Character & Christian Laettner

Great, But Disliked

Christian Laettner.

The name evokes an immediate reaction. For many people, it is a negative one.

But, while Christian says he doesn’t care whether you like him or not, I believe he is hoping to change one thing about the way people perceive him.

ESPN’s 30-for-30 special titled I Hate Christian Laettner is another in a long line of remarkably well done stories in this series. Director Rory Karpf takes us through an exploration of the former Duke basketball star and the program he led to four straight NCAA Final Four’s and a pair of National Championships. It is as insightful as it an entertaining, with actor Rob Lowe masterfully playing the role of storyteller.

Comparisons to Coach Knight

I view Christian Laettner as the player version of former basketball coach Bob Knight. Each was truly great, with admirable qualities that could inspire others. However, each exhibited behaviors that damaged their reputations.

It’s sad, really.

Bob Knight is one of the greatest teachers and coaches of all time. He was rooted to his principles. And, his adherence to the ethics of his sport and to academic excellence was outstanding. But when you think of Coach Knight, a chair being thrown across the court is one of the first images that comes to mind.

Christian Laettner should be celebrated as one of the most talented, competitive, and committed players in college sports history. His will to win was off the charts. Time after time, he delivered in the clutch. Yet, the “The Shot” he made to beat Kentucky in overtime of the 1992 NCAA Regional Final, is being viewed through a film explaining why he has been hated so much through the years.

The legacies of both Bob Knight and Christian Laettner were harmed, not so much by what they did, but by how they did it. It was their behavior toward others that led to most of the negative feedback they received.

The Value of Character

By now, you would think that athletes, entertainers and everyone in the public eye would have figured out that while society’s model for success is all about being a winner and making money, character is the often forgotten piece that is growing in value.

The Way You Win Matters™. Showing arrogance and a lack of respect for others isn’t behavior people admire or respect. Arguing that a lack of self-restraint means you are ultra-competitive, doesn’t cut it.

During that NCAA Regional Final that Duke won on Laettner’s shot in overtime, Kentucky’s Amini Timberlake was knocked to the floor under the basket. Christian Laettner then intentionally stepped on him. Laettner received a technical foul, but was not ejected. In ESPN’s film, Laettner described it as “just a little love tap on his chest”. While it was not a violent act, the behavior fueled the view of Laettner as a cocky and disrespectful competitor.

Respect as a Competitor

Christian Laettner appears to be comfortable with who he was during his Duke days and who he is today. He says he if he were to go back in time, he wouldn’t do anything differently. But, I think he would. While he says he doesn’t care whether people like him, I sense that he does care whether people respect him. Not for his basketball talent, he long ago earned that.

I believe Christian Laettner is seeking greater respect for his character. That while he behaved poorly at times, he wants to be viewed as an honorable competitor.

It may simply have been a ploy to draw attention to the film, but Laettner tweeted a message to Aminu Timberlake Sunday night during the first airing of the film.

Photo Credit: The Washington Post

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