DUKE IS DIRTIER THAN A BUS STATION BATHROOM FLOOR.
“I know for a fact that that was not by accident.”
That’s UNC guard Dewey Burke’s take on one of the most infamous plays in Duke basketball history. March 4, 2007. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. With 14.5 seconds left in an eventual 86–72 UNC victory, Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough retrieves his own miss from the foul line and goes up for a putback. Suddenly, Duke’s Gerald Henderson comes swooping in from behind and smashes his elbow into Hansbrough’s face, breaking the star player’s nose and sending blood gushing down his mug, across his uniform, and onto the floor.
“I can’t tell you how I know that or details, but I know that was not an accident,” says Burke, who was on the court during the play and held Hansbrough back from charging Henderson. “That was supposed to happen. I don’t think they were trying to break Tyler’s nose or wanted him to bleed like that, but they were trying to send some sort of message of, ‘We’re not going out like this.’”
Everyone involved, including both coaches, claimed in the postgame press conference that the elbow was an accident. (Though Coach K would snidely suggest that it was partially UNC coach Roy Williams’s fault for leaving his starters on the floor so late in the game.)
“But look, we were gonna take the high road and say, ‘Hey, we knew it wasn’t on purpose, and we’re moving on,’” Burke says. “But all of us in the program knew there was a lot more to it than that.”
Dirty is a tough thing to prove. One man’s “hard foul” is another man’s “assault and battery.” Anyone who’s hooped on the playgrounds is familiar with the “no blood, no foul” rule, but Duke seems to take it a bit too literally sometimes.
While no one can prove that Duke is out to play dirty basketball, the trail of blood, bruises, and broken bones the team has left in its wake would seem to speak for itself.
There will be blood, all right. Lots of blood. So much blood that a game will look like an episode of CSI: Durham
Let’s go back a few decades and peer deep into the history of Duke dirtiness, all the way back to the 1930s, shortly after the school became Duke University.
“Duke was preparing to play North Carolina. Concerned with UNC’s big center ‘Tiny’ Harper, Bill Werber and Harry Councillor practiced throwing a ball at the head of Duke center Joe Crosson, who would duck as the ball approached him,” Jim Sumner wrote in his book, Tales from the Duke Blue Devils Hardwood.
“At the beginning of the game with UNC, Werber fired a ball at Crosson’s head. He ducked and the ball hit Harper flush in the face, temporarily stunning him. The big man was strangely passive the rest of the game.”
The actual douche bag was invented in 1848 but we’re pretty sure this incident is the first time a human acted like one.
Flash forward to February 4, 1961. The incident known as “The Fight” also involves a game with North Carolina. After UNC’s Larry Brown is fouled unnecessarily hard by Duke’s Art Heyman, Brown takes offense and suddenly punches are being wildly thrown. A near riot follows as the UNC bench clears and Duke fans join the mob.
Notice something there? Seems to us that the Duke guy was the instigator. And, yes, this is the same Larry Brown who has since gone on to coach in the ABA as well as every team in the NBA. Twice.
Next up is a matchup in the Coach K era that will be forever known as “The Bloody Montross Game.” Duke is coming off a national title and rolls into Chapel Hill on February 5, 1992, as the number one team in the country. During a hard-fought game battling down low, UNC center Eric Montross gets bashed and a gigantic cut opens on his noggin. He steps to the foul line toward the end of the game with blood running down his cheek and the side of his head. Carolina ultimately wins the game 75–73.
Pieces of Laettner’s elbow still show up in Eric Montross’s X-ray. (Courtesy of Scott Williams)
Montross says that he still gets asked about that game more than any other. We attended that game and will admit that maybe a few tears of joy were shed in the stands. And later that night, a mob formed on Franklin Street, and Montross came strolling down the street, a fresh bandage under his left eye.
Not even two months later in March 1992, came the infamous Christian Laettner “Stomp.” No blood, but still dirty.
When you get to 2003 and talk about Dahntay (or should we say “Dirtay”) Jones, how can you pick one incident? Let’s see, there’s January 12, 2003, when he broke Wake Forest freshman Justin Gray’s jaw setting a screen. Then roughly two months later, he swung an elbow and cut UNC freshman Raymond Felton on the chin. (No foul was called on that, by the way.) That ruckus led to a heated exchange between then-coach Matt Doherty and Duke assistant coach Chris Collins that almost caused punches to be thrown.
And “Dirtay” didn’t clean up once he got to the pros. Any Phoenix Suns fans out there? Then you’ll remember May 2, 2005, when he nearly tackled Shawn Marion during a transition layup attempt in the playoffs. Marion’s teammate Quentin Richardson told the Arizona Republic
after the game, “I didn’t like it. If we were somewhere else, there would’ve been a fight. If this were the regular season, [Jones] would’ve been in the front row. He would’ve been somewhere, and I would’ve been on top of him. That [stuff] is unnecessary, and it’s not basketball.”
In 2009, Jones was nearly suspended from the NBA playoffs after a flagrant foul on Kobe Bryant—his third flagrant of the postseason and his second in two games. Lakers coach Phil Jackson accused Jones of “unacceptable defense, tripping guys, and playing unsportsmanlike basketball.”
On February 20, 2005, Duke was coming off a two-game losing streak when they hosted the Wake Forest Demon Deacons for a Top 20 battle. Coach K mysteriously shook up the starting lineup and put in little-used reserve Patrick Davidson. His orders? Basically to harass the bejeezus out of star Deacon guard, Chris Paul.
“He manhandled Wake Forest guard Chris Paul on the opening possession, bumping him wildly before a foul was called,” the Associated Press wrote. “He left the game after two minutes to a rousing ovation and got a warm embrace from Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.”
Patrick finished the game with a stat line of two minutes played, two personal fouls, thirteen slaps on the ass from his teammates, and one creepy hug. Oh, and after the season he added something else: the Coach’s Award, Duke’s trophy for the person who personifies the team’s values.
Not that dirty play always involves blood. Consider this priceless anecdote from UNC guard Bobby Frasor.
Years ago as an eighth grader, Frasor was attending a basketball summer camp.
“Before camp would start all the campers would play. And in 8th grade I was pretty good so I played with some of the older guys,” he says. “We were playing against [current Duke assistant coaches] Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski. And I’m tying my shoe getting ready to play and Wojo throws it into Collins and he goes up for a layup. At the time I didn’t think about, but looking back on it, well, that’s Duke.”
What have we got? A stunned center, a near riot, a bleeding face during a free throw, a foot to the chest of a man lying on the ground, a broken jaw, a cut chin, pissed-off pros, two fouls and a creepy hug, a cheap play, and the bloody nose to end all bloody noses. That’s enough evidence to keep CSI forensic investigators busy for years.
Copyright © 2012 by Reed Tucker and Andy Bagwell: Foreword © 2012 by Ian Williams
Reed Tucker is a staff features writer at the New York Post. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Andy Bagwell is a former member of Selected Hilarity, one of the top college comedy acts in the nation. He lives in Cary, North Carolina. The two host the “Tar Heel Bred, Tar Heel Dead” podcast, an obsessive, occasionally humorous look at UNC basketball.