October 05, 2011
Before Christian Laettner appears at Rupp Arena on Oct. 24 to coach the Kentucky Villains team against a team of current Kentucky pros, the ex-Duke star agreed to do an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio on Wednesday promoting the game.
He discussed the iconic game-winning buzzer-beater he sank to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final. He addressed the infamous incident in which he stepped on Kentucky's Aminu Timberlake underneath the basket earlier in the game. And he admitted he's well aware that almost two decades later, he's still among the most hated men in the Bluegrass State.
Although Laettner acknowledged stepping on Timberlake's chest on purpose after getting fouled going up for a layup, the ex-Duke star explained he did it in retaliation for a play that happened the previous possession. Kentucky's Richie Farmer apparently had shoved Laettner face first into the basket stanchion on the other end of the floor, but at the time Laettner thought it was Timberlake who had delivered the push.
"I made a mistake and I thought it was Timberlake, so when Timberlake was underneath me 30 seconds later or a minute later, I had a bad reaction," Laettner said. "It was just from the emotion of the game. There was maybe too much adrenaline flowing, but it was a big mistake.
"It's worthy of a technical. I don't think it's worthy of getting kicked out of the game even though all the Kentucky fans will disagree with me on that. But it looks horrible. It's one of the things that I'm embarrassed about in my Duke career. There aren't many things, but that's one of them. Coach K was not happy with me about doing that. And he made a point to let me know about it a few times the following week going into the Final Four."
Besides star Jamal Mashburn, the 1992 Wildcats were a team of no-name in-state players who combined to lead a Kentucky program reeling from recent NCAA violations to within one victory of the Final Four. Referees could have ejected Laettner from the game for stepping on Timberlake, but they opted not to, enabling the Duke forward to conclude a 31-point performance in which he sank all 10 shots from the field and all 10 of his free throws.
Since that game, Laettner hate has become a cottage industry in Kentucky. Laettner says he gets calls or texts all the time from friends who spot Kentucky fans wearing T-shirts with slogans like, "I still hate Laettner."
Laettner doesn't venture into Kentucky very often, but he has before to go fishing near the Tennessee border. He agreed to visit Rupp Arena later this month because he liked the concept of the Kentucky Villains vs. Heroes exhibition game and because proceeds from the event will go to the V Foundation.
"It should be standing-room-only for the fans to get a chance to boo the hell out of me and to boo Rudy Gay, Kemba Walker and Tyler Hansbrough," Laettner said. "And I hope it's an earth-shattering boo they all get with me getting the biggest one."
If Laettner gets a chance to speak before the game, he knows exactly what he'll say to the Kentucky crowd.
"I'm going to say I realize how important that team was to you guys, all kids from Kentucky, nobody in the starting five who went to the league except for Mashburn, the way they came together and played as a team, how well they were coached," Laettner said. "I totally understand what it all means coming off the [probation] before and I can sympathize with the heartache, but people also have to understand I had to do my job too."