Christian Laettner’s been in the news a lot lately. The former Duke great had an ESPN 30 For 30 made about him, the tantalizingly-titled “I Hate Christian Laettner,” he’s popping up in AT&T commercials throughout the tournament, and he’s currently doing some work to promote Buffalo Wild Wings and the restaurant’s tournament tracker.
Love him or hate him, Laettner is one of the best college players of all time. His shot against Kentucky will be played every March for all eternity (or as long as the NCAA exists), he owns a bunch of NCAA Tournament records, was part of four straight Final Four teams and won two national titles.
Even as the time goes by, Laettner’s college legacy hasn’t faded one bit.
UPROXX Sports had the chance to talk with Laettner on Thursday about his 30 For 30, playing on the Dream Team, the best advice Coach K ever gave him, and more.
Martin Rickman: The documentary aired on Sunday, and it seemed like everybody was talking about it. I was curious to get your take on how you thought the final product turned out.
Christian Laettner: You’re right, the response has been tremendous. It was very, very positive. I loved the way the finished product turned out. I loved the way they approached me. They approached me back in the spring and said “ESPN wants to make a movie about you.” That was flattering and honoring, so of course I said yeah. Then I really laughed at how they picked the title. They said, ‘We’re going to call it “I Hate Christian Laettner,’ and I laughed about it because I can understand where some of that dislike and that hate comes from. If you weren’t a Duke fan, you got tired of seeing us there every year, four years in a row when i was playing there. That was really funny. The first time I saw the finished product was about a month ago with Rory [Karpf], the filmmaker, and I loved it. I’m loving it more and more every time I see it.
What do you think the most common misconception about you as a person or a player is? Looking back on that, I’m sure there are things that still this day that have been lost about the type of person you are.
I think the biggest misconception is that I came from entitlement, and I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. None of that’s true. I was born very blue collar. All that happened was I went to a really nice college prep high school and a really established college – and everyone thinks people who go to Duke are entitled. Those two things combined, a preppy high school with a high tuition, and Duke University with a high tuition, they just think everyone there is rich. I didn’t come from a rich family, and neither did anyone else on our basketball team, except for Grant Hill.
One of the things at the end of the film they kind of slipped in there at the end, but I thought was one of the more amazing clips was you showing your son the YouTube clip of some of your shots. Are there any other shots or games you made sure you wanted him to see?
He is nine years old, and he of course has seen the Kentucky shot just over the last two or three years because my father or my children showed it to him. But it’s nothing I’ve grabbed him and sat him down to watch. And he definitely had never seen the Connecticut shot I hit my sophomore year. So while Rory was there doing my main interview for the movie, he said, ‘Show your son the Connecticut shot because a lot of people forget about that.’ He was trying to tie it together how people forget about that shot, or the Kentucky shot overshadows the UConn shot, and my son didn’t know about it, so he just wanted to show that.
Another thing Sunday that kind of blew me away was you deciding to apologize to Aminu [Timberlake] on Twitter, and you did it with a Twitter video. I had not seen that before. How did that idea come about, and why did you decide to do that at that specific time?
That idea came about because I thought it would be a good idea, and to link it up with the movie coming out and the movie premiering on Sunday night. I had a few advisors in my life who thought it was a good idea also, so that’s what I did.
With regards to the tournament today, are you still really invested in it, or do you think that it has lost some of its luster over the years?
I’m still really, really invested in it. It hasn’t lost any of its luster over the years. I think it’s just gaining power and strength, and becoming more of a national phenomenon every year because of technology and social media. It’s blowing up bigger and bigger, so it’s really good to see.
Did you have any players growing up that you hated or guys that you couldn’t stand, or even anybody today? Does anybody come close to the response that gets generated when people bring up the name Christian Laettner?
No, I didn’t have anyone that I hated growing up watching them play at that age because I had parents who would tell me, ‘Don’t hate that person. You don’t know that person. You are only viewing them from a distance.’ My mother’s a teacher, and my father’s a coach, so I think they’re very intelligent in terms of teaching me about life, and they’d always say to me don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t believe perception and image all the time. Don’t judge anyone until you hang out with them for a few days or walk in their shoes. That’s what I hope people give me, is I hope they give me the benefit of the doubt like that. Don’t always look to image or perception or what is pumped out there by the media or something like that.
Did you get the chance to talk to Bobby Hurley this week? With Buffalo making the tournament, I know that’s exciting for them, especially up there.
It’s hugely exciting for them, and it’s exciting for me because I’m from Buffalo. I’m so happy for the city that they got something to cheer for. I’m happy that one of my old teammates Bobby is coaching the team, leading them to a higher level than they’d ever achieved before. I couldn’t be happier for the city of Buffalo, for Bobby Hurley or for UB. I talked to him like a week ago, either Thursday or Friday, but not since he won the [MAC] Championship.
What do you think is the most important advice that Coach K gave you in your four years that you’ve still held onto today?
In terms of basketball, the thing he said to us the most and the thing I deemed the most important was he would say, ‘Go out there and fight,’ and ‘We’ve got to be ultra competitive.’ Then at the same time, he’d say ‘Go out there and have a lot of fun. There’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of stress, there’s a lot of preparation and blah blah blah, but now, go out there and have some fun.’ So that’s what we’d try to do. In terms of life, just never give up. Try your hardest, try your best. Circle yourself with very good team members and the right type of people, and if you do all those things, you’re going to experience success.
You brought up Buffalo, and obviously you’re doing some work with Buffalo Wild Wings. I was curious, they have that “button” in some of their ads where the games keep going. The Kentucky game, if there was a button, that would’ve been one of them where it got pressed. Do you have maybe a few other games in mind that are kind of the immortals among those types of games for you?
There are a lot. I can’t necessarily remember them all, but during my four years at Duke there were so many games like that. Like the UConn game my sophomore year. The UNLV game my sophomore year when we lost by 30. I sure wish I had one of those remote controls during that game to kind of stop the bleeding and the torture. Of course the Kentucky game comes to mind. But you know what, every game I ever played at Duke was just the greatest. That’s why you go to Duke because you want to be involved in these big games all the time. That’s what I experienced at Duke, and that’s one of the greatest things about it.
I know you’ve been asked about this plenty of times over the years, but the Dream Team had to have been an incredible experience. Do you have one memory that sticks out, or something that washed over you as something you were going to remember forever?
The whole experience is something I’ll remember forever, but the thing I had the most fun with and the thing that I hold onto as long as I can is the fact I got to play one on one against every one of those guys on the Dream Team. I grew up watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Patrick Ewing and [David] Robinson and Michael Jordan and all those guys. For me to be 22 years old and be able to walk down the other end of the court and grab one of them and play one on one with them was something I’ll never forget. There’s no other person in the world who has ever played one on one with all 11 of those guys, and I did. It was very, very unique and something very special.
It brings to mind those commercials you filmed this tournament where you’re sitting in a room with some pretty good players too. Any really good stories get passed around while you were filming?
The one commercial where Dr. J pretends to be the psychiatrist for Shaq. That was hilarious. We were sitting there for like an hour, and I couldn’t stop laughing because it was such a good storyline. Such a good plotline. How Dr. J is giving psychiatry advice with Shaquille. That was great. Every one of them was great. The one where I was on the hammock turned out pretty cool. The one where Shaq breaks the glass was just awesome. The whole experience was fun. To see Clyde Drexler, one of my Dream Team teammates and a guy I competed against in the NBA, was great. Every time you’re around Shaq, it’s a joy because he’s just very fun to be around. That’s just the way he is. And I’ve never spent an extended time with Dr. J. I’ve met him a few times over the years, but there was no one I watched more from the ages of eight to 14 than Dr. J because I grew up in Buffalo, New York and they were in Philadelphia, and they were always on TV.
With the tournament this year, are you going with Kentucky, or do you have somebody else that’s a dark horse?
I have Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Virginia going to the Final Four, and then I think anyone can beat Kentucky any of the games. The other team has to zone out and play really good offensively. If Kentucky has a letup and they don’t play D like they normally play, they can be beat any given night. That’s the thing that makes the tournament so exciting. It’s one and done. You gotta be at your peak and on point every game, and if you’re not, you’re going to get beat.
Getting back to wings since you’re from Buffalo, do you have a favorite wing flavor, or you a classic Buffalo guy?
CL: I’m a classic Buffalo guy. Bone in, extra crispy, and medium temperature with blue cheese and celery. That’s what I get every time.