He was tall, white, cocky and good. And he played for Duke, a school which a lot of people hated already.
Christian Laettner came straight out of Central Casting, arriving at Duke in 1988 and proceeding to have one of the 5 or 6 greatest careers in the history of college basketball. He led the Blue Devils to four Final Fours, two national titles, and pretty much cemented Duke’s place in my heart forever (I truly fell in love with Duke watching the 1986 Tommy Amaker-Johnny Dawkins team, but the Laettner-era Devils made that love permanent.)
Laettner also, of course, was maybe the most hated player in college basketball history, and ESPN’s new 30 for 30 movie, “I Hate Christian Laettner” does a fabulous job showing why.
Overcoming the pretty tedious narration by a badly miscast Rob Lowe (though he, too, was a pretty boy who some hated), the movie does a great job dispelling some Laettner myths (people thought he was a rich preppy as a kid, but he actually came from a solidly middle-class background and a tough Buffalo neighborhood), and showing the confluence of factors that led to so much Laettner hate (and truly, if the Internet and social media were around back then, my God, it would’ve been so much worse).
The fact that Laettner participates in the movie and admits to many of his failings (yes, he admits it was pretty stupid to stomp on that Kentucky player in the 1992 Elite 8 game) makes it even stronger, and the variety of voices the film features really make it come alive. (Kind of surprised they delved into the Laettner-is-gay rumor that was a big deal back then, but it was really interesting).
Look, Laettner was tough to take even for us Duke fans sometimes, but the guy was an incredible winner, and motivator to his teammates.
He is still the forefather and No. 1 public face of Duke hate, easily surpassing those who came after him like Shane Battier and J.J. Redick.
Kentucky fans still wear shirts that say “I Still Hate Christian Laettner,” but after watching this movie, I’d bet they hate him just a little less. He’s a three-dimensional human being, as the film shows, not so easy to caricature once you hear him talk.
And if it was possible, this movie fired me up even more for March Madness (For the record, my Final 4 picks are Satan’s Team (I mean Kentucky), Wisconsin, Virginia and Iowa State (not Duke), with Wisconsin winning it all.
**Next up, my best friend and I have been making the argument to our friends and anyone who would listen for the past 20 years that it’s insane marijuana is so criminalized and looked down upon in our society, yet alcohol, the far, far more dangerous drug, is glorified and held up as practically an American birthright for citizens.
As everyone on the pro-pot legalization side knows, that view that so many millions have, that alcohol’s OK but pot is the devil’s work, there are no facts whatsoever to back up that assertion.
Well, very slowly, the worm is turning, and I think it was a pretty big deal when a respected pediatrician named Aaron Carroll wrote this essay for the New York Times this week plainly laying out that if he had to choose which was less dangerous, weed is clearly the answer.
He uses stats like:
— Every year more than 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related accidents. About 600,000 are injured while under alcohol’s influence, almost 700,000 are assaulted, and almost 100,000 are sexually assaulted. About 400,000 have unprotected sex, and 100,000 are too drunk to know if they consented. The numbers for pot aren’t even in the same league.
— While 9 percent of pot users eventually become dependent, more than 20 percent of alcohol users do.
— Marijuana kills almost no one. It doesn’t make you violent, you don’t “OD” on it, and it rarely if ever leads to death.
It’s really an illuminating article, one to think about the next time you see 8 million beer commercials on TV.
**Finally today, I love watching a minute or two of sports I think have no business existing, or trying to figure out why they exist.
So I five you a clip of Flash Fencing Ottawa, a fencing club in Canada, with two guys named Jacque l’Acadien LeBlanc and Jay Tompkins, going at it while on ice skates on a frozen pond.
Because, I guess, fencing isn’t challenging enough on land, it seems like fun to do on skates?