“He had no idea who I was,” Christian Laettner (pictured) said. “But he’s seen The Shot.”
Two players – one from Kentucky, the other from Duke – separated by 20 years yet so intertwined in U.S. men’s basketball history. All-Americans in college, both led their respective schools to national championships and then spent the following summer at the end of the bench on Olympic teams.
Stars to subs just that quick.
Earlier this week, Davis, at the London Games because a knee injury knocked Blake Griffin off the American roster, and Laettner, the 12th man on the 1992 Dream Team, met for the first time before a U.S. team practice.
They shared a few laughs and posed for pictures.
“He was cool, but I didn’t know who he was at first,” Davis said, a bit embarrassed. “I’ve heard of him. Everybody was asking me about him.”
Since arriving in England last week, the 19-year-old Davis, taken with the No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA draft by New Orleans, has been asked about Laettner. After finishing his career at Duke, Laettner spent the summer of his life in Spain as teammates with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird.
Davis only knew of Laettner the same way all Kentucky fans know him – the unspeakable villain who drained the immortalized buzzer-beating jumper that beat the Wildcats in the East Regional final of the 1992 NCAA tournament.
Mention The Shot and any Kentuckian’s blue blood boils.
“Yeah, I’ve heard about it forever,” Davis said. “That’s OK. I think we made up for it this year.”
With the reach of someone 7-foot-5, Davis led Kentucky to a national title as a freshman before entering the NBA draft. He was invited to the U.S. team’s pre-Olympic camp, but the 6-foot-10 big man was slowed by a sprained ankle. After not making the squad, he would have most of his summer off before training camp.
However, while in Los Angeles attending the ESPY Awards, Davis got a call telling him Griffin was hurt and to get to Las Vegas.
“I said, ‘all right,’ hung up the phone and caught the first plane,” he said.
Unlike Laettner, who averaged just eight minutes per game – “as the 12th most unneeded person on that team” – in Barcelona, Davis may have a far more significant role with this U.S. squad before these Olympics end. With just one true experienced center in Tyson Chandler, the Americans lack both interior size and depth – something they figure to need against Spain, Argentina, and Brazil in the medal round next week.