Tulsa World, Kevin Pyle) ONLINE OUT. TV OUT. TULSA OUT, Associated Press
TULSA, Okla. — It is arguably the NCAA tournament's most enduring image.
With defending national champion Duke trailing by one and only 2 seconds left in an epic overtime struggle with Kentucky, Christian Laettner catches a desperation pass from three-quarters of a court away. He dribbles once, whirls — and hits the game-winner. Never a doubt.
Pandemonium follows. The game's best player runs off in jubilation as the Blue Devils head off to the Final Four. There, they'll go on to win a second straight title.
Twenty years later, through an up-and-down career NBA career and an even more turbulent venture into real estate, The Shot still follows Laettner. He'll always be the subject of "Whatever happened to ..." questions. Even more so as the NCAA tournament gets underway and especially this year, on the 20th anniversary.
The answer, for now: After a three-year period during which creditors have obtained judgments totaling more than $26 million against Laettner, a business partner and their companies, the former NBA All-Star is trying to rebuild and make a new mark in basketball — as a coach.
In a Tulsa convention center gym where most of the bright red seats were empty, Laettner got out on the court an hour before a recent game. He set a screen on an imaginary defender to free up a shot during pregame warm-ups, and stuck a hand in the face of a shooter.
Laettner's job is to develop these young players to the point they're ready to play in the NBA. If he does well enough, he'll seek his own call-up to the big leagues.
"These guys are ready to go," said Laettner, the lone assistant for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants of the NBA Developmental League. "They just need a break, they need an opportunity, they need to improve maybe just a very little bit."
Laettner landed in Fort Wayne in January after some rocky times in his post-playing career.
He and former Duke teammate Brian Davis run a real estate business in Durham, N.C., and built up millions of dollars in debts while redeveloping old tobacco warehouses into apartments, condos and retail space.
Since 2009, at least 10 creditors have obtained judgments against Laettner, Davis and their companies because of debts related to real estate and a failed attempt to purchase the NBA Memphis Grizzlies in 2006, court and other public records reviewed by The Associated Press show.
Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman, who grew up with Davis in the Washington, D.C., area, obtained a $3.8 million judgment against Laettner and Davis in 2010 after the pair failed to repay a $3 million loan for real estate ventures in 2007. Merriman's attorney, David Deitch, said Laettner and Davis still owe that money plus more than $300,000 in attorney's fees.
Scottie Pippen, who played with Laettner on the "Dream Team" at the Olympics in 1992, won a $2.55 million judgment against the pair in 2010 after they failed to pay back money the ex-Bulls star contributed to their attempt to buy the Grizzlies.
In November 2010, Laettner's attorney even raised the possibility of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
"We're getting through it and it's been a huge battle, one of the hardest battles of my life because of ... what happened to the economy four years ago," Laettner said. "That battle is every day of my life."
Bryan Sampson, the attorney for a San Diego man owed $1 million from the Grizzlies deal, called Laettner and Davis "novices" caught with too many highly-leveraged deals when the economy soured.
"What they were doing would have worked if the economy had continued to grow, but it didn't," Sampson said.
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