Welcome to my new blog, NCAA College Basketball fans. March Madness 2015 has arrived. Fans, their co-workers, bosses, families, friends, and the family pets all will have their brackets at the ready. This year’s #1 Seed that everyone is watching is the University of Kentucky Wildcats, coached by John Calipari.
As one who lives in Lexington, KY, I know all too well how crazy the fans of Wildcats are about their team. The local media is almost as insane. The Cats win, it’s a big party. The Cats lose even a regular game, it’s the end of the world. Anyway, this year, Coach Calipari has the team undefeated, so it will be interesting to see if Calipari and his team can finish the job.
Well, there is one particular team that the University of Kentucky fans hate, and that is Duke University, and their Duke Blue Devils. The specific player, who was on said Duke Blue Devils happens to be Christian Laettner, the center for the Duke University Blue Devils from 1988-1992, who was the subject of the newly shown ESPN 30 FOR 30 film, “I HATE CHRISTIAN LAETTNER.”
The film, which I will be reviewing in this blog, contains one specific play concerning the Kentucky Wildcats, which still angers Wildcats fans, and many others, to this day. The film also goes in depth as to why UK fans were not the ONLY people who were not very fond of Laettner. The film also goes into Laettner’s personal background, and explores reasons why he was hated when he played for Duke, and why he’s still hated today. I hope that my readers will enjoy the review.
After watching the debut airing of “I Hate Christian Laettner, ” this past Sunday, March 15th, and a re-airing on YouTube, overall, I felt that the film was excellent. Director Rory Karpf and narrator, actor and heartthrob Rob Lowe did a very good job of telling the story of Chris Laettner’s story. Karpf used footage of Laettner’s playing days, interviews with Laettner himself, Laettner’s family, former teammates, former opponents, and others. I got a pretty clear picture also, as to why he was hated so much. At the same time, I also learned some things that gave me pause.
The film went into five main reasons why Christian Laettner was hated. I’m not going to get into huge detail concerning each one, but I thought that four made some sense. They were the following: His preppy image, his good looks, playing for Duke, and his brashness on the court. There was one reason that I didn’t like, his being white.
The viewer learns that even though Laettner had this prep boy image, and was portrayed as this perfect, squeaky clean guy, it turns out that he came from a working class background, in Buffalo, New York . He actually had to earn a Scholarship to a nearby prep school to play basketball, as his family could not afford it. At the family home, one of his chores was to clean up the horse stalls, according to one of his sisters. I didn’t even know all this.
In speaking of having a preppy image, that is just one the reasons why people hated Duke University, and their Blue Devils, and still hate them, per the film. People just hated the University because of the academic programs and the perception that the Duke students thought they were better than anyone else. This attitude spread to the Basketball team, and Christian Laettner, with his basketball prowess, combined with that intense hatred, became the face of Duke. Folks thought all of his teammates were a bunch of preppies, and came from well to do families. The reality was, as the film emphasizes, Grant Hill was the only one who fit the stereotype.
On top of all this, what also got under people’s collective skin is the fact that Duke won. During Laettner’s time at Duke, the team won two Men’s NCAA Championships. The team was a perennial winner. It was seen as a powerhouse that people wanted to see toppled, like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the New England Patriots. People were tired of seeing Duke win all the time, and Christian Laettner was the focus of it.
The film points out that not only was Laettner a great player, he was a very aggressive and brash player. Even in prep school, he would elbow another player. While at Duke, he’d get into opponents’ heads by giving elbows. The film showed Laettner cutting someone’s face up. Players who were interviewed said he was one of the greatest trash talkers in the game, and another said he went after Laettner for throwing a punch.
Of course, there’s the infamous tap on the chest during the 1992 East Regional Finals against the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Richie Farmer of the Wildcats pushed Laettner’s face into the basket stanchion. Laettner said in the film that he THOUGHT it was Aminu Timberlake. At the opposite end, after contesting for a basket, he saw Timberlake laying on the floor. Well, Laettner stomped on Timberlake’s chest. Laettner got a technical, but wasn’t ejected, which upset many people. He should have been ejected, but as most fans know, the stars get the calls. The rules are supposed to be for everyone, but sadly, stars get away with more. Anyway, as people already know, the game ended when Grant Hill threw the ball in, and Laettner hits the buzzer beating winning shot.
Laettner was a handful with his teammates at Duke as well. Laettner would tease and torment Bobby Hurley. In the film, Hurley discussed how Laettner would yell at him all the time, during games. Coach Michael Krzyzewski said that Laettner was a handful during pickup games. The film went back to Laettner’s childhood, where the viewer learns that Laettner’s older brother would bully Christian. It sounds to me like Laettner’s older brother set the tone for him to be a bit of a bully.
Another reason why Laettner was so hated was his good looks. The film discusses how Laettner would be making sure his hair looked good during games. He was popular amongst the ladies. At the same time, he was this brash, brute of a basketball player. The film went into how the two images clashed against one another, and how the hate against Laettner was so bad, that it led to the false gay rumors about him , when he bought his friend and fellow teammate a car.
The film also goes into his being white. This is the area that bothered me. I understood the point the filmmakers were trying to make. They were trying to make the point that during the 90s, Hip-hop and African American culture were both just starting to become popular, and since Christian Laettner was white , he and his teammates represented the establishment. There was also discussion of how the UNLV Rough Riders and the University of Michigan “Fab Five” were very influential with the youth. The Duke teams were seen as the right way to play the game, and the Rough Riders were seen as more physical.
My problem was that I think that the film could have made the point was that Laettner was counter cultural without saying his race was a reason for people hating him. Can we get past using race as a reason, already? I didn’t see what skin color had to do with it. What I did find interesting was that his teammates said that he enjoyed listening to hip-hop, and loved his teammates, etc. That told me that he was just a regular guy on the team, and liked a lot of the same things that was popular as well.
Overall, I highly recommend you checking out “I Hate Christian Laettner,” as I’m sure it will be repeated many times. I think fans will be surprised how much they’ll learn about Laettner. I learned that he was a superb athlete, and a better person than I thought. Of course, I am sure there will be fans who will always hate Duke and Laettner, no matter if you watch the film or not.