Illusory Facets of Sport: The Case of the Duke University Basketball Team
Physical Culture and Sport: Studies and Research
In the society of the spectacle, illusion is an omnipresent phenomenon. It is used to distract the masses from issues crucial to their existence and to support a system of oppression. However, there is also a "lighter" side of illusion: it creates celebrities and helps sell products (films, music albums, sneakers, etc.). While the connotation is that spectacle uses illusion in order to present the ordinary or negative as extraordinary and positive (e.g., promiscuous athletes talking about
... talking about family values), it is also possible for a reverse illusory process to take place, resulting in the regular being presented as irregular (e.g., a physical player presented as "aggressive", such as Kermit Washington). Unlike the deliberate use of illusion by the architects of the spectacle, this reverse process happens spontaneously. This spontaneously generated illusion is especially evident in the world of sports. In this study, we focus on the Duke basketball team during the Mike Krzyzewski era. Since the early 1990s, Duke's basketball team has been considered a team of unathletic, clean-cut, and well-off individuals. As these qualities are stereotypically associated with white players or "white America" in general, Duke was categorized as a white, privileged team, with its African American players being perceived as tokens or "Uncle-Toms." We are not calling these illusions – at least not yet – as the validity of that opinion needs to be measured first. Before making our definite claim, we will analyze Duke's history during the era of Krzyzewski in order to determine whether the common perception regarding the roster (mostly white and privileged) is true or just an illusion. Our aim is to present why both the hate and reverence of the Duke University basketball team are caused by various illusions concerning the team in particular and academic sports in general.