Christian Laettner's Hip-Hop History
Life. Love. Laettner.
Steven Buyansky via Wikimedia Commons
The big story in social media this week, as of midnight Sunday, has been the the release of Kendrick Lamar's new album To Pimp A Butterfly. But for three hours prior to Lamar's surprise release, the big story was the latest installment in ESPN's critically acclaimed 30 For 30 series, I Hate Christian Laettner. Arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time, Laettner was as reliable at putting points on the scoreboard as he was making enemies in the stands. His charismatic hot-headedness and movie star looks made him something of a basketball super-villain.
But Sunday's documentary came with a few revelations that weren't really well known about Laettner. For one thing, despite Duke's reputation as a proving ground for the privileged, Laettner came from very humble lower-middle class farm boy beginnings. Laettner also, to the surprise of many, has developed a sense of humor over his reputation and has visibly been having fun with it over the past few years. But perhaps the biggest shock was Laettner's interest in hip-hop. While it was just a quick few seconds over the course of the hour-long film, Twitter blew up with the universal reaction "Laettner liked hip-hop?" as his former teammates mentioned he was the type to know every word to every song.
As great as the visual of Laettner rapping right along with Big Daddy Kane's "Ain't No Half Steppin'" would be, the film understandably moved on fairly quickly past this little tidbit. Still, it stuck out to us here at the Weekly enough where we decided to dig up some of the moments where hip-hop acknowledged Christian Laettner right back.
Riff Raff's "Chop Another Rock," off his Hologram Panda mixtape a few years ago, had a number of 90s sports references. Boasting "34 at halftime, rap game Christian Laettner," it's a fitting comparison for the rapper. Both are, to a degree, misunderstood by the public at large. Both have a steady stream of haters. But, most polarizing, both play up their hated persona to a media-friendly defining trademark.
Vince Staples' "102" also makes a Christian Laettner reference, but gets a little more Laettner specific. Boasting that has a glock-32, a number his gun shares with Laettner's during his time at Duke, Staples says he'll"pull a Laettner at the buzzer,"
referencing the two times Laettner made monumental NCAA victories with perfect shots right at the buzzer.
But the most famous Laettner reference comes from his court contemporary Shaquille O'Neal. Off his breakthrough single "What's Up Doc (Can We Rock)?" Shaq gets to what early '90s rappers did best: boasting. In one of the most famous lines of his career, Shaq says"Now who's the first pick? Me. Word is born'in / Not a Christian Laettner! Not Alonzo Mourning!"
Yes, despite not being the college player selected to play on the olympic dream team, Shaq was both the #1 draft pick AND the first of the three to release a rap single. It's an infamous line that always comes up whenever people mention the occasional hip-hop-basketball crossovers.
On a personal note, growing up in Minneapolis in the '90s, I have quite a few childhood milestones tied to Laettner. Along with wrecking fools on NBA Jam for the Sega-CD with my team of Laettner, J.R. Ryder and Chuck Person, I actually first heard "the f-word" when Laettner yelled it in anger during a game. The next day at school, a heard a few of my fellow students were also at that game and heard "Laettner swear" as well. While I knew he said something incendiary, I was unsure what it was. Later in the day I talked to my friend Jeff in the grade above me, as there seems to be some unspoken rule that dictates when you're in grade school, it's always a kid a year older than you named Jeff who teaches you about swear words.
I asked what did Laettner say, the "d-word?"
Jeff said "No."
I continued, "The a-word?"
Jeff replied "No."
Gasping, I asked if it was the dreaded "s-word," and Jeff denied me a third time.
Finally, I asked "what did he say"
Pausing for a moment, I thought of all the possible terrible words that started with an 'F.' Once it hit me, I asked Jeff "Why would anybody care that Laettner said 'fart'?"
Jeff pulled me aside where nobody could hear me and whispered the actual "f-word."
Now whenever I hear it, part of me still considers the word "That thing Christian Laettner said."
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