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Cameron Celebrates Its 75th Birthday

Now let's have 75 more!

Jan 8, 2013 Durham, NC, USA. General view of Cameron Indoor Stadium during a game between the Clemson Tigers and Duke Blue Devils.
Jan 8, 2013 Durham, NC, USA. General view of Cameron Indoor Stadium during a game between the Clemson Tigers and Duke Blue Devils.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Duke celebrated Cameron's 75th anniversary Saturday during the Boston College game.

Actually, the old arena doesn't turn 75 until today - the first game was Jan. 6, 1940, when the Blue Devils beat Princeton, 36-27 (which was an unusually low scoring total, even in that era).

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Of course, the facility was known as Duke Indoor Stadium in those days. Eddie Cameron was still the Duke coach in 1940. There's a myth that Cameron designed the stadium on the cover of a matchbook, but, in fact, the stadium was designed by Julian Abele, one of the nation's first black architects. Abele was based in Philadelphia and he used that city's 13-year-old Palestra as a model. The Indoor Stadium was a touch smaller than the Philadelphia arena (which, at the time, seated 10,000), but most observers felt it was an improved design.

The original seating capacity was 8,800. Abele's employer, Herb Trumbauer, whose firm had also built the Palestra, suggested to Duke officials that the design was too ambitious for the small Southern school - that Duke would never fill it up.

Indeed, the attendance for the first game with Princeton was officially listed as 8,000 - at least 800 under capacity. That proved to be a big crowd. Normal attendance in those early years was often half that. The final game of the 1942 season matched Cameron's greatest team (18-2 at that point) against North Carolina in what turned out to be one of the greatest games in the rivalry. Duke won 41-40 in overtime - with just 6,000 fans in attendance.

The first Cameron sellout (or to be more precise, the first Duke Indoor Stadium sellout) came after the war.

Early in the 1945-46 season, a Duke team bolstered by the return of John Seward, a prewar star who had spent more than two months in the German POW camp, went to Chapel Hill and stunned the heavily favored White Phantoms (UNC's nickname at the time) in overtime. The rematch in the regular season finale garnered enormous interest and generated the first basketball sellout in the stadium's history. Former Durham High star Bones McKinney, who had only recently joined the White Phantoms after his WWII military duty, almost singlehandedly led UNC to the 54-44 victory.

Duke Indoor Stadium was acknowledged as the greatest arena in the South for almost a decade, until N.C. State completed Reynolds Coliseum in 1949. Originally, Reynolds was designed as almost a carbon copy of Duke's stadium, but construction had to be suspended during the war after the steel framework had been erected. When Everett Case arrived in 1946, construction resumed. But Case wanted a bigger facility and the only way to expand the half-built arena was to extend its length. As a result, Reynolds emerged as a larger facility (12,400 seats), but a much worse design - most of the seats were in the end zones.

Case wanted the extra seats because he knew - based on his experience in Indiana high school basketball - that the school with the most seats hosts the postseason games. That was true for Duke Indoor Stadium, which hosted the Southern Conference Tournament from 1947-50 until Reynolds was finished and N.C. State took over as the tournament for the next 16 years.

Duke did steal one NCAA game from Reynolds. In 1954 (the first year of the ACC), N.C. State opened the NCAA Tournament against old Southern Conference rival George Washington. The game was scheduled for Reynolds, but George Washington protested having to play State on its home floor. Cameron offered Duke Indoor Stadium as a compromise and Duke hosted its one and only (men's) NCAA basketball game - between N.C. State and George Washington.

UNC didn't challenge its two rivals until 1986, when the massive (and sterile) Dean E. Smith Student Center went up.

It's interesting that North Carolina completed construction of Woollen Gym in 1938, just two years before Duke built the Indoor Stadium. It was a generation behind the Duke facility. That led to a crisis in the early 1960s. Woollen was clearly inadequate and had to be replaced. But the university was de-emphasizing basketball after the 1961 cheating scandals and the legislature would not authorize a new facility.

Carmichael Auditorium emerged as a scam - described as an "extension" of Woollen Gym, it actually shared one wall and locker room facilities with the old facility. It wasn't a bad place to play, but it was exactly the same seating capacity as Cameron. Basically, the 1965 facility was comparable with Duke's 1940 design.

Duke Indoor Stadium was renamed for Cameron on Jan. 22, 1972. That afternoon, Duke upset No. 3 North Carolina on a last second shot by Robbie West. I was talking to Bucky Waters, who coached that game, Saturday in the press room of Cameron and he told me that West was not supposed to take that shot - the team broke the play. Actually, the heroes of the game were Richie O'Connor, who led Duke with 24 points and center Alan Shaw, who limited UNC star Bob McAdoo to three points of 1-of-12 shooting.

But Cameron has produced a lot of heroes over the years - none bigger than Freddie Lind, a total unknown entering the final game of his junior year in 1968. The 6-7 forward from Illinois had scored just 12 points all season, but he came off the bench against No. 2 North Carolina and contributed 16 points and nine rebounds in Duke's 87-86 triple overtime victory, making clutch plays at the end of regulation and the first two overtimes to extend the game.

I've been visiting Cameron since the 1960 season (I got to see Art Heyman in a freshman game!), but that was the greatest game I ever saw in the Indoor Stadium, just ahead of the 17-point rally in the last 11 minutes to beat No. 3 North Carolina in the 1998 regular season finale.


Duke's record in Cameron is 825-153 - an 84.4 percent winning percentage. That rises to 89.0 percent under Coach K (467-58).

Obviously, Cameron offers Duke a huge homecourt advantage. But how much?

Well, compare Krzyzewski's 89.0 winning percentage at home with his 77.6 winning percentage on neutral courts (235-68) and his 64.6 mark in road games (221-121).

It's pretty clear how much better Duke's chances are at home.

But how does that compare with other schools and arenas?

Back in the 1990s, I tried to measure homecourt advantage in the ACC. I wasn't sure how to go about it. Merely listing teams by homecourt winning percentage didn't seem to make sense, since the best teams would obviously have the best record at home. But when I tried to measure the difference between homecourt performance (both winning percentage and victory margin) and road performance, I found that the biggest gaps involved the worst teams.

Was that a sign that Clemson and Florida State had the best homecourt advantage or merely that the gap is bigger because the worse teams are helpless on the road?

I still can't find a measure of home impact that I can quantify statistically. It may be impossible. Just look at the problem by checking one set of games. A year ago, Duke played Syracuse in front of the largest regular season crowd in college basketball history. It was an electric atmosphere. But three weeks later, Syracuse came to Duke and Cameron was at its best.

Well, Syracuse won at home, but the game was dead even, decided in overtime by a non-call on what would have been the winning dunk by Rodney Hood. Duke won the rematch, but it was also dead even, decided by a controversial block/charge call in the final seconds.

Did the homecourt edge decide those two games? If so, that edge was a whisker in both cases.

The truth is, homecourt edge varies from game to game - at every school. The Smith Center is a formidable place to play when Duke comes to Chapel Hill. Many other nights, it's a mausoleum. For years, Florida State would sell out for Duke and UNC, then be half-filled for everybody else. Even Cameron fluctuates - the crowd Wofford and even Boston College faced last week was nothing to what Louisville or UNC will face later this season.

Recognizing the impossibility of measuring homecourt edge, allow me to suggest a few markers - not proof, mind you, but indications of Cameron's impact.

-- Duke is current working on a 41-game homecourt winning streak. It's the longest active streak in the nation (Gonzaga is second with 32 straight).

More significantly, it's tied with another Duke streak for the third longest homecourt winning streak in ACC history. And the two longer streaks also belong to Duke. In fact Duke not only has the four longest homecourt streaks, the Devils are tied with N.C. State for fifth and also have the ninth longest ACC streak.

Think about that. Dean Smith, in all his glory years, never had a 30-game homecourt winning streak. Neither did Everett Case, even if you go back and count the years he dominated the Southern Conference. N.C. State put up back-to-back 27-0 and 30-1 seasons with the incomparable David Thompson, but that team's longest streak topped out at 36 (the one that's tied with Duke 1991-93 for the fifth longest streak in ACC history).

Lefty never won 30 straight in Cole Field House, Roy has never come close at the Smith center. Frank McGuire never won 30 straight home games with his great Lennie Rosenbluth teams of the late 1950s.

All of those coaches had great teams and great home crowds to play in front of. Yet, none has put together the winning streaks that K has amassed with such consistency in Cameron.

Just a note: The current 41-game win streak is not built on patsies (although some patsies are included). But it also includes victories over teams ranked No. 1 (Syracuse last season), No. 4 (Ohio State in 2013), No. 5 (Miami in 2013), No. 14 (UNC last season) and No. 22 (Michigan last season). Both recent ACC champions (Miami in 2013 and Virginia in 2014) have lost in Cameron during the streak.

-- Coach K has an 80.5 homecourt winning percentage in ACC games. That actually trails UNC's Dean Smith (83.8) on the ACC list. But Smith trails two former Duke coaches, who won 87.5 percent of his ACC home games (Harold Bradley) and 87.0 percent (Vic Bubas).

UNC coaches Roy Williams (80.0 percent), Frank McGuire (79.0 percent at UNC and South Carolina) and Bill Guthridge (75.0 percent) are right behind Krzyzewski.

I think that's pretty good evidence that Duke and UNC have the two best programs in ACC history - but also that the Indoor Stadium has been a more effective homecourt than the UNC combination of Woollen, Carmichael and the Dean Dome.

-- Duke is currently working on a 116 game non-conference homecourt winning percentage, dating back to a loss to St. John's in 2000. The second-longest active non-conference home win streak is 42 games (Minnesota).

Duke also had a 95-game non-conference home win streak between a loss to Louisville in 1983 and a loss to Illinois in December of 1995. Duke gas lost three non-conference home games in 32 years.

That's unprecedented.

Now, I understand that Duke doesn't play a lot of top non-conference opponents in Cameron any more, since Coach K prefers to play top opponents in neutral court games instead of a home-and-home series.

Still, during the current streak, Duke has beaten Georgetown three times (including the 2006-07 Final Four team), Ohio State, Butler, Temple (four times), St. John's (six times), Michigan (four times), Wisconsin and Michigan State (twice).

Duke's only remaining non-conference game is at St. John's, so the streak will carry into next season.

None of that is proof that Cameron is the nation's best homecourt advantage, but it is fairly compelling evidence.

It's a pretty good design - and still going strong at age 75.