Down the road, former Duke basketball player Christian Laettner sees himself holding a clipboard. But for now, he has a microphone.
During the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the 13-year NBA veteran and member of the 1992 Olympic men's basketball team, affectionately known as the "Dream Team," will be covering this year's men's basketball team for Fox Sports. Laettner began his broadcast duties while the team was training in Las Vegas last week, which concluded with a game against the Dominican Republic.
The former Blue Devil, who took the team to four consecutive Final Fours and national championships in 1991 and 1992, spent the last year as an assistant coach with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBA's Development League. To read that story, and how Laettner got there, read the article on The Chronicle's main page from earlier this summer.
Laettner still aspires to be an NBA coach down the road and does not see his work in broadcasting as a distraction from that, rather a stepping stone.
"There are current coaches in the NBA who started commentating so it’s serving a lot of purposes. Right now I’m pursuing two different careers," Laettner said. "The commentating speeds the coaching—if you think of Doc Rivers, commentating then coaching."
Laettner has experience on the camera, having done some play-by-play at the University of Central Florida for the Bright House Sports Network. After his agent sent the tape out, he heard back from Fox Sports, which wanted him to do Olympic coverage this year. Laettner is familiar with both Olympic basketball, as the lone collegiate player on the 1992 Dream Team, and Team USA's head coach, Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who was also an assistant on the '92 squad.
Laettner has learned about coaching from watching Krzyzewski. He said Team USA's practices are similar to Duke practices, but at a higher level and more "efficient."
For Laettner, covering the Olympics has been both a didactic and nostalgic experience, helping him learn the game from a new perspective but also making him miss his playing days.
"It was a little déjà vu... NBA players just like I used to be for 13 years," Laettner said. "It was kind of fun to get back into it. It was interesting to be on the other side of it--the media side of it."
And with recent media attention being given to comments from members of this year's team claiming it would defeat the Dream Team in a basketball game, Laettner is uniquely qualified to assess that as a member of one and up-close spectator of the other. But that doesn't mean he forfeits his allegiances.
"Of course I’m gonna pick the team I was a part of. But theres no way this team could beat us," Laettner said.
People underestimate the Dream Team because its head coach, Chuck Daly, would often stop his team from running up the score, Laettner said. And on a team with 12 players, 11 of whom are members of the NBA Hall of Fame with Laettner as the odd man out, that meant the Duke legend saw garbage minutes when USA was up by big margins.
"Chuck Daly didn’t want to disrespect the opponent. Any time he wanted to put me in there, he wanted to pull in the reins," Laettner said.
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