Ball Don't Lie

Christian Laettner could owe as much as $30 million to sports stars, corporations

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Christian Laettner (Randy Belice/ Getty)

Although his NBA tenure never reached the heights of his college stardom, Christian Laettner had a pretty successful 13 years in the pros, making the All-Star game in 1997 and finishing with a career PER of 16.9. He also made more than $61 million in salary, theoretically enough to set him up for life.

However, a recent report suggests that Laettner has fallen on hard times. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Laettner and his business partner Brian Davis, a Duke teammate, are currently involved in various legal battles claiming more than $30 million in unpaid loans given to their real estate company. Here are the details from Valerie Bauerlein and Spencer Wilking:

But later next week [Laettner and Davis] have a court appearance in Washington, D.C. It's about a loan their real-estate company failed to repay to former Duke captain Johnny Dawkins. The judge in the case, having last year ordered Laettner, Davis and a company of theirs to pay Dawkins $671,309, will decide whether to hold them in contempt of court in regard to their failure to do so. In court documents and in interviews, Laettner, Davis and their attorney say any failure to make court-ordered payments is attributable to a lack of resources.

Court documents show that Laettner and Davis individually and their real-estate businesses are defendants in several civil lawsuits seeking repayment of loans worth about $30 million. The plaintiffs include sports celebrities like ex-Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen, who played with Laettner on the 1992 Olympic team. In August 2010, a state court judge in Lake County, Ill., ordered Laettner and Davis to repay Pippen $2.5 million. Through his attorney, Pippen said he had been paid half that amount and that litigation between the parties continues.

"What they have done isn't honest—I feel cheated," said Shawne Merriman, the three-time All-Pro Buffalo Bills linebacker who had lent money to the real-estate ventures of Laettner and Davis, which operated under a multitude of names. In January 2011, a federal court judge in Maryland ordered Laettner and Davis to pay Merriman $3.7 million.

Laettner declined to be interviewed. Speaking on behalf of their real-estate companies, Davis said, "Me and Christian took a lot of risk." Davis said he regretted alienating friends, particularly Dawkins, whom he has known for 25 years.

There's a lot more information in the piece itself, including that Laettner personally guaranteed payments to Merriman and others. As a news story, it's shocking for the grab-bag nature of the parties involved. It's hard to imagine Laettner getting drinks with Pippen, Dawkins, and Merriman all at once, let alone getting involved with them in various business deals. Then again, he and Davis also owe money to Chevron and Fannie Mae, so it's not as if this was merely a case of one sports star failing to pay a few others.

[ Related: Allen Iverson and other athletes who went bankrupt ]

Davis claims that their business has suffered from too-rapid expansion and the economic climate, which are believable circumstances for a real estate company in the last four years. Creditors dispute that reasoning, though, and are now investigating whether or not Laettner and Davis have the financial wherewithal to pay their debts. There might be some truth to it, too — Bauerlein and Wilking note that they were already getting in trouble for repaying loans before the market collapsed in 2008.

Laettner is currently an assistant coach for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBDL, with hopes of working in the NBA soon. If these legal issues persist, it's hard to imagine that dream coming true.

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