Nearly 25 years after he became college basketball’s resident rock star, former Timberwolves forward Christian Laettner now is a basketball-camp owner, muskie-fishing entrepreneur and film critic.
At least he has been since the ESPN Films’ 30-for-30 documentary “I Hate Christian Laettner” first aired last Sunday.
Fittingly executive produced and narrated by actor Rob Lowe, the 90-minute film explores why one of the most successful collegiate players of all time — a guy who had it all: looks, smarts and game — was so disliked.
And perhaps in some places still is.
“I loved it,” he said Saturday. “Every time I see it, I love it more and more. They put it together really good. I can only ask that people give me the benefit of the doubt. I don’t need you to love me. I don’t want you to hate me. But just don’t judge the book by its cover. I’m different now than I was when I was 20 years old, and those were all things that I think got across in the movie. So I really appreciate it.”
It is March and he is relevant again, more so than usual every year when March and the NCAA tournament roll around and footage of the greatest play — his winning shot that beat Kentucky in 1992’s Elite Eight — in tournament history airs again.
Drafted third overall by the Wolves that same year he went on with Duke to win consecutive NCAA titles, Laettner returned to Minnesota this weekend. He participated in team-run youth camps and will meet with local coaches and season-ticket holders and attend Sunday’s game against Charlotte before he returns home to Jacksonville, Fla.
“I love coming up here,” Laettner said. “I’ve got family up here. It’s one of my homes. I got history up here. I used to live in Stillwater. I used to live in Mound. I married a girl from Mound. I just love Minneapolis. I love spending time up here. I love muskie fishing in the summertime. So every time the T-Wolves ask me up, I come.”
The 30-for-30 film pinpoints five reasons why Laettner remains maybe the college game’s greatest villain, ranging from his movie-star good looks, his race and perceived place of privilege to a competitive mean streak that got him labeled a bully. The fifth point is his big-game greatness: He’s the only player to start in four Final Fours, and then there was The Shot, his catch-and-shoot play after Grant Hill’s 70-foot pass that finished a perfect 20-for-20 shooting night, 10 from the field and 10 from the free-throw line.
The documentary ends with Laettner re-creating the shot alongside his young son in their back yard, a 17-foot turnaround in an outtake apparently achieved on the first take.
“I did,” he said. “I always do the shot. Three times a year, I probably do it and I usually make it on the first shot, especially if there’s a camera there and we can cut it and make it look like the first time again.”
He declined to re-create it Saturday at a middle school in Plymouth, but he informed campers on the fundamentals and his love for the game. The children probably didn’t really know who he is, but their parents did.
For the record, he addressed a local legend: an oft-repeated story that he pointed at each Wolves teammate’s locker one day and said “loser” before ending with “winner” when he got to his.
“I don’t know, I can imagine that possibly it happened,” said Laettner, certain it wasn’t in front of teammates if it did happen. “When you’re interviewed every day and you’re tired, you can make mistakes and say the wrong things, especially when you’re young. That’s what the movie did a good job showing: Hey, people mature. They learn. They get better at things.
“You’re different when you’re 45 than when you’re 25. If I did say that, it was a horrible thing to say … it was a misbehavior on my part.”