During a podcast, J.J. Reddick—the white Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard from Virginia who was once the face of Duke basketball during his successful tenure with the program in the early 2000s—said that he’s sick of the media perpetuating the “white Duke villain myth.”
“I think it’s fine for an opposing fan base to choose a player to root against, or maybe you dislike certain guys,” Reddick said. “My issue, though, is I think the media has perpetuated this white Duke villain myth as much as anyone.”
He’s talking about the media dictating which white basketball player from Duke people should hate on, because of the perception that the school is elite and is hell-bent on maintaining its pristine image by heavily recruiting white basketball players.
And if it does recruit black players, there’s the idea that they’re usually from middle-class and upper-class communities. People usually point to former Duke and NBA player Grant Hill as an example.
A lot of this was addressed in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary about the Fab Five, and then again in the 30 for 30 special about Christian Laettner—another widely hated white baller who was the face of Duke basketball in the early 1990s.
Reddick said that there’s nothing wrong with disliking an athlete because of his or her antics on the court, but that he always sensed that the hate against white ballers from Duke was deeper, and manufactured by the media to continue the tradition of hating white Duke players.
He rattled off a bunch of white Duke basketball players who he said are genuinely good guys: “Grayson [Allen] is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Jon Scheyer is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Never seen Jon Scheyer do anything dirty. Greg Paulus, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”
Reddick said that he understands some of the hate he gets, though, but that’s because he was anticipating the backlash and reacted accordingly.
“I probably, in a way, brought on some of the animosity towards me with the antics, the smiling, the head-bobbing, the trash-talking, but to be honest with you, it was more in reaction to the hate that was already coming my way before I ever really did anything to warrant it. It’s almost like every time there’s a player at Duke, the media says, ‘Oh, you should dislike this guy,’” he continued.
Reddick said that he used to see reports about this white guy or that white guy being “the next hated Duke player.”
“Why, though? Why?” Reddick asked. “Why does there have to be a next in line?”
Reddick’s right. It’s not fair to be prejudged, or for white Duke ballers to feel as if they’re being shuffled into a cookie-cutter role that is going to have people think they’re privileged, elitist a—holes.
But let’s look at this from a different angle.
Full disclaimer: This post hits close to home because I went to Duke University and witnessed firsthand the uncanny feeling that Duke and some of its fans love the fact that the school produces white boys who can play ball. White players who can go toe-to-toe with black guys in a predominantly black sport and win national championships.
Finally, white Americans have guys whom they see themselves in playing in a sport they love. Similar to the feeling black Americans have when we see Serena Williams dominate in a predominantly white sport, tennis.
But if people have been getting the sense that the school goes out of its way to position white players as the face of the franchise, and that that exalting has no merit, then yes, there’s going to be some backlash from people who are against the idea that the school wants to be seen as a place where a certain kind of basketball player is accepted and excels.
Meanwhile, basketball players from working-class backgrounds aren’t valued or considered. Again, it’s the stuff that Fab Five member and former NBA player Jalen Rose articulated in the Fab Five documentary.
“For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke, and I hated everything Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me,” Rose said in the special.
Now, if a white athlete is the best player on the team, as Reddick was during his time at Duke, then by all means, market him as the face of the team to sell stadium tickets and television commercials during the telecasts of the game.
But anything other than that seems disingenuous. People feel like they’re having a “white savior” shoved down our throats. That’s where the “white Duke villain myth” comes into play.
I appreciate Reddick for sharing what he experienced as a white player and contributing to the ongoing conversation.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.