Duke, Inc.

If you read this blog, I’m going to venture and guess you like sports.  You may even be obsessed with a certain argyle-clad college basketball team.  I’ve often contemplated what it is about athletics, particularly college athletics, I find so captivating.  What I think it boils down to is that sports and I have an incredibly one-sided relationship.

Think about it.  Teams are capable of taking you to the highest of highs.  One of my fondest memories includes rushing Franklin Street for the first time after an underclassmen-laden Carolina squad took down the top rated Dookies.  In Durham. On JJ’s Senior night.  Four years later I had a similar experience on Franklin St.  Only this time we jumped over bonfires to commemorate a National Championship.  One of the few mementos I keep on my desk is picture of my friends and me from that night.

Sure enough, with the highs there are always lows.  Last year’s 20-17 record is a perfect example of the rollercoaster ride a team can take you on. And while the 2009-’10 season was excruciating at times, the low was never as intense as the high.  After all, next season always loomed.  And sure enough, next season has arrived.

Tonight, the 20th ranked Heels take on the Dookies looking to take control of the ACC and improve upon their 130-99 all-time record against the Blue Devils.  The contest will represent sport at its absolute purest.  A Carolina victory will undoubtedly make my week.  Perhaps my month.  And if the Heels don’t prevail, my week will suck.  But hey, we get at least one more crack at them in March.

If it were up to me, sport would always be looked at in this light, a sacred and lopsided relationship between you and your team. A relationship with infinite upside and only a temporary downside.  But in Durham, this is not so.

One of my major qualms with Coach K is the way he likens the game to a corporation.  I’m talking about the ridiculous American Express “I’m not a basketball coach, I’m a leader who happens to coach basketball” commercial.  It’s his reference to Dean Smith in the documentary “Battle for Tobacco Road” as havng acquired “excellence equity” while at Carolina.  It’s the fact that he is a regular on the corporate lecture circuit for $50,000 a pop.  Only got $10,000?  Head on down to K Academy.

It’s not just the business analogies. K actually has designs of becoming a business professor at Duke Corporate Education after retiring from coaching. Some quotes from the Times article linked above:

“He’s extremely persuasive. Being a salesman is part of the job, and he should get credit for that.” – Grant Hill

“In our business and his business, people like being stars.Leadership is trying to get them to buy into a team concept, and that’s what Mike does so well.” – John Mack, then C.E.O. of Morgan Stanley.

Seriously, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Athletics and corporations share some values.  Both require leadership and commitment to a team.  But the analogy only goes that far.  In the corporate world, jumping ship to a rival firm is commonplace, especially for a fatter pay check.  On the other hand, I cannot think of a scenario where a Carolina player would ever jump ship to Durham, or vice versa.  (I will note that Larry Drew has yet to announce a formal transfer destination.)  When it comes to college hoops, any mention of a corporation should be limited to Bojangles biscuits.  Anything further simply cheapens the game.

Tonight, Leader Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils take on Coach Roy Williams’ Carolina Tar Heels.  At stake will be bragging rights, or  “excellence equity” as some might call it.  Here’s hoping for a Tar Heel win.