Thu Feb 26 03:58pm EST
That's hard to believe when you consider the events of March 28, 1992:
Kentucky vs. Duke East Regional Final ... Pitino's Wildcats are on the verge of a Final Four berth until Grant Hill throws a bomb to Laettner all the way down the floor. The Duke senior turns, shoots, and the rest is history ...
Duke goes on to win another National Championship, while Pitino and company are left to wonder what might have been.
You've seen the highlights a million times at this point. So have Pitino and Laettner.
"I'm always reminded of [Laettner's shot]," Pitino told me last week. "Every March Madness it's shown constantly. When March comes around I'll see Christian make that shot ... I've now seen it 1100 times."
Over the years, Pitino has come to grips with the outcome, which might explain why he and Laettner spent last Thursday afternoon together in Louisville.
The duo was busy filming a video, as part of a promotional campaign for Vitamin Water and the NCAA called "Revive to Survive," in which fans can submit their own re-creations of famous tournament moments for the chance to win a trip to the Final Four.
In the video, which is scheduled to hit the Internet some time next week, Laettner re-enacts "the shot" in different present day situations while Pitino helplessly looks on. "I don't know if I could have done this [video] when I was at Kentucky because they never would have forgiven me," Pitino admitted. "It's a lot easier to laugh with Christian than just relive that shot; a sense of humor is very good at my age."
That sense of humor must have been on full display during the shoot, especially when you consider it was just the second time the two men had seen each other since the former Blue Devil lifted his team to victory.
For Laettner, "that shot" has become a daily source of conversation for almost anyone he comes into contact with. "It's the thing that people talk to me the most about," he says of his 15-foot buzzer beater. "My family and close friends, they don't bring it up very often, but any time a stranger or someone I don't know approaches me or wants to say something, it's always the thing that they mention."
The constant notoriety may wear on Laettner sometimes, but he appreciates how special the recognition is. "It's kind of like part of my life that I have to put up with, but I never get sick of it," he said. "99% percent of the time people say complimentary things, or that was the greatest shot ever, so I enjoy it."
While the final outcome wasn't what Pitino wanted, he realized very quickly what a special game he had participated in. "You go home very upset when you lose because you're out of the tournament," he said. "I guess it was about three days later, I watched the tape of the game and I had a totally different perspective on it. It was such a well-played game, by both teams. It was a high-scoring game where both coaches just let the talent showcase their skills at the highest level; it was really just a great game to watch and be a part of."
As our phone conversation rolled along, it became apparent that both men still hold a special place in their hearts for that game. "What I remember most about that game was that we were a powerhouse," Laettner said. "Duke was a powerhouse, and the Kentucky team was a very well-coached team that had some local Kentucky kids on the team. No one kind of expected them to be there ... they were the underdog, we were the favorites. I think that's why it touches such a part [of fans' emotions]."
The emotions from that game at the Spectrum continue to run strong to this day. Pitino is convinced that most Kentucky fans still haven't gotten over the fact that Laettner's shot went through the net. "Walking away from that moment, and watching all the facial expressions, as they captured it on the sidelines, there was a lot to it, a lot of emotion to that game," Pitino said. "I don't think Kentucky fans will ever get over it, because they constantly talk about it."
They aren't the only ones.
Every basketball fan I know still talks about that shot; it may go down as the greatest shot in the history of college basketball. “As long as the TV is around, and as long as the Internet is around, and the NCAA Tournament, I think people will be seeing this play and that game -- Duke-Kentucky 1992 -- for a long time," Laettner said. "It doesn't bother me every March when it rolls around ... it's a pleasure to be a part of it and it's something that I'll always treasure."
(First photo via AP. Other photos via Vitamin Water.)