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Christian Laettner doesn't hate the film 'I Hate Christian Laettner'

Trailer: 'I Hate Christian Laettner'

Go beyond the polarizing persona of Christian Laettner to learn the complete story behind this lightning rod of college basketball. 30 for 30: "I Hate Christian Laettner" premieres Sunday March 15th at 9pm ET on ESPN.

The film is called "I Hate Christian Laettner," yet there Christian Laettner was Tuesday night, sitting with his family and friends for the Manhattan premiere, embracing the moment and even calling it a "huge honor."

He (mostly) smiled during the screening, (mostly) smiled during a panel discussion afterward, and (mostly) smiled when asked later what it was like watching it for the first time with an audience.

"The first time I liked it; there was nothing in it that hurt me or caused me concern," he said. "But the second time, I liked it a lot better, sitting there with my children and some teammates, having a lot of proud-feeling moments."

The reaction was classic Laettner, who at 45 has smoother edges than in his early 1990s heyday as the bête noire of college basketball but has retained his defiant, comfortable-in-his-own skin self-confidence.

If he didn't have that, he never would have agreed to cooperate with a "30 for 30" documentary, much less one that director Rory Karpf gave a title that is marketing genius but does not reflect entirely positively on its star.

(Laettner's mother objected strongly to the title before Karpf reassured her in a conciliatory phone call.)

"I'm really appreciative that he trusted me on this," Karpf said.

If nothing else, the film -- which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPN -- and Laettner's promotion of it will help to educate young fans about a career as one of the best college players ever, a Dream Teamer and a better pro than you remember him being.

Since he last played in the NBA in 2005, Laettner has maintained a lower profile than the many former Dukies who do television work or coach, and he no longer is the household name he was a quarter-century ago.

So some review and updating is in order.

Laettner lives near Jacksonville with his wife, Lisa, and three children, daughters who are 17 and 16 and son who is 9. He said his time is spent mostly on family, on Christian Laettner Basketball Academy and on an interest in muskellunge fishing that he plans to turn into a business through a website called "The Muskie Life.''

"I'm addicted to it, I'm consumed by it and I love it,'' he said of fishing for muskie, primarily in the upper Midwest. "Every basketball thing I do now through my academy is always in a muskie state so I can work both those passions at the same time.''

Laettner's passion on basketball courts is the stuff of college hoops history, highlighted by his four Final Fours and two NCAA championships at Duke.

But his feistiness dates to his childhood near Buffalo, illustrated by footage in the documentary of a brawl between Laettner's Nichols School and nearby South Park High that was more intense than any skirmish in his time at Duke.

The film tries to have fun with Laettner's "hated" image, breaking it into five components and liberally quoting the likes of Andy Bagwell, who wrote a book about Duke whose title cannot be repeated here, and Peter Rosenberg, who produced a video about Duke whose title cannot be repeated here.

(Both men were at Tuesday's screening. When Laettner said he would have attended North Carolina if he had not gone to Duke, Bagwell -- a North Carolina alum -- said, "My head just exploded.")

Karpf also covers the complex relationships Laettner had with teammates, notably Bobby Hurley, as well as Duke opponents of that era. Kentucky's Sean Woods put it best when he said, "What made him bad made him good."

Michigan's (and ESPN's) Jalen Rose reiterates his use of "Uncle Tom" in reference to what he used to think of the black players at Duke, a term that infuriated Dukies when Rose used it in a 2011 ESPN documentary, "Fab Five."

Laettner still is upset with ESPN for allowing Rose and his friends to use other terms bashing him in that film.

But Michigan players who lost to Duke in the 1992 NCAA final have nothing but good things to say about Laettner's skills.

"In my lifetime, I'd have to say Christian Laettner is the best college player I've seen," Turner analyst Chris Webber said Tuesday. (He is not interviewed in the film.) "He was a hell of a competitor. I always respected him. Even if I talked junk, it was because I knew he was a monster. I'm proud to say I played against him."

Laettner is philosophical about the hatred he generated. He said his goal simply was to win, and also to disprove the stereotype of soft, privileged Dukies.

"I can't say I go through life liking it and that I pursued to be hated," he said. "I did pursue to be a good basketball player. I pursued to have my team win as much as we could, and it doesn't happen without great teammates."

Most of America long since has moved on. Laettner said when he is in public, he hears more good-natured teasing than mean-spiritedness. (He did object to a vile tweet aimed at his son after an appearance on ESPN this past week.)

Knowing that there was some potentially hurtful material in the film, starting with the name, Karpf said he stole a few glances at Laettner and his family during the screening.

"They were smiling, so that was a relief," he said. "They weren't crying. So that was good."

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