Duke 91 & 92: Back to Back
Grant Hill and Christian Laettner discuss their Duke careers.
Despite Laettner’s hard-ass approach to the game, he had the utmost respect for his teammates—the ones who survived anyway. “It only took about a month to slap Grant around and wrestle him and push him against the wall to realize that he had heart,” says Laettner. “Even though he’s not a fighter, wrestler type like I am, he had heart on the basketball court…He would take a charge and he would dunk on you and if you elbowed him in the face, he would take it and play on the next play which is what it all comes down to.”
Laettner’s greatest attribute, though, was his propensity to step up and lead his team in big games. Every March, without fail, viewers will see highlights of Laettner’s incredible turnaround jumpshot to push Duke past Kentucky into the Final Four (“I was just glad Christian made the shot,” jokes Hill). Laettner played his best basketball when it mattered most. He holds the NCAA Tournament records for most points scored (407), most free throws made (142), most free-throw attempts (167) and most games played (23). Whether you love him or you hate him, he was a champion and one of the best college basketball players of all time.
While fans wouldn’t normally associate the Duke Blue Devils living an abbreviated “rock star” lifestyle, many would be surprised to know that the back-to-back champions lived the fast life during those seasons. “We had a bet with Bel Biv Devoe that if we beat them they would bring us on stage at their concert,” begins Hill. “Well, they were performing in the Dean Dome at Carolina and during the show they bring us op on stage, on UNC’s turf! And we’re dancing on stage with their dancers, and that’s when it hit me like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’ and obviously it took off from that point. There were so many ‘Laettner Lovers’ and people waiting outside of our hotels for us to arrive…It was crazy, it was absolutely crazy…People talk about ‘Duke haters,’ but I didn’t see a lot of it back then.”
Both Hill and Laettner went onto have successful careers in the NBA, both won Olympic Gold Medals, and were named to All-Star teams, and Hill continues to contribute for the Phoenix Suns. But, when they look back on their basketball lives, their fondest memories are from their time at Duke and with Coach K. “I’ve been really fortunate to have some good moments and great times,” begins Hill, “but I think those were the best times. Looking back, it comes down to winning… The Duke experience, we worked for that, we busted our tail, we sacrificed we bought in, we challenged each other. We did all the things necessary to win a championship, and that’s rewarding.”
“You learn life skills that I’ll take with me to the grave from that guy,” adds Laettner about Coach K. “It’s hard to be very demanding and have high expectations, but at the same time to be charming and have wit and a lot of charisma…It blows my mind that he can do all those things at once.”
“I think everyone that has gone through Duke has learned a tremendous deal,” chimes in Hill, “and like Christian said, you take it to the grave.”
Be sure to catch “Duke 91 & 92: Back to Back” this Sunday, March 11 at 8 p.m. on truTV.