In 1992 the US Olympic Basketball team was comprised off eleven NBA players, plus one collegian. Christian Laettner was the college player picked, beating out LSU center Shaquille O'Neal. Was this the right pick?
Laettner's Duke Blue Devils had just won their second straight national championship. He'd won the 1992 national player of the year. He had just become the only player in college history to start in four straight Final Fours, playing 23 of 24 possible games, and winning an amazing twenty-one. Many consider him to be one of the ten best collegians in history.
Laettner was born into a family of immigrants, worked on a farm as a child, and later performed janitorial services to work his way through high school. After four years of college Laettner played another 13 years in the NBA.
Shaq played three years at LSU and 19 in the NBA. In college he was a two-time first-team All-American, and was named college player of the year in 1991. Laettner played in 58 more college games than O'Neal: 148 to Shaq's 90.
Both players were NBA vagabonds, playing for several teams. Shaq played in Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston. Laettner played in Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas, Washington, and Miami. Laettner was O'Neal's teammate in Miami.
Years later Laettner theorized he was probably a better pick as the Dream Team's 12th man because of what the job entailed: carrying the bags of the NBA players, suffering their abuse, and remaining in the background. Perhaps Laettner's NBA career would've turned out different had he not been named to the Dream Team. Then again, Shaq's career may have been different had he been the 12th man on the greatest team in history.
Above: Laettner on the bench with Jordan, Barkley, Ewing, Stockton, and Bird. I love Laettner's Hauraches.