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No Sympathy for the Blue Devil

We won’t be able to hate Grayson Allen forever, but he’ll be a villain until he stops wearing a Duke jersey

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

I hate Grayson Allen, and you probably do too.

Wednesday night, he fully embraced his role as college basketball’s villain. In a win over Elon, the second-most-prominent Division I team nicknamed “the Phoenix” (shout-out to University of Wisconsin–Green Bay), Allen tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana:

After being called for a technical foul, Allen lost it on the sideline like a Cobra Kai member who was just informed that a spinning backheel to your opponent’s knee is actually illegal.

This is Allen’s third time tripping an opponent. He picked up a flagrant foul for a trip after a turnover against Louisville last season, then tripped a Florida State player with under five seconds to go in a comfortable Duke win a few weeks later.

Tripping an opponent is among the most cowardly things a basketball player can do. It is not an attempt at making a legitimate basketball play: the ball is up there, your feet are down there. It’s done by players who have been beaten by an opponent, but unlike a big, strong hug to prevent a basket, the trip is meant to be discreet. And since it’s probably going to cause a fast-moving player to fall face-first, it can be dangerous. In other words, it’s how a losing player can cause the most damage with the fewest repercussions. That Allen’s team tends to be winning when he does it makes it even more off-putting.

The first time Allen tripped somebody, we questioned if it was intentional. The second time, we recognized a trend, and the ACC publicly reprimanded him. Now, nobody has sympathy for the Blue Devil. Multiple media outlets instantly called for Allen’s suspension. On ESPN’s halftime show, he was called a “petulant toddler.” And former Duke star Jay Williams called him “spoiled.” Sure enough, Thursday morning, coach Mike Krzyzewski announced Allen was suspended indefinitely.

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

If the college basketball world had a Two Minutes Hate, they’d show Grayson Allen’s face on the screen and we’d all yell at it. It’s a good face to yell at: Allen is a perfect Ted Cruz look-alike, and while many things divided us politically in 2016 everybody from Bernie supporters to Trump voters united over our dislike of Ted Cruz. Allen and Cruz both look like they want to lead the fight against health care — not Obamacare, or privatized health care, or a single-payer system, just the idea that anybody anywhere can receive medical treatment. They smile like human discomfort brings them pleasure.

Even if you’re a Duke basketball fan, you can admit that it’s perfectly normal for everybody else to hate Grayson Allen. Most of us dislike Duke, but the Blue Devils are one of the most popular college basketball teams around. This is in spite of the fact Duke is a small, academically prestigious private school that plays in a gym less than half the size of some ACC arenas — and still has more seats than Duke has undergrads. If you’re a Duke fan by choice, you probably chose to root for the Blue Devils because they make everybody else furious. (Let me guess: You’re a Cowboys fan, too, right?)

From Bobby Hurley to Christian Laettner to J.J. Redick to Greg Paulus to the Plumlees, Duke has had villains since it became a powerhouse. To be a Duke villain, you need to tick a few boxes. You need to be preposterously intense, your veins popping out of your forehead as you slap the floor to indicate that YOU WILL NOT ALLOW WAKE FOREST TO CUT THIS LEAD TO 13. You have to be willing to do small, irritating things that are successful but annoy the hell out of everybody: ruining huge dunks by planting your feet just outside the circle and drawing an offensive foul, finding the right spot of the floor to drill an open 3 after an offensive rebound.

You also have to be white. Now, it’s a misconception that Duke has a monopoly on white stars: There have been 17 white consensus first- or second-team All-Americans in the past 10 years, and only Jon Scheyer and Mason Plumlee have been Dukies. I didn’t see any widespread hatred for Frank Kaminsky or Doug McDermott or Jimmer Fredette or Nik Stauskas or Kelly Olynyk — but a white dude on Duke? It gets our blood boiling.

But the thing that irritates us the most about Duke players is that they’re generally really good. Grayson Allen can dunk like this. He’s not a great shooter, but he’s an NBA-level athlete. That he has so much talent and then also chooses to do dumb, unnecessary things like tripping dudes on Elon is what makes him so irksome.

When Duke villains leave Duke, they often cease to be so hateable. In 2006, I wanted to punch J.J. Redick in his stupid, 3-drilling, charge-drawing face. Now, I listen to his podcast. Jay Bilas is one of my favorite people on ESPN, and is more passionate about Young Jeezy than I am about anything. Even the Plumlees seem pretty all right outside of Durham. Now that he’s in the Army and scrambling through traffic to make Knicks games, I’m genuinely rooting for Marshall Plumlee!

Why were they so hateable at Duke? Maybe it’s got to do with Coach K, who preaches seriousness and intensity and denigrates fun at any opportunity. Maybe it’s that Duke players know their role and have learned to feed off of our hatred. It’s probably a bit of both.

Now, it seems like Allen knows he did something wrong. He wept in his postgame presser. Was he mad at the referees during his sideline temper tantrum? Or was he mad at himself? It seemed to me like his temper tantrum was a realization that he’d just done the incredibly crappy thing again. As he threw a fit on the sideline, I could see that there was a person inside of the Duke basketball player.

Everyone hates Grayson Allen, and Wednesday night, it seemed like Grayson Allen hated part of himself, too. He’ll likely go to the NBA sooner rather than later, and as Dukies leave Durham, they tend to de-dick-ify themselves. Maybe he’ll grow. Maybe he’ll teach himself not to put other players’ health in jeopardy whenever he gets frustrated. And maybe, once he puts on another uniform, we’ll learn to like Grayson Allen.