Like Kentucky and Kansas, Duke and UNC, Syracuse is one of the few schools where college basketball — and not football — actually is king.
It takes a special combination of having a tradition-rich history, a mediocre football program and a lack of professional teams in the region, but when the perfect storm forms, it creates a fanbase that is equal parts rabid, passionate, defensive and diehard.
That’s why Syracuse is able to play basketball in the Carrier Dome and pack it with 34,000 people. The folks in Upstate New York care about the Orange. A lot.
Former Orange guard Dion Waiters, who declared for the NBA Draft last month, is writing a diary for Dime Magazine, and in his first entry he touched on just what it is like to be a Syracuse basketball players:
It was hard to leave Syracuse though. That’s one of those times where just the love and support that you get, you can’t go anywhere in Syracuse without people recognizing you. Everybody knows you. Everybody knows. It felt good to be loved and knowing that every day or every time you’re on the court, you will find a kid in Syracuse who watches you out there chasing your dream. So like I said, I’m really rich when it comes to the Dome with 30,000 fans. On even a regular game, you’re going to have 25,000 fans. The support is crazy along with everything else. That’s what made my decision harder though. That’s why I took longer to decide what I was going to do.
Waiters will be getting paid a lot of money in the NBA. He’ll be living out a dream that every kid has growing up. Sports will make him rich. It’s the life.
But he’ll never experience a fanbase quite as passionate as Syracuse’s ever again. He may never play in front of a crowd as big as the ones that pack into the Carrier Dome ever again. He may never again have fans that take pictures of him while he is getting a pedicure.
When I would go to the mall in ‘Cuse and get a pedicure or something, get my feet done, people would be walking by just staring at you, taking pictures. It would be awkward a little bit but at the end of the day, it was all love.
The image of Waiters sitting in a robe with cucumbers over his eyes while a group of fish eat away at the dead skin on his feet is too much for me right now.