ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary Sunday night addressed the issue of why people hate former Duke basketball player Christian Laettner. While touching on and sometimes dancing around some of the real reasons, for the most part, they tried to conclude that it was mainly because Duke won all the time and he was the face of Duke. I call bullsh*t on that.
Fans in the ACC, who saw him the most, didn’t hate him because Duke beat them. In fact, during his four years, North Carolina went 6-5 against Duke including a 22-point victory in an ACC Tournament final. Tar Heel fans were more likely to hate him because he lacked class – what they thought was in great contrast to their team. Simply put, he was an ass.
He treated people poorly – even his own fans – ignoring them, refusing autographs and generally coming across as if he were better than you and everyone. On the court, he talked trash and used foul language. He intentionally stomped on people and picked fights. He was beyond conceited, beyond arrogant.
These are all legitimate reasons to hate someone, or to put it softer, dislike someone.
Unfortunately, especially nationally, there is another disturbing reason Laettner is hated. He’s white and played basketball better than most black players. He wasn’t rich and entitled. He wasn’t white collar. He was just white.
Many white people, especially, think of basketball as a black man’s game. And they are jealous that they can’t play basketball that way. It’s racist in so many ways – from the attitude that black people are there to entertain on the basketball court to the fact that a white guy shouldn’t be able to play that way.
There is a white guilt issue. White = privilege. Black = struggle. As one high school coach says, “Suburban kids tend to play for the fun of it but inner city kids look at basketball as a matter of life and death.”
Think I’m all wet? How else can one explain that in a national bracket on the most hated players, in the final eight there was only one person – Mateen Cleaves – who has a black mother and a black father? In a sport where the vast majority of starters are black, only one black player made the final eight. Are only white players taunting opponents or pounding their chest after buckets? Or is it that our society likes that kind of out-of-control emotion? The Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman certainly gets endorsements largely for his antics.
More than half of the nominees put up for the most hated player of the last 30 years are white. Of the Final Four, three of the players most hated played at Duke’s rival UNC – Eric Montross, Tyler Hansbrough and Rick Fox, whose mother is white. So all four of the most hated players of the last 30 years of college basketball were born to white mothers. How can that be explained?
Did Montross, Hansbrough and Fox treat fans poorly? No. Did they use foul language and pick fights on the court? No. Did they act arrogant? No. Did they get caught for smoking dope? No. Did they play for Duke? No. Perhaps they were hated for being goody two shoes, and whites are more likely to be perceived as goody two shoes. I don’t know. I suppose the argument can be made that Carolina traditionally wins, like Duke, but then why wouldn’t Scott Williams or J.R. Reid or Jerry Stackhouse or Rasheed Wallace be on the list instead?
It’s disturbing. Montross “won” his bracket by beating out such players as Allen Iverson, a guy who had alcohol and gambling problems and who went broke buying jewelry to match his wild array of tattoos. That’s not to mention his not paying child support for five kids, who he once illegally abducted from his wife. As a player, he skipped practices and threw his teammates and coaches under the bus. He was selfish and always hogged the ball.
He wasn’t good with fans. In fact, he was known for canceling appearances at the last second. After failing to attend one meet-and-greet, one fan put it this way: “It’s disappointing, but it’s not shocking, though. It’s kind of expected of him, it seems like.”
How can anyone explain hating Montross, a gentleman who takes time to speak with everyone and treats people with respect, more than Iverson? Is it what has become known as the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for blacks when it comes to how one presents himself and maybe the bigotry of high expectations for how blacks play basketball.
Laettner was a great basketball player, especially in college. If you’re going to hate Laettner, do so because he is, or at least was, a jerk.