TULSA, Okla. — It is arguably the NCAA Tournament’s most enduring image.
With defending national champion Duke trailing by one and only 2 seconds left in an epic overtime struggle with Kentucky, Christian Laettner catches a desperation pass from three-quarters of a court away. He dribbles once, whirls – and hits the game-winner. Never a doubt.
Pandemonium follows. The game’s best player runs off in jubilation as the Blue Devils head off to the Final Four. There, they’ll go on to win a second consecutive title.
Twenty years later, through an up-and-down NBA career and an even more turbulent venture into real estate, The Shot still follows Laettner. He’ll always be the subject of “Whatever happened to …” questions. Even more so as the NCAA Tournament gets underway and especially this year, on the 20th anniversary.
The answer, for now: After a three-year period during which creditors have obtained judgments totaling more than $26 million against Laettner, a business partner and their companies, the former NBA All-Star is trying to rebuild and make a new mark in basketball – as a coach.
As the lone assistant for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants of the NBA Developmental League, Laettner’s job is to develop these young players to the point they’re ready to play in the NBA. If he does well enough, he’ll seek his own call-up to the big leagues.
Whether or not he will succeed, there’s little doubt of Laettner’s willingness to fight.
“That kid was never afraid. And he loved playing on your home court. He loved playing in big games. And, boy, when you get a great player who likes those moments, I mean, you’re going to win a lot,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who puts Laettner in the top five college players all-time based on accomplishments and
“We won two national championships. He took us to four Final Fours. And he’s the same guy now, for me, the same guy. He believes in everything and I love Christian.”
Laettner’s hunger for the game never went away after 13 NBA seasons with Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas, Washington and Miami. The forward averaged 12.8 points and was an All-Star once but laments now that he never had extended time in one city, or with one coach, to make a bid for a title.
After retiring in 2005, Laettner first got back into basketball by forming his own youth academy near his home in Jacksonville, Fla. But that only led to a desire to see immediate results.
Laettner made it known at last year’s NBA combine that he was looking for a job, and got one this year in Fort Wayne.