London Spy

Where are they now? The college boy on the ‘Dream Team’

London Spy

We take a look at how college basketball player Christian Laettner ended up rubbing shoulders with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson at the 1992 Olympics, and how his career has floundered ever since.

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11 legends plus Laettner (circled): The Dream Team collect their gold medals

As the curtain went down on the closing ceremony of the Seoul Olympics in 1988, the curtain came up on a new era for the Games: professionalism had arrived.

Once upon a time the original Draconian rules about athletes accepting money were ruthlessly enforced, with American all-round legend Jim Thorpe being stripped of his decathlon and pentathlon gold medals in 1912 after it emerged that he'd once accepted money for playing semi-professional baseball.

By the late 1970s, however, the rules were a farce, blurring the lines between amateurism and professionalism so thoroughly - through both state and corporate financing of athletes - that it was more or less impossible to tell what was what. So it was a sensible decision to say that, as of 1992, professionals would be allowed to take part in the Olympics, with the agreement of the sport's federation. (Only boxing and wrestling remain amateur today.)

That decision cleared the way for one of the great marvels of the 1992 Games in Barcelona: the USA's basketball 'dream team'.

The US team had previously been made up of college players since NBA stars were ineligible, but had always been strong - and had lost out on the gold only three times between 1936 and 1988 (and one of those was down to the US boycott of Moscow in 1980).

But with those rules swept away, the US revelled in putting together a truly stunning collection of talent: 11 of the 12 men in the squad are in the Hall of Fame, and 10 were named in the NBA's list of the greatest 50 players of all time, among them Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. So great was the collection of talent that matches inevitably started late as the US's opponents swarmed round their counterparts asking for autographs before the match. "It was like Elvis and The Beatles put together," said the Dream Team's coach, Chuck Daly. The team swept to gold with an average victory margin of 43.8 points per game.

Among all that greatness, however, one man stood out: power forward Christian Laettner. Despite having the cream of the NBA to pick from, the selectors decided to take a chance on throwing in one college player with their megastars, and the 6'11" Duke star won that right, having led his university to consecutive national titles.

Laettner was up against another college player for that coveted spot, incidentally - a young Shaquille O'Neal. However Laettner got the nod at least partly in honour of his buzzer-beating last-gasp winner in a 104-103 victory over Kentucky (a match generally considered the greatest college basketball match of all time) which proved his courage under pressure. That turn-and-shoot two-pointer remains the most famous college basketball shot ever made.

How did he do in Barcelona? Well, he played a part in all eight matches (two more than Magic Johnson did), but his success rate with field goal attempts was the worst in the side at 0.450 and he averaged less than five points per game. On the plus side, he missed only two out of 20 free throw attempts, and, er, was the first of the side to be presented with his medal by IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Where is he now?

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Laettner (top right) at the Dream Team's Hall of Fame admission ceremony

Laettner was picked for the Dream Team in May 1992, but was only third choice in the NBA draft a few weeks later, behind O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning. Still, that was no disgrace: that year's draft was considered one of the best ever and both O'Neal and Mourning went on to enjoy stellar careers.

The Minnesota Timberwolves became Laettner's new home at the start of the 1992-93 season - and from then on, things began to falter. While he carved out a solid, 13-year career in the NBA, he never became the superstar that he was predicted to be, and the days of smashing NCAA records and scoring 67 points in a game (as he once did as a college freshman) quickly became fading memories.

He stayed at Minnesota until 1996 then had stints with the Atlanta Hawks (where he earned a reserve spot in the NBA All Star game), Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks and Washington Wizards before winding up playing at the Miami Heat in 2004-05 - ironically, alongside both O'Neal and Mourning. He ended his career with 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, solid but unspectacular stats.

During the good times Laettner poured millions into his Alma Maters, donating $1 million to both his high school in Buffalo, New York, and Duke University.

It was his attempts to become a team owner in his retirement that really sent him spinning out of control, however: he linked up with former Duke team-mate Brian Davis to try and buy the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006, but when the $252m deal fell through due to funding problems, it all got sour. Both Buffalo Bills NFL legend Shawne Merriman and Chicago Bulls superstar Pippen (who was on the Dream Team with Laettman) won court judgements ordering Laettman and Davis to repay unreturned loans of $3.8m (to Merriman) and $2.5m (to Pippen).

After that failed the pair bought the operating rights to MLS side DC United, but they sold up in 2009 and moved on to real estate development... which promptly went badly wrong. The plan was to redevelop old tobacco warehouses into condominiums in North Carolina, but the pair have reportedly run up debts of $30 million. Several other investors have obtained judgements against the one-time college stars, but so far they have managed to avoid being sent to jail for failing to repay those debts.

In desperation to keep afloat, Laettner has now founded a basketball academy, and even began turning out for a minor league basketball side called the Jacksonville Giants to earn a few more dollars. He has also gone into coaching, and is running an NBA Developmental League side called the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

"We're getting through it and it's been a huge battle, one of the hardest battles of my life," Laettner said in March, blaming the downturn in the economy for the implosion of his ambitious plans. "That battle is every day of my life."

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