Turner Sports is getting into bed with one of the most celebrated, and reviled, sports franchises in history, bowing a new documentary about the Duke Blue Devils squad that won back-to-back NCAA basketball titles 20 years ago.
Set to air on truTV in the run-up to March Madness, the one-hour Duke ’91 & ’92 doc shines a light on a team that was relentless in its pursuit of greatness. Tapped as the team’s field general, 6’ 11” center Christian Laettner is remembered as much for his dirty play and trash talk as he was for the buzzer-beater he sank to secure Duke’s 104-103 overtime win over Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA tourney.
When not throwing vicious elbows or stomping fallen opponents with his size-16½ Adidas, Laettner often victimized his own teammates. A favorite target was guard Bobby Hurley, a scrapper from Jersey City.
Laettner and former teammate Grant Hill paired up to produce the documentary, which includes footage shot in September during the Duke Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Hurley and 32-year head coach Mike Krzyzewski were honored at the event, which was preceded by a reunion of the ’91 and ’92 squads.
Laettner, who has mellowed appreciably since his playing days, said he was excited to have the opportunity to reunite with his old running mates after 20 years. “Every player on the team played an important role and it was great to reconnect with our old teammates and reminisce,” he said.
While the film will offer plenty for Duke haters to chew on, the inarguable greatness of those teams is never in doubt. At the heart of the film is The Shot, a miraculously executed sequence that sent the Blue Devils to the 1992 Final Four. Down by two with just 2.1 seconds on the clock, Hill heaves the ball in a 75-foot arc, finding Laettner at the top of the key. Plucking the ball from the air, Laettner turns, dribbles once, fakes right, spins left, leaves his feet and shoots a perfect fall-away.
The Hill-to-Laettner exchange defines the spirit of March Madness, in all its pulse-pounding glory. And with any luck, the 2012 tourney will feature a moment as iconic as that one. “When you think of the tournament, you think of buzzer beaters,” said Christina Miller, svp of strategy, marketing, and programming at Turner Sports. “Whether or not you’re a Duke fan, Laettner’s shot was the buzzer-beater to beat all buzzer-beaters.”
Turner will premiere the documentary shortly before the first four games of the 2012 NCAA tourney tip off on truTV (March 13-14). The film marks the second time the network will try its hand at original sports-related entertainment; in February 2010 truTV premiered the limited series NFL Full Contact, a behind-the-scenes look at how big-ticket pro football events are produced for television.
According to Miller, Duke ’91 & ’92 was inspired by recent HBO sports films such as Derek Jeter 3K and Assault in the Ring. “We aren’t going to be in the business of producing the volume of documentary content HBO can put out every year, but we’re certainly shooting for that kind of quality,” Miller said. “Our goal is to tell great stories.”
In April 2010, CBS and Turner Sports hashed out a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal to share the rights to March Madness. Over the course of its first two games as an NCAA partner, truTV delivered a combined audience of 2.6 million total viewers.
Despite all the squabbling that colored Duke's two-year spree, Miller says the final product should provide an upbeat prolog to the 2012 tourney. “Maybe it wasn’t always an easy relationship between guys like Laettner and Hurley, but they didn't let that get in the way of their goals,” Miller said. “There were some really magical moments when the guys all got together for the reunion, and we were there to capture that.”