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Thursday, November 19, 2015

"I Hate Christian Laettner", the devil in blue?

I Hate Christian Laettner

"Blame" Contra for "making me" watch more basketball documentaries... But this one came out of the blue really. I remember pretty well. Very shocking. Who was the unknown pale kid posing alongside the great of the greatest, the DreamTeam? Why was he among the 12 selected for the 92' Olympic team? The freak on me quickly gathered some information: Christian Laettner was one of the major stars coming from NCAA ever, leader of the Duke University team that made four consecutive Final Fours and won two national championships. Impressive to say the least. What a terrific player he must be. But in Barcelona he didn't play a lot (to be polite) and his NBA career never met the expectations, so Laettner became "the odd one" on an incredible moment for basketball lovers here in Spain... and not much more. Not enough to be remembered.

That's the main problem with this otherwise highly recommendable sports documentary. I can't  really connect with the powerful story because, for Spaniards, Christian Laettner was mostly unknown (back then the chances to watch NCAA games was really hard, no Internet then, kids, can you imagine?). It's a shame, because 'I Hate Christian Laettner' is a very interesting take on a polarizing player, and an even more absorbing attempt to discuss how and why a person can be the main target of the hate from so many people. Remember this happened way before social networks began its predatory and nonsense hate.

Director Rory Karpf wisely structures the documentary on questions raised to be debated upon, making 'I Hate Christian Laettner' easy to follow when it had the risk of became a filmed discussion such an abstract thing as the reasons for hating someone. We see the interviewed people (including himself and his family and Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, who has a special, moving bound Laettner) have their say on whether Laettner deserved the many negative definitions/accusations he received: cocky, privileged, bully, pretty boy, arrogant. Some, as the ones related with the economic side are quickly dismounted, while others reveal what masses can easily build with a couple of prejudices given, mainly with regards on his looks (he looked like a guy from 'Melrose Place' or '90210', but those were the aesthetics for many back then, on clear opposition of the Fab-Five from Michigan University looks and behaviour) or with the elitist university on which he studied (heavily hated) and played for. He became a symbol, a negative one. It's a very powerful narrative. We get a glimpse of what lies behind all the fierce, bizarrely intense dislike on him. Social, ethnic, class angst, and a brutal example of media construction imagery.

There were basketball reasons too, and that's when the film offers its share of action... and doubt on the character. Laettner was a terrific player, capable of doing so many things on court, but also a tough player and teammate, unafraid of getting nasty and aggressive (the chapter with friend Bobby Hurley is almost scary) if that was he thought it was needed. Capable of stomping on the chest of a downed player, then making the most dramatic shot in the history of NCAA basketball to win the championship. Every single person is more complex than what looks, stats, prejudices and media might say...

A very enjoyable documentary with an unusual depth, even for someone who didn't know almost anything about "the issue" (the hate) which, at the end, asks a great question to people. Do we need someone to hate?

SCORE: 6,5/10

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