Hate Watching: ESPN’s 30 For 30 Profiles Christian Laettner

30 For 30
Susan Ragan/AP Photo
30 For 30

Not everyone hates Christian Laettner. Duke fans, for instance. But in a Grantland.com contest two years ago, college basketball fans chose him as the most hated player of the past three decades.

When ESPN asked director Rory Karpf to examine “hate in sports” as part of its 30 for 30 series, he zeroed in on Laettner and the loathing that followed him through college, the Olympics, and the NBA. Karpf told Laettner the film “wasn’t a love letter, but that we would be fair.” However, Karpf admits, “I didn’t approach him right away saying, ‘Hey, we want to make a film called I Hate Christian Laettner.'” Once he heard the title, Laettner was OK with it but feared his family would be upset. “I had to smooth things over with his mom and his sister,” Karpf says.

Laettner was already disliked for his pretty-boy looks and confidence—some called it arrogance—when Duke met Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA East Regional final. He earned more enmity by tapping his foot on the chest of a fallen Kentucky player. And then there was “the Shot,” his buzzer beater that sent Duke to the Final Four.

The Blue Devils went to four straight Final Fours with Laettner, winning the national title in 1991 and 1992. “He came to represent what people don’t like about Duke in general,” Karpf says. “If he was at Kentucky or North Carolina, I don’t know if people would feel that way. He would just be like another good player.”

The 90-minute film (narrated by Rob Lowe) examines what Karpf calls “the five levels of Laettner hate,” often pitting perception versus reality in the areas of privilege (Laettner was from a working-class family and attended prep school on a scholarship), race, being a bully, greatness, and looks.

Karpf says Laettner didn’t wince when he was called a villain in the film. “He’s embraced that role,” Karpf says. After all, even in a competition to be named most hated college basketball player, Laettner still came out on top.

30 for 30: I Hate Christian Laettner, Sunday, March 15, 9/8c, ESPN