it was thirty years ago. Already. Thirty years since the United States obtained the authorization to send NBA players to participate in the Olympic Games. Thirty years since, as a result, the “Dream Team” was created. Thirty years that a simple basketball team took on a dimension never seen before. Records, legends, influence… this summer TrashTalk has decided to come back with you to all the stories that have made this squad one of the most legendary in the history of sport. Get out your Hoverboards, hop in the Delorean and launch Johnny B. Goode on the car radio because it’s time to look back in 360 degrees on what happened… 360 months ago. Fourth episode? The controversial presence of Christian Laettner – then a university player – in the American selection.
Previous episode: The Dream Team 1992 – 30 years later: PJ Carlesimo, Chuck Daly’s assistant coach whose career was… eventful
What is the Dream Team in people’s imagination? Without a doubt, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Of course those are the names that stand out the most but let’s say with eleven hall of famers in the list, all could be cited. The delirious moments of Charles Barkley, the relaxed outings on the rambles by John Stockton… We could spend a day and a night describing what makes the legend of each member of Team USA in Barcelona. However, one of the names of this selection is not often mentioned in these accounts. This blaze in question is that of Christian Laettner. College player who completed his studies in 1992 after dominating the NCAA rackets for four years, the tradition at the time. A Duke star, he led the Blues Devils to back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992. For context, the boy has just triumphed with his college, while being the team leader and sending 21.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.1 steals on average. Social networks did not yet exist at the time, but we suspect that such a prospect would have broken Twitter in 2022. In the United States in any case, no need for telephones because TV and newspapers work quite well . Laettner is a star, a real sporting phenomenon beyond basketball and promised a bright future in the NBA. In the summer of 92, he was drafted in third position by the Wolves. Who are the two guys in front of him? Be careful, get your neck wet: Shaquille O’Neal first, Alonzo Mourning second. We agree, they are not funny. Question that should come now: why Laettner and not the Shaq’ or Mourning? Why not take a twelfth player also from the NBA?
Know that in the first place, the Olympic Committee of the USA only wanted to take eleven NBA players, and leave the last spot to a promising NCAA player. Of course, O’Neal and Mourning appear in hindsight as players of a completely different caliber than Laettner, but the context was not in their favor at the time. O’Neal will recognize it himself, during an interview given on this subject during the NBA Finals of 2012 to the magazine SLAM.
” I was angry. I was jealous, but then I realized that even though I was a more explosive, more powerful player… Christian Laettner had slightly better fundamentals than mine. In addition, he did his four years and graduated. I think it will have helped me grow as a player. »
When we know the rest of the career of Big Diesel, it may only be a blessing in disguise. In any case, it is with great happiness that Christian took part in the Catalan adventure. Logically, he did not enjoy an extraordinary playing time but it will have allowed him to experience just unique moments. His averages during the fortnight? 4.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1 steal in 7.9 minutes. The only player who has played less than him? John Stockton. Beyond the basketball moments, the fact of having taken part in this group simply makes Laettner happy. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Barcelona Games, “the intruder” – as many call him – evoked his memories for the newspaper l’Équipe.
“The selection committee preferred me to Shaq’ and Alonzo, and that was fine. Without that, I would never have had the best moment of my career. Winning Olympic gold with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird…”
Meeting up with legendary players? As a neophyte who has never stepped on any NBA court? It also means chambering, hazing and so on. Add on top of the market that guys like Charles Barkley or Michael Jordan – who are not the last to be zealous – were in the group, always ready to have fun. Never far from the rookie to play a trick on him, these last two have also marked the strong winger. It was before the Olympics, but the anecdote is legendary.
“In the Dream Team, I was Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan’s clerk. I carried their suitcases all the time, I bought them food. They liked to tickle me, like before the first Olympic qualifying match against Cuba, in Portland. When my name was called by the announcer for me to join the team in the middle of the floor, I lost my tracksuit bottoms… Charles and Michael were behind me and were crying with laughter. »
The long post Dream Team debates that question the legitimacy of Christian Laettner in this group? The boy doesn’t care, and we understand that. Even when it’s a team member. Within the group itself, the presence of a young man barely out of college was and still is a debate. And for good reason, some would have preferred an NBA player to be selected as the twelfth man. In his book Unguarded, Scottie Pippen goes very clearly in this direction. If for some, the selection of a kid adds legend and charm to this team, for the lieutenant of GM, this is not really the case.
“I agreed with all the choices that were made, except that of Christian Laettner. I didn’t think it would stick, and I was right. The committee should have chosen another NBA player, and many of them were worthy of this honor. My favorite was Dominique Wilkins. »
– Scottie Pippen
Dominique Wilkins was of course one of the players who animated the Great League in 1992, but the real player who could have joined the team at that time was Isiah Thomas. Star of bad boys Detroit and especially double NBA champion 1989 and 1990, the leader was at the heart of a lot of confusion with many members of the team. Detroit’s very dirty style of play and the differences in behavior in matches will undoubtedly have been right for the confidence of the other members of the team. The rough battles with the Bulls in the Playoffs and in particular this episode of the handshake with Michael Jordan are not for nothing more, since Mike would have according to certain rumors put pressure behind the scenes so that Thomas does not come. Hey, even the chilliest guy in the band aka David Robinson didn’t agree with a selection from Zeke, so good.
When you have a certain reputation, that of a ‘Bad Boy’ and you take pride in it, people won’t like you. Is it really surprising that people say they don’t want to play with ‘Bad Boys’? When it comes to putting together a team, chemistry is important. Really. You can’t pretend it doesn’t matter. For this team [NDLR : La Dream Team] in particular, it is clear that it was something to consider for everyone involved”
– David Robinson, for NBC Sports Chicago
Christian Laettner will be able to tell it to his grandchildren: he was undoubtedly part of the most legendary team in basketball, the most legendary team in the Olympic Games. Seen by many as the man who was out of place, he nevertheless contributed to shaping the legacy of a group that will revolutionize its sport and bring it into its global explosion phase.
Sources: The Team, Unguarded, NBC Sports Chicago, ESPN, SLAM, realgm.com