On Thursday night, Duke avenged an early-season loss to N.C. State with a convincing 98-85 home win. But what happened on the court wasn't the story of the night. Midway through the second half, freshman guard Tyler Lewis stepped to the free-throw line, and as they always do, the Cameron Crazies forced their way into the narrative.
The crowd began chanting ... something at Lewis. One theory: "Past your bedtime," a reference to Lewis' young age and appearance. (He was also taunted with "Bilbo Baggins" chants earlier in the game.) But Lewis' grandmother had passed away last Friday, and according to some at the stadium, the chant became, "How's your grandma?"
Listen for yourself. Are the Duke fans taunting Lewis' appearance, or his late grandmother? It's an audio Rorschach blot; what you think about Duke going in is what you'll hear in the video.
[Related: Trying times for N.C. State]
Rick Lewis, Tyler's father, said Friday that he heard the grandmother chant. "It was mostly 'Past your bedtime,' but there was an instant when a brief number of students chanted about Tyler's grandmother," Rick Lewis said Friday. "It wasn't the entire student section, I think a few tried to outdo themselves."
On the other hand, contends Laura Keeley, Duke beat writer for the Raleigh News & Observer, plenty of knowledgeable observers in the building heard nothing of the sort: "[T]he Internet never let a fact get in the way of a story, and people have put out a Youtube video that allegedly supports their claim of a mass cheer," she wrote. "It doesn't because that cheer never happened. I actually asked five other sportswriters if they heard the Grandma cheer. None of them did." (She later backed off the absolutism on Twitter, noting that "if a few dumb people referenced Lewis' Grandma, that's so out of line. But it wasn't a mass organized thing at #Duke.")
Plenty of Duke supporters weighed in, with most echoing the sentiments of former Blue Devil/current Portland Trail Blazer Nolan Smith, who tweeted, "Duke fans did not say anything crazy, about TLs Grandma!"
Finally, Rick Lewis offered up some perspective: "It's time to move one, in my opinion," he said. "No need to make it more than a few immature comments by a few select fans."
In the end, you'll believe what you want to believe. Is Duke a seething cauldron of soulless, entitled rich kids or a raucous, enviable collection of ever-victorious basketball junkies? Everyone's got an opinion, and unfortunately for Duke, most sentiment outside of Durham runs staunchly anti-Blue.
Duke fans can protest their innocence at Vitale-esque volumes, but the truth is that there's plenty of precedent for beyond-ugly behavior in college sports:
• In 1984, the father of future Arizona/Chicago Bulls point guard Steve Kerr was killed by Islamic militants in Beirut. Soon afterward, Arizona State fans taunted him with chants of "PLO," a reference to the Palestine Liberation Organization. "A total display of ignorance," Kerr later said, as the PLO was not connected to his father's murder. He would later say that many Arizona State fans apologized to him.
• In 1989, beloved Colorado quarterback Sal Aunese died, and soon afterward, Nebraska fans taunted Colorado with a billboard and bumper stickers that read, "Sal Is Dead, Go Big Red."
• In 2002, Missouri's student section, the Antlers, taunted Kansas and its then-coach Roy Williams with a sign that read, "For a good time, call Roy's mother." Williams' mother had passed away from cancer several years before.
It's happened before, and it'll happen again. And if students at any school care about their alma mater's reputation, they'll squash these chants before they even get started. It's not about losing a game ... it's about losing a reputation.
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