Christian Laettner is 45 years old. It has been 23 years since he took that game-winning shot that gave the Duke University Blue Devils men’s basketball team the victory over the University of Kentucky Wildcats, eventually securing them the NCAA championship title.
Christian Laettner went on to play 13 seasons in the NBA. He has been known as a phenomenal basketball player, and received many well-deserved accolades.
Nevertheless, Wildcat fans — commonly known as Big Blue Nation, or BBN — still proudly proclaim that they hate Christian Laettner. No amount of convincing, cajoling, or shaming will separate a True Blue UK fan from this opinion.
Especially since the airing of the I Hate Christian Laettner documentary on ESPN after the Wildcats beat Arkansas to secure the SEC championship this year, talk of UK fans finally letting Laettner off the hook has started again. Some say it’s long past time for UK fans to let it go. Stop acting like sore losers.
Let’s be clear: UK fans are not angry about The Shot. UK fans were initially angry about The Stomp.
— Kyle (@kylehodges17) January 26, 2015
— Kelly Evans (@kelrhon) April 19, 2014
But now it’s become something else.
You see, Wildcat fans believe that when Christian Laettner stomped on — not “stepped on” — Aminu Timberlake, he should have been ejected from the game. He doesn’t think so, but of course he wouldn’t. But had he been, he would not have been around to take the game-winning shot. Might someone else have taken that shot, still beating Kentucky? Sure. And fair is fair.
Except fair was not fair that day. The cheater had been allowed to stay in the game, and now was rewarded with, not just a team victory, but the glory of the game-winning shot. And that shot has been celebrated in highlight reels, commercials, and on sports shows galore ever since. Laettner’s shot is held up as the epitome of “clutch” grace. Even a company with major operations in Kentucky (UPS) has run with an ill-advised ad campaign featuring The Shot as a laudable moment.
There are plenty of detractors who urge BBN citizens to “get over it.” Usually, they mistakenly believe that UK fans are just sore about The Shot. Or maybe they think that refusing to let go of their ire over The Stomp is misplaced in the annals of the many unatoned-for fouls in the history of basketball, sports, life.
But Wildcat fans will not be disabused of their deep feeling that what happened that day was an injustice, plain and simple. One that has not only been ignored, but celebrated, and now those who remember the atrocity are being marginalized.
This is what non-BBN folks don’t understand. The actions of Christian Laettner in that game are used by parents in Wildcat country as object lessons for their kids. They point out the uncle in jail, the neighbor kid with the missing teeth, and Christian Laettner — all lessons and tales of warning.
You don’t want to be that guy.
Long before they had YouTube videos of The Stomp, they had worn-out VHS copies of the game. They pulled it out of its dusty hiding place much like parents in generations gone by might have pulled out a book about “the birds and the bees.” They passed the tale down as oral tradition. The man’s name is a curse in the Bluegrass State, not because he and his team beat the Cats — many others have before and since — but because the story of that game contains in it lessons about sportsmanship, justice, and not being a dick.
I hate Christian laettner because my dad taught me to hate him. #BBN
— TrEvoR CoLemAn (@trizzytrev) March 4, 2015
people don't hate Laettner because he's good at basketball. He was a bully. Therefore people aren't going to like u. #BBN
— No1GreaterThanUK (@FavoriteWildcat) March 16, 2015
If you want to start a fight with a man — or woman — in Kentucky, call that person “Laettner.” And get ready to spit teeth.
I wasn't even alive in 1992 when Laettner hit that shot and I still hate him. #BBN
— Jake McWhorter (@jake_mcwhorter) March 16, 2015
Christian Laettner tweeted an “apology” during the airing of the documentary on Sunday. While some people hope that this starts Laettner and Cats fans down the road to healing, Cats fans are not fooled.
A real apology does not begin with, “I’m only going to say this once.” Nor does it get posted under the hashtag #hatersgonnahate.
Was there ever a doubt? haaaaaaa! #BBN (I'd kick Christian Laettner in the throat right now)
— Dana Wells (@dannalynette) March 4, 2015
Christian Laettner may be a peach of a guy now. But in Kentucky, he is not remembered as the guy who beat us, or even as the guy who got away with stomping one of our players. His name is synonymous with injustice, snide disregard, and foul play.
And it won’t change. It’s nothing personal. It’s cultural. We’ve taken that name and we’re not giving it back.
Wore my "I still hate Laettner" shirt on the treadmill this a.m. because there's really only one thing I hate more than the treadmill. #BBN
— Kris Calvert (@kriscalvert) February 21, 2013
— Hunter Kennington (@HKcomer2) November 14, 2012