As the NCAA player of the year, Laettner was the only collegian selected for the elite "Dream Team" that dominated the 1992 Olympics; the team is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was drafted third overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, then played 13 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for six different teams; the highlight was an All-Star Game selection in 1997 while with the Atlanta Hawks.
Christian Laettner was born and raised in Angola, New York (near Buffalo and Niagara Falls) to a blue-collar Roman Catholic family. His father George was of Polish descent and his grandparents spoke Polish as their first language. Christian's older brother Christopher was a strong influence, often bullying young Christian, which helped instill a stern competitive drive. Both boys also frequently worked as farm laborers to supplement their allowance.
Laettner attended the private Nichols School; although he received a financial aid package that paid a substantial part of his tuition, his family had to sacrifice to send him there, and he also did janitorial work at the school to defray some of the cost. During his career he scored over 2,000 points, setting the school record, and the team won two state titles and reached another semifinal. He was a much sought-after college recruit.
Laettner attended Duke University and played for the basketball team under coach Mike Krzyzewski from 1988–92. As the team's star player his final two seasons, he led them to the first two national titles in school history. A four-year starter, he also contributed to their runner-up finish his sophomore year and final four appearance his freshman year. Thus, in total, he played 23 out of a maximum possible 24 NCAA tournament games, winning 21; both are records.
For his career, Laettner averaged 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while making almost half of his three-pointers. He scored 21.5 points per game his senior season, garnering every major national player of the year award; Duke retired his No. 32 jersey later that year. His career is widely regarded among the best in college history, and he is enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.Most points scored: 407
Most free throws made: 142
Most free throw attempts: 167
Most games won: 21
Most games played: 23
Laettner had several clutch performances in the NCAA tournament. His most famous was the 1992 regional final against Kentucky, which was foreshadowed by the 1990 regional final against UConn; in both games Duke trailed by one point with two seconds remaining in overtime before Laettner swished a jumper as time expired. He also swished the game-winning free throws against undefeated and heavily-favored UNLV in the 1991 semifinal, avenging UNLV's 30 point victory in the 1990 final. He then led Duke to its first championship, defeating Kansas in the final, and was honored as the tournament's most outstanding player.
Laettner is especially known for his back-to-the-basket, turn-around jumper that ended the intensely competitive 1992 regional final, a game many critics rate among the greatest in college history. He was in rarefied form throughout, shooting a perfect ten of ten field goals and ten of ten free throws for 31 points. He then finished his college career by leading Duke to its second consecutive national title. The following year ESPN awarded him both "Outstanding Performance Under Pressure" and "College Basketball Play of the Year" for the Kentucky game, also awarding him "Outstanding College Basketball Performer of the Year".
The game-winning shot against Kentucky became a cultural icon, having been frequently televised in college basketball montages. Several companies have also featured it in their commercials. In 2006 The Best Damn Sports Show Period ranked it the fifth most memorable moment in sports history.
Laettner was widely reviled by opposing fans throughout his career, to the extent that more than 20 years after graduating from Duke, he was voted the most hated college basketball player in history in an ESPN online poll. This led to ESPN's creation of the 30 for 30 documentary I Hate Christian Laettner that explored five factors for this widespread and persistent hatred: privilege, race, bullying, greatness, and physical appearance. He was particularly resented for stepping on the chest of Kentucky player Aminu Timberlake during the 1992 regional final, which the referees deemed a technical foul; Laettner expressed regret for his misconduct but believed that ejection would have been too harsh a consequence.
As the national player of the year, Laettner was the only collegian selected for the prestigious "Dream Team" that won the 1992 Olympic gold medal in dominant fashion. He averaged 4.8 points per game. The team is considered one of the greatest in sports history and was inducted into both the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Drafted third overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Laettner played 13 years in the NBA, from 1992–2005, scoring 11,121 points and grabbing 5,806 rebounds. His first six seasons were his best, averaging 16.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while starting almost all of them. He also was selected to the All-Rookie First Team in 1993 and the All-Star Game in 1997 while with the Atlanta Hawks. His time on the Hawks was his most successful NBA team experience, twice reaching the second round of the playoffs.
Despite his achievements, Laettner's NBA career was characterized by transience. He played for six different teams, was traded six times, and never spent more than three full seasons anywhere. In 2004, he was suspended several games for using marijuana.
Since 2011 he has operated numerous youth training camps. He also played some semi-pro games and briefly served as an assistant coach in the NBA Development League.
Laettner lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and is an avid muskellunge fisherman. He has also donated to his alma maters.
He maintains a close friendship with Duke teammate Brian Davis. They have pursued several business ventures together, including real-estate development in Durham, a Major League Soccer team, and an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the Memphis Grizzlies. Some legal problems have also occurred.
As of March 2016, Laettner and wife Lisa are divorced.1990 All-ACC Second Team
1990 ACC All-Tournament Second Team
1990–91 Consensus All-America (1990)
Two-time NCAA Champion (1991, 1992)
1991 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player
1991 NABC All-American Second Team
1991 AP All-American Second Team
1991 USBWA All-American Second Team
1991 All-ACC First Team (Media)
1991 ACC All-Tournament First Team
1991 NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Teams (AP)
1991 UPI All-American Second Team
1991 UPI All-American Second Team
1992 AP All-American First Team
1992 Oscar Robertson Trophy (USBWA Player of the Year)
1992 USBWA All-American First Team
1992 UPI All-American First Team
1992 ACC Player of the Year (Media)
1992 ACC Tournament MVP
1992 ACC All-Tournament First Team
1992 NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Teams (AP)
1992 AP Player of the Year
1992 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year
1992 Consensus All-America
1992 NABC Player of the Year
1992 Naismith Award
1992 Rupp Trophy
1992 Sporting News Player of the Year
1992 USBWA Player of the Year
1992 Wooden Award
1992 National College Basketball Player of the Year
No. 32 jersey retired by Duke in 1992
1992 Olympic Gold Medal winner
1997 NBA All-Star
National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame (class of 2008)
U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame (class of 2009 as a member of the "Dream Team")
College Basketball Hall of Fame (class of 2010)
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (class of 2010 as a member of the "Dream Team")