The most hated college basketball team in the nation? Duke, who are in the Final Four. The most hated college basketball coaches? John Calipari of Kentucky and Mike Krzyzewski, Duke again. So with all this hate, why is this the final everyone wants to see?
There’s a famous moment in ‘Private Parts‘, the autobiographical movie by Howard Stern about his rise in world of talk radio, when two producers trying to get rid of him are talking about his ratings, and it turns out that listeners that hate him listen and tune in for longer than those who actually like him.
Think of Floyd Mayweather, the most successful boxer over the last 15 years, and also the most popular one in terms of PPV numbers. He’s not just hated for his athletic success. Mayweather is probably a pretty terrible human being. And that isn’t stopping anyone from buying his fights, overpriced as the PPV broadcast on HBO or Showtime may be.
So what does this have to do with Kentucky, Duke, Calipari and Coach K? Well, the two are on a collision course to meet in the final of the NCAA Tournament, with the Final Four taking place this weekend in Indiana. Kentucky are playing Wisconsin in the semifinal of #1 seeds, while Duke face off against a #7 seed, Michigan State, with a head coach, Tom Izzo, everyone can’t stop gushing over.
Successful teams are always popular, but always receive a lot of hate. You see that in every spot. The Los Angeles Lakers (not this season), the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees. It’s impossible to be incredibly popular, incredibly successful and not pick up a lot of hate along the way, although the Spurs have been doing a very good job of doing it differently.
But back to the subject at hand. Kentucky are the epitome of the one-and-done phenomenon, with Calipari as the evil master behind recruiting high school stars and not trying to convince them to stay for one more season, instead telling them to do whatever they want. He leaves a trail of shady infraction with his previous programs (UMass, Memphis) and has managed to avoid getting punished. He loves talking to the media and then complaining about it while getting even more exposure for himself.
Duke have been the most successful basketball program of the last 25 years. But they’re also one of the best schools in the country, elitist. And coach K makes faces that make people angry. And he gets too much love from the media and TV people, referring to him in the ‘holier than thou’ sense. That he’s not a basketball coach, but an educator and teacher of human beings. And he talks about himself in the same way, even though he’s just another person in a suit making the most of basketball stars playing for free while he makes millions.
That’s why people don’t want Duke and Kentucky to win. But if they do, and face off in the final of two number one seeds, it’ll bring more ratings than any other possible pairing, as sympathetic as the Midwestern, Big Ten clash of Wisconsin and Michigan State might be. We love to love, but we love to watch those we hate even more.