- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Christian Laettner seemingly plays the game with a bull's-eye on the back of his jersey.
He receives a high number of suspicious whistles from the referees, because of his breath or body odor or whatever. He has the potential to become the first NBA player ever to incur a foul in the locker room before the start of a game.
Laettner is often slapped with a foul after merely expressing a vague interest in defending an opponent.
It does not work this way if Laettner has the ball on offense. Then, all kinds of crimes against humanity are permitted against Laettner. Opponents are sometimes allowed to use a two-by-four on Laettner. They whack Laettner upside the head with the instrument of persuasion before making a move to the basket, and the referees, the three of them, go into the Hans Blix mode. They do not see a darn thing.
Laettner endured another one of those peculiar sequences late in the game with the Bulls on Fun Street the other night. He elected to employ his right arm on a defender during a jaunt through the three-second lane and received the customary disapproval from the referees. Then, moments later, Marcus Fizer, who is built like a weightlifter, used the same maneuver against Laettner while trying to pirouette to the basket. Not one of the referees noticed this obvious breach, of course, and Fizer was authorized to go along his merry way.
The incongruity goes down as one of the NBA's small mysteries, not unlike Kwame Brown's sudden conviction whenever he is around Tyson Chandler.
At least in Brown's case, Wizards coach Doug Collins could invest in a 7-foot-1 cardboard cutout of Chandler and place it next to Brown's locker to elicit the proper determination from the youngster on a game-to-game basis.
With Laettner, Collins has no real recourse with the referees, except to leave his seat on occasion and ask: Why do you hate him so?
"I can't complain," Laettner said after finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the team's 101-98 victory. "They are letting me play more this season than last."
That does not make it right, just more tolerable.
Laettner has that prickly countenance, no doubt. That does not make him a bad guy, just a guy who is not apt to receive the benefit of the doubt.
He is about two steps too slow, his 6-11 body is unexceptional and he averages about one dunk a season. He met his dunk quota for the season against the Bulls, in case you missed it.
Laettner does what he does, the grunt work that usually goes unappreciated around the star power of Michael Jordan and Jerry Stackhouse. He is a smart player who rarely tries to exceed his physical limitations, who understands spacing and positioning. His passing and dribbling skills are first-rate by the standards of his position, and he just might have the team's sweetest outside shot.
Collins tells that to Laettner all the time, in fact, begs him to shoot the ball more frequently, as do teammates.
"They all tell me that," Laettner said. "I don't know if they are goofing around or if they are being serious. I take the shot when I feel I have it. If they want to see it more, that's a compliment."
No one wants to see more of Laettner's pump-fake, dribble-to-the-basket ploy. Collins has been studying Laettner's pump-fake forays to the basket since the beginning of last season, and he has determined that no one has fallen for it yet, not once. Yet Laettner, ever the optimist, apparently believes there is a first time for everything, including the success of his pump-fake tactic. Alas, his one pump-fake attempt against the Bulls resulted in a low-percentage field goal attempt and a miss, one of only two in the game for him.
Collins can live with the pump fake in the context of seven makes and two misses. Some players have a thing about their shorts or shoes. Laettner has a thing about his pump fake. OK. Fine. It is all good in the midst of a five-game winning streak.
That goes double for Laettner, who has been with enough teams and in enough situations in 11 seasons to know the alternatives. If he could be difficult to work with at times in the past, almost pop diva-like, perhaps it was because the work environment around him was difficult.
"I like our team," he said. "I like our coaches. We're trying to do things the right way. There are a lot of teams that don't play the right way."
You're telling us, the victims of the Rod Strickland era.

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