Making it to my First Duke Basketball Game

Eight years ago, I was studying abroad in Rome, and was slated to spend a weekend in Paris. Upon catching a cab from the airport, the driver asked me if I wanted to go the Louvre. After explaining to him that I had no plans to go to the Louvre that weekend, he expressed utter amazement concerning my obvious ignorance. “But you must. If you don’t, no one will believe that you went to Paris.”

I had almost forgotten that amusing anecdote until earlier this week, when I realized that I hadn’t yet been to a Duke basketball game. Despite having been a passionate college basketball fan all my life, I had used almost every excuse in the book to skip games. Exams. Interviews. Conflicts with other sporting events. I wanted to go, but showed a remarkable lack of proactiveness in actually going, and thus, I committed to taking my wife to the last home game of the season, versus the always hungry Clemson Tigers. Once my wife was attached, I knew I’d forfeited the option of finding something better to do.

After tapping into the Fuqua network and securing a few Graduate Student passes, we tried to act like undergrads and grab dinner and drinks at the Armadillo Grill in the Bryan Center before the game. However, undergrads apparently have a better sense of time than we do, and tend to be more familiar with Cameron’s rules than we are, so when we showed up a few minutes after 9:00, we found ourselves literally out in the cold. Destiny, it seemed, didn’t think I should be a Duke fan.

But, in an unforeseen turn of events, I was again reminded that it’s sometimes better to be lucky that competent. As we were about to be turned away, the resident gatekeeper told us that there were about 50 extra tickets to spare, and that we were the last chosen ones. We were grateful to begin with, but once we realized we had 7th row tickets right behind Duke’s bench, close enough to hear Coach K imparting his famous “words of wisdom” on his charges, I realized that my MBA investment was truly paying off.

Ironically, I probably paid less attention to this game than to any other Duke game I’ve watched on TV, but given the controlled chaos and cacophony, I felt I had a legitimate excuse. After all, it was the first time the Cameron Crazy chants sounded like anything other than inaudible mumbling, so I was wired in to the experience rather than the game. I suppose I had never gotten the proper perspective from TV, but Cameron seemed more like a glorified squash court than the cavernous basketball arenas I’ve become familiar with, and so there was little surprise that the crowd was as deafening as it was. Further, the hoopla surrounding this final game for Duke’s highly successful senior class overwhelmed the crowd, as memorable moments in the careers of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler were frequently depicted on the screen. In the end, as expected, Duke pulled out a much needed victory.

Despite our initial difficulties in actually getting into the stadium, we felt like our bucket list was one item shorter by night’s end. There was something about the energy of the crowd or the modest exterior of the building that made me feel like this was an unmatchable experience, even coming as it did against a relatively mediocre opponent. However, it had enough of an impact that it may cause an adjustment in my priorities next winter, so that I can avoid feeling like I did in Paris.