If there were ever an ugly duckling of the 1992 Dream Team USA men’s basketball Olympic squad, it was undoubtedly Christian Laettner. Not only was Laettner the lowest on the proverbial totem pole on the most dynamic basketball squad of all time, but Laettner was also not the people’s choice to even be the lone collegian on the team. That choice was for Shaquille O’Neal, and it’s something that Laettner understood firsthand.
Jack McCallum’s book, “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All-Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever,” was built on a series of interviews with all of the Dream Teamers. (I’d suggest you read his blog as well.) McCallum’s exchange with Laettner was transparent and showed a different side about his experience as an Olympian:
“It wasn’t that hard. Sure, I had to use my head and realize what it was. Even though I was one of the best players in college at that time, it’s pretty obvious that it’s different walking into the room where you’re with the best players at the next level. But I’m smart enough and a good enough kid to realize that I’m at the bottom of the pecking order. Keep your mouth shut. Watch. Learn. Pick up the bags, pick up the balls. It was fun and easy. That’s how I describe it.”
McCallum then asked about the perception of being “Laettner in ’92,” as many perceived Laettner as pompous and pretentious:
“I don’t know what it looked like outside, but it was okay within the team. People only see the cocky, arrogant Christian Laettner. [I resisted the impulse to interject, “You mean the one who refers to himself in the third person?”] But that’s only me when I get up to that level. Once you’re up there you have to be cocky and arrogant. But if I’m not at that upper-echelon level I’m just a good kid with a good personality who knows his place. And my place was very low on the totem pole because Michael and Magic and Larry Bird are all on the team. It was an easy transition. I’m very good at that role. I don’t mind that role.”
Later, McCallum asked Laettner his thoughts on which members of the Dream Team were kind, and which ones weren’t so much…especially about that whole Duke vs. UNC thing:
“Michael was pretty cool, actually. Later on, he started giving me shit. But it wasn’t bad. They were all cool, some more than others maybe. I hung out with Stockton and his family. Drexler was really good to me. Chris Mullin was really, really good to me. Barkley was good to me. I had a few long talks with Bird. Pippen was cool. Ewing and Robinson, too. I played one-on-one with them. I played the most with Mullie but I played with almost every one of them for at least five minutes. (Laettner’s not a big smiler but he flashed a wide one with this thought.) When I played with Mullie, we played all perimeter, twenty feet out.”
The documentary, “Dream Team” premieres on Wednesday, June 13 on NBA TV. Here is your pertinent reading material for Monday, enjoy your week.
Hardwood Paroxysm: A Knicks Fan And A Heat Fan Walk Into A Bar…
ESPN Chicago: Cutler: Offense was inflexible under Martz
Miami Herald: Owner Micky Arison soaks in the Miami Heats Game 7 win
Players Perspective: Refs are just like you. No seriously, they have other jobs and everything
Pro Football Talk: Ndamukong Suh gives back
Smoking Section: A Not-So Friendly Clasico Exposed The Gap Between Messi & Neymar
Uni Watch: And They Can Be Used Again for Mexican Night
With Leather: Usain Bolt Hates These Flowers