A ticket to a Duke basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the most exclusive in sports.
Located at 115 Whitford Drive in Durham, North Carolina, Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the most hallowed arenas in all of basketball. Like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field or the old Boston Garden, it is as much a cathedral as sporting venue. Home to Duke Blue Devils men’s basketball since 1940, the 9,314-seat shrine sits adjacent to its predecessor, Card Gymnasium, which opened a decade earlier.
The vision of long-time Duke coaches Eddie Cameron and Wallace Wade, Cameron broke ground in 1939. The project was finished in nine months at a cost of $400,000, which the university finished paying after the Blue Devils beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in 1945. The Gothic building, originally called Duke Indoor Stadium, was dedicated January 6, 1940, when Duke beat the visiting Princeton Tigers 36-27.
Eddie Cameron was a legend in his own right. Part of Duke athletics from 1926 to 1972, his was the second longest tenure in school history. Cameron served as basketball coach from 1928 to 1942, going 226-99. In four seasons as head football coach, Cameron led the Blue Devils to three conference titles and a Sugar Bowl victory. Cameron also served as athletic director from 1951 to 1972. Founder of the Athletic Coast Conference, Cameron was on the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and served on the governing committee of the Olympics.
Duke Indoor Stadium was renamed for Eddie Cameron in January 1972.
The smallest and most intimate gym in the basketball-obsessed ACC, Cameron has a unique magic all its own. Conceived on the back of a matchbook cover in 1935, the arena was designed by Julian Abele, one of the nation’s first black architects. Two years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the same firm that built the famed Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania was brought to Durham to construct the new stadium. The crown jewel of college basketball arenas, Cameron Indoor Stadium debuted as the largest gymnasium in the country south of the Palestra.
The original building was a domed structure that stood 175 feet wide and 262 feet long. It featured nine fixed steel frames spanning the ceiling at 26-foot intervals, along with a 90 x 45-foot playing court. Cameron offered seating for 8,800, which included 3,500 folding bleacher seats designated, then as today, for the exclusive use of undergraduates. A tunnel connected the new arena to the Card Gymnasium, which is the current home to Duke wrestling and fencing. Upon opening, Cameron hosted volleyball, tennis, boxing, wrestling and gymnastics, as well as physical education classes and intramurals.
Cameron Indoor Stadium is situated in the heart of Duke’s West Campus. From the outside, it is almost indistinguishable from other buildings on campus. From the inside, the legendary arena resembles a glorified high school gym. The building stone was taken from a quarry in nearby Hillsborough, where all the stone for the original campus had been found. At the time of its unveiling, Cameron was considered one of the most modern and complete physical education buildings in the country. “The engineers have endeavored to incorporate in this structure the outstanding features of the best indoor athletic layouts in the land,” detailed the opening night program.
Sports Illustrated rated Cameron Indoor Stadium fourth on a list of the top 20 sporting venues in the world, ahead of Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Pebble Beach.
Originally the largest indoor arena in the South, Cameron is today one of the smallest in the nation. No one who has experienced a basketball game at Duke will ever forget it. The intimacy of the building, coupled with the unique seating arrangement that puts the wildest fans down on the floor near the players, make Cameron like no place else.
Cameron Indoor Stadium is iconic. Win or lose, the place does not disappoint. The sightlines are superb and the fans are close to the court — on top of the action. The energy in Cameron is palpable. The noise level has been recorded as high as 121 dB, which is louder than a power saw or a jackhammer. The environment will enliven your senses, and almost no one ever sits. The venue is great if you want to watch terrific basketball but not so good if you need the restroom, of which there are few.
Cameron’s most enduring characteristic is its spirit. Its lifeblood is the vibrant student section – the Cameron Crazies. Famous for painting their bodies blue and white, wearing outrageous outfits, and being rude, crude and lewd, the Cameron Crazies are comprised of 1,200 undergrads. The front row seats are earned by students who camp out for them – sometimes for days – in a grassy area alongside Cameron dubbed “Krzyzewskiville,” or “K-Ville” for short. Add the Duke band and the fact that the gym has no bad seats to the mix, and you have the most raucous setting in college basketball.
“My love for Duke and this building and the people in it – I can’t love it more.” — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, at the ceremony naming the hardwood floor at Cameron “Coach K Court” in November 2000.
Cameron Indoor Stadium has undergone several transformations since its opening in 1940. In 1987, standing room areas were removed, an electronic scoreboard was hung over center court, and wood paneling and brass railings were installed. Student seats were added, bringing capacity to 9,314. Prior to the 2002-03 season, air conditioning was installed. Seven years later, LED ribbon boards were added to the front of the press table and seats in the upper area were painted Duke Blue.
Duke has had amazing success at Cameron. The Blue Devils have an all-time home record of 279-22 at home. Duke has won nearly 93 percent of its games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, second only to the 94 percent win rate the Kansas Jayhawks have enjoyed at Allen Fieldhouse. The Blue Devils currently hold a 19-year, 146-game non-conference home winning streak. Duke’s last non-conference home loss came February 26, 2000, when the then-No.2 Blue Devils lost to St. John’s 83-82 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
USA Today called Cameron Indoor Stadium “the toughest road game in the nation.” The Blue Devils have gone undefeated at home seven times since 2000, and twice have suffered only two losses in Durham during the same period.
While the Palestra is often described as college basketball’s most historic arena, Cameron is the best, in part because Duke University has made maintaining its charm a priority. In an era of bigger-is-better, the school’s approach has been brilliant. “Perhaps Duke loses some money each year by not expanding Cameron Indoor Stadium to include luxurious press boxes and only allowing for the smallest of advertisements on the scoreboards and around the stadium. But in doing so, Duke University has enhanced the brand equity of its basketball team, arena and school in a way that few other universities have via their athletic programs,” wrote Forbes in 2016.
Well done, Duke. Well done.
The Grateful Dead played Duke’s campus five times, the last one being 37 years ago today. On this date in 1982, the band’s long strange trip came to Cameron Indoor Stadium.