PHILADELPHIA -- Bonnie Laettner can remember the first time she entered Cameron Indoor Stadium, the celebrated, 52-year-old home of the Duke basketball team.
"There is an aura to the place," said Laettner, 48, mother of Duke All-America center Christian Laettner. "It gives you goose bumps. Maybe it's because the building is old. You go into some of these newer arenas and there's no atmosphere at all."
Cameron, with its cozy, 9,300-seat layout and stained-glass windows, is widely considered to be the toughest place in America for an opposing team to play. But opinion is divided as to whether Duke's astounding home-court advantage -- the Blue Devils are 503-119 on their own floor, and have not lost a non-Atlantic Coast Conference game there since Jan. 12, 1983 -- is more the result of Cameron's cathedral-like trappings or the legendary enthusiasm of the Duke student body, also known as the "Cameron Crazies."
Frank Dascenzo, sports editor of The Durham (N.C.) Sun, says it might be a little of both.
"Attending a basketball game at Cameron is a bit like attending a baseball game at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field," Dascenzo said. "There is a a great sense of tradition there.
"But it's the students who are mostly responsible for making Cameron what it is. Every school has basketball fans, but the Duke kids pride themselves on being, well, different from everybody else."
You can take the Crazies out of Cameron, but it is impossible to take Cameron out of the Crazies. And so it was Thursday night at the Spectrum, where Duke fans turned out to cheer their top-ranked Blue Devils to an 81-69 NCAA East Regional semifinal victory over Seton Hall.
"It's a pride thing," Bill McCutchen, 28, a New York City lawyer and 1986 Duke graduate, said during the Kentucky-Massachusetts game that preceded Duke-Seton Hall. "At Cameron, the students encircle the entire court, and they yell and scream the entire game. I hope we can get that going tonight. The only difference is that there are fewer of us here than there are at Cameron."
"Our supporters would be totally wild whether we were here or not," said Carleen McAndrews, 22, a senior cheerleader from Kennett Square, Pa. "Cheerleaders from other schools have to fight to get their fans into the game. Duke fans are always into the game."
The legend of the Cameron Crazies stems in large part from the creativity of the chants that are directed, sometimes unmercifully, at opponents. Present them with even the smallest of targets and the Crazies are guaranteed to drive the other side to distraction.
There was the time North Carolina State star Clyde "The Glide" Austin was the focal point of an NCAA investigation involving allegations he was driving around in a Cadillac. The next time the Wolfpack visited Durham, N.C., the Crazies greeted him by jingling thousands of sets of car keys.
Another notable tale involves former N.C. State star Lorenzo Charles, hero of the Wolfpack's NCAA championship victory over Houston in 1983. The next season Charles was arrested after a fracas involving a pizza deliveryman. When he was introduced at a subsequent game at Cameron, the floor promptly was littered by hundreds of empty pizza boxes.
"It doesn't cross the line into anything vulgar," Mrs. Laettner said. "I've been to a lot of games at Cameron, but I've never heard any foul language. It's just a bunch of kids trying to do
something clever -- and generally succeeding."