The shark in Christian Laettner's living room is now about the size of one of his forearms. It knifes toward you, sizing up your strengths and weaknesses with no regard for the hard reality of the six-foot-long fish tank, until it suddenly veers off in a genetically programmed fit of good judgment.
"He's trying to avoid the charge," says Laettner, 24, who went from four Final Fours and two national championships at Duke to a Minnesota Timberwolf team that won just 19 games last season. Laettner also explains, without a trace of irony, that the shark will grow as much as the boundaries of the tank allow. And if anyone could write a book on growing pains, it is Christian Laettner. Viewing the world with a hint of suspicion through the cool quartz sparkle of his eyes, he could bang out a best-seller.
A stunning young blonde woman out of the Marcia Brady mold joins Laettner at his cluttered kitchen table. For the sake of propriety the two of them do their best to keep their hands off each other, though their mutual attraction generates a force field that could bend a fork. When Laettner introduces the young woman—her first name is Tamara, last name withheld—the hybrid quality of his speech becomes more pronounced as he struggles with being decorous. Accents from suburban Buffalo (where he grew up), from North Carolina (Duke is located in Durham) and from hanging with the brothers are massaged into an admixture of speech seasoned with old-fashioned usages in which arenas are still gyms and basketball shoes are sneakers.
"Yeah," Laettner remarks on his accent, "I'm versatile in every part of my game." He dryly adds, "Except being nice, which I am only at home."
Asked if she keeps up with the volumes of print and videotape devoted to her boyfriend, Tamara shares a look with Christian that could bend flatware service for 12. "She's in college," Laettner says with a wave of his spoon. "She's got enough reading to do."
"It's hard to tell," says Tamara, emphatically fluttering her eyelashes, "what's true and what's not true."
It certainly is without a scorecard.
"At the very least Christian evokes a response, doesn't he?" says former Timber-wolf Luc Longley, who was recently traded to the Chicago Bulls. And if impressions of Laettner could be tracked like shots taken from the floor, you would have little yellow dots all over the court.
Consider this defining moment among a scrapbook's worth of defining moments from Laettner's playing days at Duke.
The Blue Devils met Kentucky in the NCAA East Regional finals in 1992, during Laettner's senior year. After 40 minutes of what many people describe as the greatest college basketball game ever played, the two teams were tied. With 2.1 seconds left in overtime, Kentucky took the lead 103-102. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski signaled for timeout, and when the Blue Devils took the court again, guard Grant Hill seemed monastically at peace for a kid facing the prospect of throwing a length-of-the-court pass to a teammate who would have to catch it and score in the time it takes to say "Hail, Mary, full of grace." Perhaps Hill's composure stemmed from the knowledge that the hall was going to the redoubtable Laettner, who, up to that point, had taken 19 shots (nine from the floor. 10 from the free throw line) and missed none. Laettner snatched Hill's pass over two shorter defenders near the free throw line, juked right, dribbled left, then spun and hit an indolent fallaway jumper that won the game. They called it "the shot heard round the world."