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Is it college basketball, or a cult? Whatever you want to call it, Cameron Indoor — and its Crazies — are one-of-a-kind.
DURHAM, N.C. — From the outside, Cameron Indoor Stadium looks like a church. Inside, it feels like a cult.
The Cameron Crazies are in full nut mode tonight for North Carolina vs. Duke. The Blue Devil fans, all 9,314 of them, are screamers. The noise level in here was once recorded as high as 121.3 decibels, which is louder than a power saw running three feet away from your ear.
On Tobacco Road, Duke-UNC is “The Game,” the Atlantic Coast Conference’s biggest basketball rivalry. It is the equivalent of Red Sox-Yankees, or Packers-Bears, or Bruins-Canadiens. In the last 100 meetings, the series is tied, 50-50.
Cameron is where the foul-mouthed Crazies wiggle their fingers, yell, and try to intimidate inbound passers. They invented the “air ball” chant. They’ve tossed album jackets on the court to embarrass a player who had allegedly stolen a stereo. In 1986, when North Carolina guard Steve Hale was sidelined with a partially collapsed lung, the Crazies chanted “Inhale … Exhale.” Eventually, Coach Mike Krzyzewski appealed to the Crazies to stop swearing. For a while they chanted “We beg to differ” at the referees.
But even the great Coach K had his limits.
“We respect the man, but we’re going to heckle as best we can,” says Dan Behrens, a Duke student who digs up dirt on opponents. He says the chants and insults make a difference.
The Crazies’ wildest stunt was in 2003. When UNC’s Jackie Manuel stepped to the line to shoot two free throws, Duke student Patrick King — wearing nothing but his blue speedo — jumped up and started dancing like Will Ferrell giving more cowbell. Manuel clanged both shots and later admitted he was “distracted.”
Apparently so was the girlfriend of Speedo Guy’s brother. She quickly dumped her man and married King. He later became a pastor.
Tonight’s game against North Carolina is the first in 47 years that the Blue Devils will not be led by the legendary Coach K, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, who retired at the end of the 2021-22 season.
The Crazies want revenge. The Tar Heels ruined Coach K’s final game at Cameron, and then ended his career when they eliminated Duke in the Final Four.
Tickets for the game start at $1,000 on secondary markets. But the best courtside seats go to the students, and they’re free.
“It’s the best seats in basketball that money can’t buy,” says Parker Betts, a graduate student who wears a blue Cookie Monster costume for each game.
More than 1,500 students camped out in 130 tents in “Krzyzewskiville” outside Cameron for three weeks to get inside. First-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer, a former Blue Devil who won a championship in 2010, visited the tents armed with coffee, doughnuts, and hot chocolate.
“Some people had to sleep in puddles of water last night,” says Alex Caspary of Tallahassee, Fla., as he shivered in a blanket. (The university shut down the tent city around 10 p.m., when temperatures dipped below 25 degrees.)
Katalina Guma, a freshman from Nashville, said each tent had to take two trivia tests. Scores determined who got the best seats.
“We had no phones, no Apple watches,” she explained. “We just were all in a room for an hour.”
Guma says she decided to go to Duke when she visited the campus last year and saw how unique the experience was. She dressed as a human backboard for the game.
On game day, each Crazie is allowed one six pack of beer for tailgating. Everybody knows the rules for Cameron.
Students are given two page “dirt sheets” when they enter. The key dirt tonight is that the Tar Heels are the fastest team to go from No. 1 rank to unranked in men’s college basketball history. Another item says a UNC player’s nickname, given to him by his mother, is “Booger.”
Duke rookie Kyle Filipowski is a former Massachusetts boys’ basketball player of the year. In a pregame video, he calls playing at Cameron “the toughest road game in America.
“… If you come into our house, you better be ready to fight. It’s 9,000 against five.”
In a see-saw game, one of the Crazies faints and EMTs rush into the stands.
Late in the game, 18-year-old freshman Dereck Lively II blocks his eighth shot of the game. The place erupts.
Duke wins, 63-57, and the entire team runs the length of the court high-fiving the Crazies.
“It’s hard to see, it’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to move,” says Betts, the Duke Cookie Monster. “It’s because it’s so packed in there and everybody is screaming at the top of their lungs.
“I’ve had days where I was literally ill in the head the next day because we were screaming so loud, but it’s all worth it.”
Read more in this series
- Augusta National Golf Club
- Lambeau Field
- Michigan Stadium
- Churchill Downs
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- Fenway Park
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.