Is Grayson Allen the next hated white Duke player?

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This story originally ran on February 9, 2016.

He drove to the basket in what has become his signature take-no-prisoners approach to the rim, hoping to draw some contact from Chinanu Onuaku. Only the contact never came, as Onuaku refused to take the bait, causing Duke's Grayson Allen to tumble to the floor.

As Allen lay there, sprawled underneath the basket, Louisville's Raymond Spalding hopped over him. At the last minute, Allen stuck out his leg.

The move sure seemed intentional, even if everyone would insist otherwise.

Allen tripped Spalding and was whistled for a flagrant 1 foul.

A Duke player. A sneaker. A dirty play.

Sound familiar?

If Allen's trip wasn't quite Christian Laettner's foot stomp to Aminu Timberlake's chest, it was certainly in the neighborhood. And it ignited the flame that has been threatening to spread like wildfire since Allen all but single-handedly led the Blue Devils to last year's national championship.

The moment Spalding went down, Twitter woke up:

@GraysonJAllen THUG

@GraysonJAllen Nice trip. You're cheap as hell.

Hate Grayson Allen?

Yeah, it could be time.

Allen always checked most of the boxes, as if he'd been produced on a factory line, the latest Blue Devil cut from the Laettner prototype.

Allen looks soft, but plays hard, his game filled with swagger even if he isn't necessarily the swagger type. He has had his big-stage moment: his 16-point performance outburst in last season's national championship game essentially halted Wisconsin and handed Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski his fifth title.

And, of course, Allen is a white guy in a Duke uniform, the latest vessel, the reincarnation of Christian Laettner, Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski, J.J. Redick, Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer. The personas are interchangeable, and equally hard to like.

"No other black player from any other school is hated as much as a white player from Duke,'' former Duke point guard Jay Williams said. "None.''

But for much of this season, it seemed as if Allen might slip through unscathed as the Blue Devils had fallen out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in eight years. 

"We have to be good enough for people to hate him,'' Krzyzewski said earlier this season. "I hope we can be. I hope we can get good enough that people hate him.''

Three wins a row and two games out of first place in the ACC, with March looming, it's happening.


Every player who has worn the white Duke bull's-eye has a story to tell. Most recount the tales with a chuckle, their own blue badges of courage.

Steve Wojciechowski was pouring himself a cup of coffee at an airport when a random man walked over to him.

"I used to watch you at Duke," the man said. "God, I hated you.''

And Wojciechowski thought, "How do I respond to that? Thank you? I appreciate it? Sorry I ruined your night 20 years ago?"

Antagonists called Collins "Chrissy" when he played at North Carolina. Maryland fans greeted Redick in homemade T-shirts that read, "When I grow up, I want to name my kid J.J. Redick and beat him up every day." Virginia students also created their own Redick jerseys, dotting the backs with red marker to symbolize Redick's bad case of back acne.

During Scheyer's playing days, a group of haters created an entire website dedicated to his many grimaces and expressions.

Sometimes it crosses the line. Redick remembers a Florida State fan pacing the sidelines, screaming unspeakable things about his sister. 

Such nastiness isn't specific to Duke, but the object of disaffection tends to always look the same.

Through graduations and championship dry spells, from the era of four-year players to the rise of the one-and-done, people still see a talented, white Duke player, and it raises their ire.

"Twenty-five years later, and we're still talking about it,'' two-time NCAA champion Grant Hill said. "That's amazing to me.''

It would stand to reason then that Allen is on deck.

"Oh, there's no question,'' Collins said. "He's next.''

Collins, now Northwestern's head coach, referenced his own Twitter timeline from April 6, 2015. Just as Allen was lighting up Wisconsin, Collins' mentions started to blow up.

With apologies to JJ Redick and Chris Collins, in a long line of punchable Duke player faces, Grayson Allen may be the most punchable ever.

"Took me back to my playing days when I was hated,'' Collins said with a chuckle. "It's nice to be remembered.''


Grayson Allen looks like a lot of people. Fans have had their fun split-screening him online with his various doppelgangers -- Ted Cruz, a young Krzyzewski, Joffrey Baratheon from "Game of Thrones" and the cartoon character Doug.

Mostly, he looks like a regular Joe you'd see walking down the street.

"What's that guy do? Finance? That's what you'd think if you saw him,'' Jay Williams said.

What he doesn't look like, at least on the surface, is a slashing, ballsy dunk machine.

"Maybe it's because we're not seven feet tall,'' Collins said. "It's easier to hate on somebody that looks like you. No one looks like [Duke freshman] Brandon Ingram -- 6-foot-8, with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. But the 6-foot-2 guy from next door? Everybody looks like him, so he's not supposed to be any good.''

That's the interesting part in all this Duke hate -- the people who are actually doing the hating.

"It was predominantly white fans,'' said Hill, who witnessed the Laettner era in person. "I don't know what that's about, but I find that fascinating.''

It's not that black players at Duke have been given a pass. Shane Battier was tormented for his wrinkly scalp and called a shar pei, but the level of venom never reached what his white peers received, nor did anyone mock Battier or other black players for their ability.

"I wasn't black enough,'' Williams said. "I was a sellout, an Uncle Tom.''

It's like an endless riddle. The black players are too white, and the white players are too, well, what exactly? Too white, or is it too black? Or simply too good?

"America, in particular, likes their cowboys to wear white and their villains to wear black,'' Battier said. "When you buck that narrative, it confuses people. We confuse people. I was an intellectual dude that enjoyed more than basketball. Cooking, I liked to play golf, I know how to handle a microphone. That's against the narrative that sports fans want. And then guys like Grayson, we want our athletes to be this hulking, uber-athletic-looking person like LeBron [James]. [Allen] doesn't fit the idea, either.''


We all know where this began, with No. 32. There's a reason the 30 for 30 is called "I Hate Christian Laettner" and not, say, "I Hate Mark Alarie."

Laettner earned and lived up to his reputation, trash-talking and chest-stomping his way to the title of "Christian Laettner Dishonorary Chair of Most Despised and Accursed Blue Devil," as he's called in the book, "To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever." If he didn't so much deserve to be hated, the vitriol at least was understandable. Laettner was arrogant and handsome and a two-time national champion with a penchant for clutch shots.

If Grant Hill hits that shot against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament instead of Laettner, are we here, trying to understand what in the world Grayson Allen did to piss off so many people?

"That image dies hard,'' said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern's Center for the Study of Sport in Society. "The legacy of how great Laettner was, but also who he was is so intertwined to what's happening today.''

Out of Laettner, a persona was born -- even if his successors haven't necessarily been anything like him.

When Laettner graduated in 1992, Bobby Hurley remained. The torch passed, even if he didn't necessarily deserve it. Hurley had none of Laettner's hubris but all of his excellence. Oh yeah, his skin color, too.

"After he left, I was the point guard. I had the ball in my hands, so I had 10,000 people screaming at me all the time,'' Hurley said. "Christian would invite it somewhat. I don't think I did, but I got it anyway.''

Hurley passed the torch to Chris Collins. The son of a coach, Collins was viewed as the king of the flop. Collins begat Wojciechowski, the grandfather of the floor slap.

The white-guy hatred took a dip for a while after Wojciechowski, and it might have petered out altogether were it not for the arrival of a McDonald's All-American by way of Roanoke, Virginia. Enter Jonathan Clay Redick. Ever since he was a baby, everyone called him J.J.

"I was a prick,'' Redick said.

Or at least he became one. Redick didn't come to Duke with the same reputation Laettner had. He was actually pretty naïve -- and wildly unprepared for opposing fans.

Redick admits to consciously and purposefully changing his personality, going from an unassuming middle child of a modest family to the head-bobbing, trash-talking lightning rod of college basketball. Fans tormented him. So he strutted around, asking for more.

"I literally have heard everything you could say about a human being,'' Redick said. "I think it was the fight-or-flight instinct, and I chose to fight. Later in my career, when we'd go out to warm up and they'd start giving it to Paulus, I would almost instigate the crowd to bring it back to me.''


If this were simply a white-black thing or even a good player thing, people would hate Utah's Jakob Poeltl and Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff this year. Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono would be reviled. Ditto Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer.

Go ahead and Google any one of them, along with the word "hate."

Nothing.

Now try "Grayson Allen" and "hate." Different story.

Academically elite with a hefty price tag, Duke is the antithesis of the playground game of basketball. It's brie and chardonnay in a six-pack-and-wings world, all popped collars and Vineyard Vine logos instead of baggy shorts and buckets.

Duke is The Establishment, coached by a West Point graduate of all things. Their own fans, frankly, can take irreverence to the edge of cruelty with the best of them.

"I'll be frank with you,'' Hill said. "People get abused when they come into Cameron, too."

Somehow, even the Cameron Crazies are viewed through a different prism -- clever and witty, instead of vile and nasty.

Above all, Duke is among college basketball's royalty.

"I haven't seen anything bring that out in people as much as Duke,'' Hurley said. "Some regional rivalries, maybe, but so many people hate Duke.''

And so along come these players, these unassuming white players who would go largely unnoticed in other places.

In truth, the privilege generally applies more to the kids in the stands than the ones on the court. Laettner's blue-collar parents scraped together the money to send him to prep school; Redick's bohemian parents lived on a communal farm, his dad working as a stoneware potter; Wojciechowski's dad was a longshoreman. That doesn't matter, though. These guys looked the part, and it fit, giving rise to a legacy of loathing.

Along comes Allen, a cum laude graduate of an $11,000-a-year prep school in Jacksonville, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, vice president of the student government.

What's not to hate?


Redick visited Durham in September for a pair of back-to-back wedding weekends. He spent some time on the Duke campus visiting with Allen.

As most do, Redick found Allen to be immediately likeable, unfailingly polite, humble and unassuming to the point of being a bit reserved.

So Redick talked to Allen about being a leader, about the impact of that national championship game performance, about how opponents would now be ready for him, about how it would be more his responsibility to lead the Blue Devils.

The subject of being a bull's-eye never came up. Redick didn't share any war stories, just his cell phone number should Allen ever need any advice.

"I didn't get the sense that he had that [lightning rod] personality at all,'' Redick said. "But even when there's a void of personality, it's like we've got to find that guy. There's a natural tendency for college basketball fans to hate the guy at Duke, so it could be Grayson.''

Deep down, Allen has a little Redick in him. Krzyzewski has seen it. When he was recruiting Allen, if an opponent gave him a little shove, he'd toss an elbow right back. In a middle school game, some mom started screeching, "Miss it, miss it," as soon as Allen stepped to the free throw line. At 11, he was unprepared for the taunting. He missed. The next trip down, same scenario -- foul, free throws and more heckling. Only this time he answered with two swishes.

"And then when we were going back down the court, I stuck out my tongue,'' Allen said.

That's straight out of the book of Redick or Laettner. The difference? Allen was immediately mortified, still shakes his head in embarrassment recalling the incident.

Even if he has suppressed that part of him, it may not matter. It's in the way he plays. After he torched Wisconsin last year, his teammates were asked if they were surprised by his outburst. They weren't. His teammate on last year's team, Miami Heat rookie Justise Winslow, shared Krzyzewski's pet name for Allen.

"A--hole,'' he said.

Krzyzewski didn't go there earlier this year when asked to define Allen. Instead, he called him relentless and fearless, likened him even to one of his childhood heroes, former Chicago Blackhawk Bobby Hull. The two, he said, cause the same sort of what's-going-to-happen-next reaction when they get out on a break.

"He should have been in a Western,'' Krzyzewski said. "He'd be the guy who comes in and, boom, [slams] through the doors. He's got that cowboy waddle. Grayson has a little cowboy in him.''


Grayson Allen became one of them on Monday night. In the split second it takes to stick a leg out rather than keep it curled under, Allen officially joined the club of hate that includes Laettner, Collins, Wojciechowski, Reddick, Paulus and Schreyer.

Allen became exactly what Krzyzewski playfully called him -- not a cowboy, but an a--hole.

And the Blue Devils, with three wins in a row, are exactly what the coach dreamed they could be.

Good enough to hate Grayson Allen.

"I guess it would be a compliment, right?" Allen said. "I mean, all of those guys were really good.''