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Devilishly Different
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 25, 1991
Duke's Christian Laettner is pivotman and paradox: agile giant, trash-talking preppy, angelic bruiser
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November 25, 1991

Devilishly Different

Duke's Christian Laettner is pivotman and paradox: agile giant, trash-talking preppy, angelic bruiser

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"The 21-year-old...wore a brown leather cap and a blue warm-up suit to match his blue eyes."
Detroit Free Press

"In talking to [him], you keep noticing the eyes. So blue, so expressive, so often a gauge to his inner feelings.... When he's happy, carefree, the eyes sparkle, gush with warmth."
—Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer

"He just took my head out of the game.... I just wanted to kill him; in fact I still do—if I saw him now I would try to hurt him."
—ROD SELLERS, Connecticut center

Well, the reviews are, uh, nearly unanimous. Except that hardly anyone can figure out whether Christian Laettner, the 6'11" center of the Duke Blue Devils, is basketball's answer to Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, or if he's simply low-down and cruisin' for a bruisin'.

The moussed curls combined with the curlicued muscles are partly responsible. Along with those eyes, of course. "Killer blues" is what that same enthralled critic for the newspaper in Raleigh called them, continuing to beg the question: Since O.J. Simpson ceased straight-arming tacklers and coeds in equal measure at Southern Cal, has any athlete on the national collegiate scene been both this good and this good-looking?

Bonnie Laettner, a school teacher in Angola, N.Y., near Buffalo, knew her second son would be special. Bonnie liked Marlon Brando so much that even though she had named her first-born Christopher, she went with Christian on the birth certificate for her next boy in tribute to the characters Brando played in Mutiny on the Bounty and The Young Lions. Luckily for the family—there are two sisters, as well—and for college basketball, the kid was born before the age of The Godfather.

"Ladies and jumping center for the Blue Devils...Don Vito Laettner"?

"It's nerve-racking when you name a baby Christian," says Bonnie, "because from then on you're always worried that someday he'll wind up behind bars."

Or as a human paradox. Can the little kid who used to spend a half hour in front of the mirror fixing his beloved bow tie and primping for Catholic Mass be the same grown-up guy who now says he "wouldn't mind if other players think I'm some kind of badass"? (See: Brando in One-Eyed Jacks.) Could the sensitive fellow who swept his mother into a hotel ballroom on her 27th wedding anniversary last February to hear him play Moonlight Sonata on the piano be the same haughty guy whose own coach has accosted him for "looking like a jerk"? (See: Brando in Bedtime Story, not to mention Guys and Dolls.)

Bonnie acknowledges that while her husband, George, a longtime printer at The Buffalo News, is "Everyman—sweet, gentle, all those things," Christian "has a whole other side to him."

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