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Championships come with a hateful price for Duke fans like me. Is Gonzaga next?

Gonzaga players celebrate after Tuesday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight win against USC at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.  (Associated Press)

In all my life, I’ve never been more popular than after a bad Duke basketball loss.

After feeling the sting of a disappointing upset, Duke fans are all too familiar with the endless ringing of their phone and chiming of their email inbox as messages from seemingly around the world arrive with one sole purpose.

The friend from high school that you haven’t talked to in five years, the co-worker who always seems to be too busy to get lunch, or the cousin you usually try to avoid at family gatherings; all of them seem to magically reach out with the same message once the final horn sounds.

“Duke stinks this year.”

For a Duke basketball fan, it’s the price of pledging your allegiance to a historically great program. Five national championships, more than 1,000 wins under coach Mike Krzyzewski and a catalogue of college basketball greats like Christian Laettner and Grant Hill make Duke basketball unparalleled to any other program in the country.

All of that success, however, makes Duke basketball the most envied and, as a result, the most hated program in the country. For example, the nation has rarely been more united in modern memory than in the unified hatred of Grayson Allen and his memorable Duke career, which may have involved tripping opposing players numerous times.

Duke is so hated that one’s entire personality and reputation soon becomes just being a Duke fan. Your co-workers, your friends and even your family begin to see you, above all else, as a Duke punching bag.

And to the Gonzaga fans, you and your team might be next.

Gonzaga basketball has been undeniably excellent, and even though it’s painful to write, just plain better than any other program in recent years. The number of Elite Eights and Sweet 16s Gonzaga has had since 2000 is just plain mind-boggling, leaving even Duke greats like Jay Bilas stunned at the winning ways of the Bulldogs.

Most of this success has been met with admiration from across the country, especially considering Gonzaga was considered a Cinderella team little more than two decades ago.

But with every blowout that Gonzaga inflicts on respectable teams, opposing fans (like me) from across the country get more and more sick of watching a team be consistently excellent.

So, should Gonzaga fans be apprehensive about winning a championship this year and perhaps taking the helm of the most hated team in America?

Absolutely not. Because all of the mean texts, glares at the sports bar and unoriginal insults mean nothing when you’re watching your team hang a national championship banner.

Speaking of championships, it doesn’t seem like Gonzaga has one of those yet.

So, in this not-so-humble Duke fan’s opinion, the Bulldogs still have a ways to go before they take the “most hated” crown.

It’s looking good for Gonzaga this year, but as the 2015 undefeated Kentucky team learned, anything can happen in March.

Whatever occurs over the next week, I’ll leave the Gonzaga Bulldogs with one final, respectful message: We’ll see you in Vegas in November.

Nico Portuondo is a reporter for the Medill News Service writing stories for The Spokesman-Review. He is a Duke University graduate and is finishing his master’s degree from Northwestern University. He will be an intern at The S-R this summer.

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