As an SEC football lover, I've cultivated a disdain for the ACC's basketball snobbery.
I've been entranced by Jim Valvano and North Carolina State's unexpected national championship in 1983, especially ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary.
But the whole North Carolina blue hoops haughtiness raises my disgust, and I'm a staunch member of the Hate Duke- Mike Krzyzewski anti-fan club.
But I'm fascinated by John Feinstein's "Legends Club," the veteran sportswriter's look at the intense rivalry between North Carolina's Dean Smith, Valvano and Krzyzewski in the early 1980s and 1990s.
Located within miles of each other, the three schools have historically battled for ACC basketball dominance, although N.C. State has struggled to regain national success since Valvano's rapid demise at the school, which Feinstein discusses.
Although he'd fallen short of winning an NCAA championship, Smith was the dominant force in the ACC when Valvano took over at North Carolina State and Krzyzewski at Duke before the 1981 season.
Feinstein chronicles Smith's 1982 title, led by freshman Michael Jordan, and the unexpected title run by Valvano's North Carolina State in 1983, finishing with the Wolfpack's stirring upset over Houston's heavily Phi Slamma Jama team.
I was surprised by Feinstein's story of how badly Krzyzewski struggled in his first few seasons at Duke. After a devastating loss in the ACC tournament in 1983, Duke alums howled for Krzyzewski's firing. With the signing of Johnny Dawkins and other blue chippers, Krzyzewski raised the Duke program to its longstanding, and despised, prominence.
While focusing on the on-court and off-court battles of Smith, Valvano and Krzyzewski, Feinstein in his detailed account takes a broader glance at ACC and national basketball during the era, when the game moved into widespread popularity and greater riches.
Such characters as Virginia's coach Terry Holland and his moody star center Ralph Sampson, Georgia Tech's goofy Bobby Cremins and Maryland's folksy Left Driessell make appearances, along with non-ACC personalities such as Indiana's Bobby Knight and Notre Dame's Digger Phelps.
In his vignettes about recruiting battles among the three schools, Feinstein delves into the rich culture of high school basketball, particularly Washington, D.C.'s vibrant scene, AAU ball and all-star camps.
With Valvano and Smith no longer alive when Feinstein began doing research for the book, Krzyzewski, whom Feinstein extensively interviewed, dominates the narrative, although Feinstein, a Duke alum, makes an effort to give each equal play. A lot of the information comes from notebooks he saved from his years covering the coaches for the Washington Post.
Feinstein, who's written more than 30 books, again shows his ability to create a compelling narrative, blending personal vignettes and anecdotes and big game details that remain exciting decades later. A Post columnist, radio host and Golf Channel commentator, the productive Feinstein shows little evidence of careless writing.
I was unwilling to read so much about ACC basketball, but Feinstein's stories hooked me. Feinstein captures the essence of college basketball, showing why so many fans are passionate about the game.