Most Hated College Basketball Player, Day 7: There Can Only Be OneNicholas Kastner/Grantland Illustration
America rarely ever gets things wrong. It’s a country that’s brought the world professional wrestling, the KFC Double Down, Kenny Powers, and America. But sometimes — daylight saving time, Taylor Hicks, pull-ups being included in the requirements for winning the Presidential Physical Fitness Award — America gets it horribly wrong. It pains me to say it, but Christian Laettner beating Tyler Hansbrough in a landslide to claim the title of the most hated college basketball player in the last 30 years is one of those times.
“But,” you’re probably saying, “Laettner winning this contest was obvious from the start. I’m not even sure why you guys bothered putting together the bracket. If Laettner had gone to North Carolina or Kentucky, there’s a good chance that they’d be the most hated team in college basketball. The man is almost solely responsible for Duke’s reputation, which is why if I were putting together a starting five of the most hated players in the last 30 years, Laettner would be all five.”
Look, I get it. Laettner’s easy to hate. If you don’t hate him for being a pretty boy preppy who still somehow managed to be the best player in college basketball, you hate him for stomping on Aminu Timberlake’s chest. You hate him because of The Shot, or you hate him because this picture exists. All of these are valid reasons to hate the guy. And honestly, I might hate him, too, for all of these reasons. Except that I don’t hate him because one important thing trumps all of that: Christian Laettner was a benchwarmer for the greatest basketball team ever assembled, which makes him a demigod to guys like me.
Sure, Laettner never put up a certified trillion during his time with the 1992 Dream Team, but this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be considered the Club Trillion torchbearer. I mean, when you consider the talent he was playing alongside, it would take a miracle to not record any statistics, seeing as how every pass he made was in serious danger of becoming an assist. Despite this, however, Laettner still managed to be two free throws away from a two trillion in the gold medal game against Croatia. Simply being the 12th man on the Dream Team is enough to for Laettner to be a first ballot Club Trillion Hall of Famer, but when you consider that he was a single foul away from a trillion in a gold medal game, it’s easy to see why it will be his statue that greets fans outside of the Hall’s entrance.
Even if you’re not invested in the Club Trillion movement like I am, it still doesn’t make any sense to hate Laettner. Think about it. What do you really hate him for? For being a pretty boy? For hitting the most famous shot in college basketball history? For winning back-to-back national titles? All that really says is that you’re jealous that Laettner was the total package. So instead of hating him, maybe you should hate yourself for not being him. Have you ever thought about that?
As for stomping Timberlake in the chest, with the exception of the Manti Te’o circus, I’m not sure a sports incident has ever been blown so far out of proportion. What Laettner did wasn’t a real stomp; it was more like lightly placing his foot on Timberlake. After all, Timberlake immediately got up and clapped with a devilish grin, so how much damage did Laettner really do? More importantly, has anyone considered that maybe Timberlake deserved it? He did flop on the play that led to Laettner “stomping” him. And Laettner said he did it because Timberlake had been unnecessarily physical up to that point. Is it that crazy to think that Timberlake, a freshman who scored just 28 points that entire season and who no one would remember if not for this incident, took a few cheap shots at the best player in the sport? If the roles were reversed and Laettner had been overly physical with Timberlake, and then Timberlake responded by stomping on him, college basketball fans all over the country would still be naming their kids “Aminu.”
I guess my point is this: You’re all jealous hypocrites. Christian Laettner is a national treasure and should be treated as such. Besides, do you really want to hate a guy who’s been reveling in your hatred like Laettner has since the start of this contest? Of course you don’t. When you hate people, you want them to hate you back. You want to know that their doofus faces and pube ponytails aren’t getting a kick out of your hatred. That’s right, Tyler and Joakim, I’m looking at you.
I’m sorry, America, but you got this one wrong. Thankfully, when future generations look back on this period in history, Taco Bell’s finally unveiling the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco will overshadow your colossal error. But those of us who appreciate the inspiration that Christian Laettner has given benchwarmers all over the world will never forget. I hope you’re happy.