Duke has not traditionally measured success by how many players get to the NBA. We've always been more interested in the overall organic feel of the team, and of the bond the team has with the fans. When you go to that place, and you see the students egg the players on to greatness, well, it's hard to put into words what it means to be part of that. You see Fred Lind play out of his mind for one game in his career, leading Duke to a triple overtime win against UNC. You see Jeff Capel hit a running 40 footer to keep Duke alive against UNC. You see Bobby Hurley catch a ball while leaping out of bounds at midcourt, spinning in the air and hitting Brian Davis for a slam dunk alley-oop. You see Jim Spanarkel go out with a cramp when Duke is about to pull of an amazing upset of Maryland, when Terry Chili hits free throws to make the miracle happen. Gene Banks, hitting over Sam Perkins. Johnny Dawkins blocking David Rivers. Art Heyman erupting from beneath a pile of UNC players. Grant Hill breaking up a 4-on-1 break.
You see those things, you are part of it and the players are part of it, and you wonder how anyone could not want to be part of it. It's a small place, a place with imperfections and warts, just like anywhere else, but a place where, in a very general sense, you can find an insistent passion and a warmth that you can't find many places, if ever. People come early and leave late, and when students graduate, they try everything they can to get back in for just one more game, one more bath in the atmosphere.
And yet obviously in some ways the warmth is not returned to the same degree, and that likely puzzles and bothers Duke fans. Elton Brand was a given, Avery was a mistake, and Maggette was premature. Williams and Boozer made their plans known early and earned enormous respect by graduating early.
In Mike Dunleavy's case, he was, and might still be, prepared to follow in Shane Battier's footsteps. Battier is the guy Duke fans will always cherish, perhaps more than even the Hurley-Hill-Laettner triumvirate, because he so embodied what the way we'd like to think of our guys. He truly understood the fan's side of the equation, even though very few of us, really, can understand his kind of position.
Relatively few of us have been in the position of turning down several million dollars, and those of us who have probably already had several million anyway. No one would begrudge Mike Dunleavy opportunity, and he's shown us just how good he can be, which is damned good.
What Duke fans have a hard time understanding, though, is how it could be any better. Millions of dollars can make a lot of things better, but it can't buy what Shane Battier earned his senior year. They can't buy what Gene Banks found in his last home game. They can't get what Grant Hill found his senior year. Los Angeles is a better market than Brooklyn, but L.A. has never, and can never, fully own the Dodgers, no matter how big the market there is. Their soul belongs to Brooklyn, and it's not for sale.
What we're trying to say is that while no one will begrudge Mike Dunleavy his success, and we'll all still admire him, it's the kind of decision we'll never totally understand. As we said, no one's offered us millions, and we've never been in the position of saying no to that. But ardent suitors that Duke fans are, we hope that it was at least a difficult decision, and we still hope he'll be back next season. We're not quite ready to say goodbye.