It used to be that the sports scores were simply reported in the newspaper, all facts and figures and no flair. You knew where it happened, who was involved, and the various stats that followed. It was a game, and now it was over and on to the next one.
But somewhere along the way, we decided stats were not enough. We had to find a way to entertain ourselves in-between the games. So we created narratives. We came up with stories to lead into the game. We asked question after question of these poor athletes WHO HAD YET TO PLAY THE GAME what it all would mean. We gave them more to think about than the game itself.
The internet has only made it worse. Now every game has a narrative, a quote, a theme that is played out and stretched to its exhaustive end. We must entertain every angle, even as the story changes with each made shot or intercepted pass. It’s the same thing with any other kind of media or entertainment we consume these days – individual episodes of TV are frequently recapped by a deluge of writers; everyone has to comment on the latest Twitter feud; every photographed action by a celebrity is gossiped about, over and over again. We are learning to comment on things and forgetting to live our own lives.
That’s the beauty of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. It takes it back to the basics, namely that the people at the center of all these great stories are, in fact, people. They have thoughts and feelings just like you and me. Regardless of the situation – whether it involves large sums of money, individual fame, or the tearing of a team fabric – they all have feelings and emotions not unlike the rest of us. And we forget that. We forget that when we talk about how much we hate a player; we forget that when we make threats on Twitter and argue about how lame they are in the lunch room. We forget that when we throw out their whole goodwill of a career and focus on their one little screwup – a screwup, of which, honestly, was just a clash of physics and probability.
I knew a lot of people hated Christian Laettner. I knew his name was thrown around as much of a punchline to many weak jokes. But I never really knew why. Why would one of the greatest college players of all time, who made perhaps the greatest shot in college basketball history, be so reviled? This documentary goes to great pains to show the 5 different criteria that seem to make up the Holy Temple of Laettner Hatred. And the film goes through each one of them, with exhaustive interviews from a great variety of sources – coaches, fans, media personalities, players he played with and against – and shows how each one of those 5 criteria is not what we thought it was. We may have hated Christian Laettner, but we certainly didn’t know him.
But it wasn’t Laettner the person we hated, we say. It was what he represented. Well, this film takes apart each of these representations and shows how hollow they are. You may still hate Duke. You may still hate Laettner the basketball player. But by the end, you will have a hard time hating Christian Laettner, the human being.
I Hate Christian Laettner is currently streaming on Netflix.