I Love That You Hate Christian Laettner

Responding to all the Duke hate and the especially hated few

True Blue | Brett Finkelstein | March 24, 2016

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When it comes to Duke, people just love to hate. It’s especially true now, in the midst of March Madness with the NCAA tournament and the success of the Blue Devil men’s basketball team led by the one and only Coach Mike Krzyzewski. With five NCAA Championships, 12 Final Fours, 12 ACC regular season titles and 13 ACC Tournament championships (have I started to piss you off yet?), he has been a Duke legend ever since he started coaching here back in 1980. Last year, in 2015, his team brought home that fifth NCAA Championship, only upping the ante this year for repeated success (ok now I know, if you’re not a fan, you’re definitely pissed off).

It’s not that people only love to hate on the success of the outstanding basketball program here, though that definitely does draw plenty of attention. People really love to hate the players. One of the most infamous examples comes from the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary film “I Hate Christian Laettner” that looks into the story of the controversial Duke basketball player.

All it takes is a short bio of Christian Laettner to understand why people hate the guy. Regardless of his reputation, his success was unquestionable. At 6’ 11’’, his hall-of-fame history and college career led him to become one of the most famous and successful collegiate athletes of all time. Then there was his infamous buzzer-beater in the 1992 NCAA tournament against Kentucky that took Duke to the Final Four that we all remember so fondly… But what we sometimes like to forget is the fact that Laettner, the hero that took us to the national championship, stomped on the chest of the Kentucky player Aminu Timberlake only minutes earlier. It’s antics like this, on top of both his success on the court and the Duke letters on his chest, that sparked the title-worthy feeling: I hate Christian Laettner. The hatred of Laettner only added to the existing hatred of Duke’s success, as his reputation was transferred to his team and his school.

Recently, these feelings have turned towards a current team member – Grayson Allen. The Rolling Stone article “Duke Wins One for the Man” explained it by looking to the other “Grayson Allen’s” of the world as the ones who – regardless of how much people want to see them fail – keep winning.

That was written last year, when he was just “the fourth freshman” in a recruiting class that contained Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow, averaging only 9 minutes and 4 points per game. Now he is arguably one of the best players in the ACC, scoring the second most points in the conference, gaining first-team All ACC accolades, and essentially becoming the team’s go-to player.

When it comes to comparing Laettner and Allen, though, it’s about more than just their talent on the court. Laettner himself even commented recently in an interview with USA Today about watching – and cringing – as Allen took part in what looked to be some dirty moves on the court, tripping an opponent in the last moments of the game against Florida State. Most importantly, he acknowledged his regret for the incident with the Kentucky player and hopes that Grayson can learn from his mistakes. Luckily, Allen has also admitted that he “made a mistake, and…messed up” to ESPN when he tripped the opposing player.

Laettner’s clearly recognized the legacy he left himself, but is it one he also left for his team at the school? In March of this year the Wall Street Journal published an article on the so-called “Complicated Politics of Hating Duke” that have taken us from Laettner’s glory days into today. The author Christina Rexrode explains, “this animosity isn’t limited to the basketball court—it seems to spill over to the entire institution.” These feelings are credited to Duke’s reputation of having it all: academic excellence, a beautiful campus of gothic architecture, the opportunities of North Carolina’s research triangle, oh, and did I mention the sports?

So, the WSJ explains it plain and simple that people hate Duke because Duke has something that they don’t: everything. And for those of us lucky enough to call Duke our school, that makes us even more proud. That’s why we love that your hate continues from Laettner to Allen. Of course we don’t love the fact that our school has become notorious for what some like the call “The Duke Villain,” but we pride ourselves on the success that extends from the court to the campus as a whole.

For those on the outside, it just makes them want to hate Duke even more. But for those of us here, on the inside, Duke students, faculty, alumni and the works, it only increases our love for our school. We love that you hate us. We feed off of it. Oh, and when we win another basketball game, it gives us the bragging rights to be even more obnoxiously proud (you may notice us in your newsfeeds from time to time). Those are two things you can be sure of. First is that we will continue winning. Second is that we will make sure you know that.

Now coming off our fifth NCAA Championship title in 2015, we have even more to be proud of. And other people have even more reason to want to see us fail. Even though the WSJ wants to explain this hatred as “complicated politics”, it’s really not complicated at all. Instead, it’s motivation for even more success coming off of a history of proving ourselves time after time as the Duke Blue Devils. And there’s no intention to slow this down any time soon.

And on that note, we will see you in the Sweet Sixteen in Anaheim, California this week. Good luck. And please, keep hating. We’ll be sending all our love right back in the form of blue face paint, baskets, bowing down to Coach K and busting your bracket just because you were too hateful to take Duke all the way.