and your friends started tenting, though it wasn't really an annual tradition yet. After 1986, you graduated, but did you notice right after that it started to become the annual tradition that it is today?
KR: March of 1986, when we did the first K-Ville, most of the people that I was tenting with were juniors, so they were the year behind me. The year after I left Duke, I went to the University of Virginia for law school, so I was still relatively close. So I came down for the UNC game, and my friends were still there. And at the time, you could pretty easily borrow a student ID and they didn't check very carefully, so I got into the game. I saw that there were tents outside, and I was a little freaked out, and so were my friends. They were like, 'Yeah, you know, we don't know if they're doing this because we did it last year, or is it just a joke? Are they making fun of us, or what's happening?' And so we kind of didn't know what to make of it that first year. But then I came back every year following that until I moved overseas, and it obviously was going to become a tradition.
So I think we were all pretty surprised. We definitely didn't do it with the intention of making it any sort of tradition. We just did it because it sounded fun. We had been to every home basketball game the whole time we were there, so it just seemed like a fun thing to do on my last game before I left college.
TC: Why do you think Krzyzewskiville only started to really blow up and become that yearly tradition after that 1986 season?
KR: You know I've thought about that a lot. I think in some ways, it was lightning in a bottle. It was because my senior year that team—Mark [Alarie] and Jay [Bilas] and [Johnny Dawkins] and David [Henderson] and Weldon [Williams] and then the rest—went all the way to the national final. And it was such a unifying thing on campus, that the craziness, the spirit on campus for the basketball team went way up a notch..... Duke had not been on TV all the time, like they were when we became seniors. We went from hardly being on television at all to being on a lot, and we were getting national attention. It was also a year when Duke had ranked No. 6 in the country academically in US News, and so a lot of things happened at once.
Then because the basketball team sustained that excellence the next year when Danny Ferry came in, and then Tommy Amaker took the point, the excellence continued and the enthusiasm continued, because a lot of the students that had been there in '86 were still there in '87. From then on, it has just become something you do at Duke. It's kind of on the checklist, like going to the top of The Chapel, and going around the circle the wrong way and all those other traditions.
TC: It was likely you could have gotten into the game without tenting multiple days beforehand, so what was you and your friends' real intention by tenting?
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KR: I've told the story many times, so I hope I'm very consistent with what I've said all the other times. My friends and I lived in Mirecourt, and we were all sitting around playing quarters on Tuesday night, and talking about the basketball game coming up. We had during the past three years, and for me it had been four years, gotten the same seats at center court, so we'd always gotten out early for the basketball games and waited. But we were joking around and we were getting progressively more wasted, and as we got drunker we started saying stupid stuff like, 'Oh, let's go out on Thursday and pitch a tent. It'll be really fun. And then we'll definitely get our seats.' And then it just became, 'Well, why don't we just go now?' And it was late at night on Tuesday night, so we went the next day and investigated where we could get tents because nobody had a tent, and we found a U-Haul rental place up on Hillsborough Road that would rent us some tents. I was the only one with a car, so we went and picked up the tents and threw them in the back of my car. Then the next day, Thursday, we pitched them, and we went right up to the front door of Cameron. Some other folks from Mirecourt had heard that everybody was doing this, so it was maybe six tents of people from Mirecourt: original tents No. 1 through 6.
So it all grew out of that kind of drunken quarters game and the desire to get our center-court seats for my last game at Duke, and that's pretty much how it started. By the time they opened the doors at Cameron, a whole bunch of other people had set up tents or just sleeping bags behind us. So the game was on a Sunday, and by Saturday morning there were maybe 30 or 40 more tents, lean-tos or in some cases, sleeping bags with a tarp under them. And it kind of grew, just because they saw us there and NBC had come out and seen us there and put us on the local news. And so everybody was like, 'Yeah, okay, that sounds like a fun thing to do. Let's go do it.' It was absolutely never with the thought that this is going to become a Duke thing. It was just very of the moment, we want our good seats, it sounds like fun, we're really into the basketball team, it's my and some else's last home game—this is the time to do this. That was really as far as we thought about it.
TC: Have you been back to Cameron sitting in the upper bowl, and if so how does that compare to sitting in the student section?
KR: We've had season tickets for a number of years. In fact, even when we lived in Russia, we kept our season tickets and would come back a couple times a year for games. So yeah, I've been in the upper decks hundreds of times. It's obviously not the same. It's much more fun to be down with the students and to stand the whole game and be involved in the chanting and the songs and things like that. But I also think it's great that the current students get those seats because I had my time at Duke and most of the upper decks had their time at Duke, and it's somebody else's turn now. So as much as I would love to be sitting down in the bowl, I really, really love that it's kept just for the current Duke students.
TC: Is it true that the Cameron Crazies were a lot more brutal back during your day than they are today?
KR: Absolutely. Much ruder, much meaner. Sometimes really toeing the line of decency, actually. And I think Coach K put his foot down several years ago, but he had not yet done that because he was still relatively new and didn't have control of the students the way he does now. But yeah, there were chants at players who were accused of rape. There were people throwing condoms on the floor. There were just really nasty chants. And it isn't as mean now. I think we used to very much pick on opposing players for physical characteristics. There was a guy who played for I think N.C. State who was a big gawky, white guy with red hair, and he just kind of looks like Bozo the Clown. And so someone dressed up like Bozo, and during the warm-ups, went and got behind him in the warm-up line, and then the whole game every time he touched the ball, it was, 'Bozo, Bozo.' And there was a kid that played for Carolina, Michael O'Koren, who had a pretty bad acne problem, and there were some really brutal posters that were brought in about him. So anything that they could do to distract.
I think another difference is that back then you've undoubtedly heard about BOGs, the Bunch of Guys, which was an independent living group, who always got the seats right behind the visiting bench, and I always sat right next to them. And they would spend the entire week coming up with clever chants and facts about the players on the opposing team, which was much more difficult to come up with before the internet. But they spent a lot of time on it and it really shows because they came up with some amazing information and were just really clever and irreverent guys in their general personalities. So that kind of stuff was allowed back then. But BOGs was disbanded years later, and then they instituted the buffer zone between the visiting bench and the students. And then later on even that became just for the visiting team's family. But if you can imagine Duke students used to be literally on the row right behind the visiting team, and so we could see down into their huddle, we could scream at them during huddles—they would have to move out onto the floor. So it was just a different time, and a lot of those things are just not feasible now.
TC: What is it like seeing all those tents outside Cameron, in person or even on TV—how special is it knowing you were one of the originators of that?
KR: It's pretty cool. Even if I don't have tickets for the Carolina game, I'll often go out and just meet the folks in tent numbers one and two just to say hello and see what their tents are like. So I've met a lot of them over the years. I find too that because those folks are the most manic about Duke basketball, they have probably seen the HBO special and the ESPN special and all of the different television programs that have been done where I was interviewed, and so occasionally someone actually recognizes me, which is freaky. That's really weird. Most of the time, I can just walk around, unnoticed and I just like look like an old alum walking through and reminiscing. But it is cool to see what it has become and to see so many people participate in it because it really is such a unique thing to Duke. And I believe that people do it thinking, 'Oh, well, I have to do this because I'm at Duke' and they end up really enjoying it. You know, you've become part of a community, you become really close to your friends that you were tenting with, hopefully you meet new people all around you in line. So I am really, I don't want to say proud, but I'm happy that I was involved in a small way in starting all of that.
TC: Since you graduated, have you ever sort of bragged to your friends or anyone else about originating tenting? Has it ever come up at all?
KR: It does come up because a lot of people I know, know this about me, just because of the attention that's been brought by television shows and things like that. I don't usually pull it out to brag about it. I usually will only talk about it if people ask me. But I can think of one or two occasions where someone from an opposing basketball team has said something about the fans at Duke, and I may have pulled it out now and then to kind of defend us and say, 'Hey, I'm one of those people you were talking about.' Generally, when people bring it up, I'll definitely talk about it and people find it really cool. But on the other hand, the last thing I want is to come across as some old alum who's reliving the glory days, reminiscing about old times at Duke when in fact what it has become is much greater than what we've ever intended.
TC: You've worked for numerous US Presidential campaigns, including Barack Obama's in 2008. What's your opinion on the fact that, to many, your legacy for originating Krzyzewskiville almost overshadows some of that?
KR: (Laughs) I've said for a long time that no matter what I do in life what will be on my tombstone is 'Founder of Krzyzewskiville.' I don't really know that I feel good or bad about it. Again I feel very happy to have been a part of that. I think that other accomplishments that I've had in later parts of my life are more known to the people that I've worked with, and as long as they respect me for what I've done in my career, then it's fine in general that I'm better known for something connected with Duke. I'm very proud to be connected with Duke in some way, and if that is the thing that people remember about me, then that's great.
TC: You mentioned the story of how it was you and all of your friends who first set up those tents. You have appeared in the articles and documentaries. Just curious—how did you become the spokesperson for these original few tents?
KR: Well, I've wondered about that too. I think it has to do with the fact that most of the other people were ROTC, and so they were still in the military when this started to be something that people wanted to talk about. They felt it wasn't appropriate for them to talk about it while they were active military. I had certainly given out their names before and when I've seen them, I said, 'Can I give your name to people?' And generally they have said, 'You know what, I hardly remember anything about it.' And the other thing was I took all the pictures. So I still have all of the photographs that nobody else has. And for that reason, it's been kept fresh in my mind.
But as for whose idea it was, my recollection is that the person who said it was a guy named Greg Esses, who at the time was Air Force ROTC and went on to a long distinguished military career in the Air Force and his son graduated from Duke and tented. But I think Greg has been reticent to talk to folks about it. He just want to talk about other things in his life. So I guess I kind of became the spokesperson by default. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I'm so involved in the Duke Alumni Association, so that when people ask administration members at Duke, 'Oh, who started Krzyzewskiville?', they know me. And none of the other folks who were in those tents have really been active alumni like I have. And so it's easy for the administration just to say, 'Oh yeah, go to Kim Reed.' Because they know me, they've worked with me, they know me in a context outside of K-Ville. So I think that's how it happened. But I try to always be very clear that this was not my idea, that it was not just me. It was a group of maybe 12 or 15 people. I'm a co-founder, not the founder.
TC: Every once in a while I'm sure people like me contact you about this. How do you feel about this kind of exposure—is it cool, is it annoying?
KR: Oh no, it's not annoying. I find it kind of incredible that anybody is interested, I guess. So in one way, I find it amusing because I'm imagining people write these articles or make these TV shows and like nobody watches, or nobody reads the article and it just kind of amuses me that people care about this stuff. So no, I find it fun to talk about these old times and and to have a position, albeit very tiny, in the history of Duke. So I like talking about it. I think it's a lot of fun.