By R.L. Bynum
There was quite a bit of vitriol from North Carolina fans toward Christian Laettner during his time at Duke and that hasn’t changed over the years.
ESPN even produced a 30 for 30 documentary called “I Hate Christian Laettner.”
Many Tar Heels fans agree with that sentiment but UNC coach Hubert Davis isn’t in that group.
Davis says that during his 12 NBA seasons, Laettner was his best friend. The revelation coming days before Duke visits Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday night (ESPN). The Heels first head to Louisville for an 8 p.m. game Tuesday (ACC Network).
“We just enjoyed not only just being teammates, but spending time together,” Davis said at his ACC media availability on Monday, adding that they’d often get together after practice.
“He would either come over to my house or I would go over to his and we both love playing,” Davis said. “We’re both competitive, and we would just play pingpong all day after practice. My wife and his wife got along and to think of us from a competitive standpoint, not liking each other while we were here to later in our life? Really enjoy our friendship and enjoy being around each other, enjoy playing together.”
Davis admits that people are shocked when he tells them about their friendship, which was cultivated when they played together on the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.
Some have said that UNC and Duke players sometimes develop a kinship during their college years while they compete in one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
“It may have been a part of it,” Davis said. “I just think we really enjoyed being around each other. Christian is somebody that is straightforward and direct and doesn’t speak in tongues and interpretations. You know exactly what he feels and what he’s thinking and I’ve always liked being around people like that.
“It really didn’t have anything to do with him going to Duke and me at North Carolina and having those shared experiences of competing against each other,” Davis said. “I just think we really enjoyed playing together and we really enjoy spending time with our families together outside of outside of basketball.”
They were Mavericks teammates in the 2000–01 season when they were both traded to the Wizards in an eight-player deal. They were teammates the rest of that season and in the 2001–02 season with Washington.
In the deal, Michael Jordan, then the Wizards’ president, sent Juwan Howard to Dallas, along with Calvin Booth and Obinna Ekezie for Davis, Laettner, Courtney Alexander, Loy Vaught, Etan Thomas and $3 million.
They were teammates in Dallas for the 2000–01 season and in Washington for the 2000–01 and 2001–02 seasons.
Davis and Laettner each played four college seasons from 1988 to 1992, with the Tar Heels holding a 6–5 edge in their matchups. Davis’ UNC teams won four of five games during their first two seasons but Laettner’s teams won four of six over their last two seasons when the Blue Devils won back-to-back NCAA titles.
UNC lost 89–77 in Davis’ final game as a player at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 8, 1992, but he scored a career-high 35 points.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball