MINNEAPOLIS -- After signing a six-year, $21.6 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves yesterday, Christian Laettner obviously realizes that basketball is a business.
But he doesn't want that money to get in the way of how he feels about the sport. What he doesn't want to lose is his love for the game.
"Hopefully this won't change me at all," the 6-foot-11, 235-pound Laettner said after becoming the highest-paid player in the history of the Wolves' organization. "The main thing is, I still treat it as a game. It's the most fun thing I do."
Laettner, who is expected to play in the Wolves' exhibition game against the New Jersey Nets tonight in Grand Forks, N.D., said he was proud that observers had noticed he still played the game with a boy's enthusiasm. He said his time with the U.S. Olympic Dream Team last summer convinced him there was nothing wrong with that.
"It was weird how the 10 best players in the league were the ones who treated it like a game the most," said Laettner, the only collegiate member of that team. "Michael Jordan was always acting like a kid. In my eyes, that's what makes him extraordinary."
Laettner, 22, comes to the Wolves as the most touted player in their young history. After leading Duke to its second consecutive national championship, he was chosen collegiate player of the year. He became the first player to start in four Final Fours and ranks as the all-time NCAA tournament scoring leader. All of which led the Wolves to make him their first pick in the 1992 collegiate draft, the third player taken overall.
"We know Christian will fit very well into what we're trying to accomplish," Minnesota coach Jimmy Rodgers said. "Christian has shown an ability, with his size, to play outside and inside, so we're looking for him to be very versatile. The system I'm most familiar with, and the one I want to succeed with, requires versatility."
Then Rodgers smiled and said, "Obviously I'm expecting him to make me a much better coach this season." The Wolves are coming off a 15-67 season in which they were the worst team in the NBA.
"I don't have any expectations," Laettner said. "I don't set goals. But I know that if we work really hard, if I work really hard, good things will happen. There have been a lot of moves to improve this team, and I hope I'm going to be another improvement."
Laettner said that after returning from the Olympics in mid-August, he took a couple of weeks off and then started working out.
"September was my own personal little training camp," he said. He said he worked hard on developing a fadeaway shot and described himself as "very light" and "strong."