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March 15, 2012

Tim Kolodziej: Jeckyll and Hyde leadership? No, it’s Magic and Laettner

NEW CASTLE — Sometimes, it seems like a lifetime ago.

At other times, it seems like just last night.

Do you remember?

I do.

Those were the first words uttered by narrator Magic Johnson in “The Announcement,” a new documentary in the ESPN film series that debuted Sunday. It focuses on the days leading up to Nov. 7, 1991, when the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar shocked the world by announcing he was HIV positive.

Only an hour before, truTV aired “Back To Back,” a documentary on the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils, considered one of the greatest teams in NCAA history. Star forward Christian Laettner played a major role on that squad 20 years ago and again on Sunday during the TV special.

How appropros. Two of my favorite teams of all-time. Two of my favorite players of all time.

Dr. Jeckyll, meet Mr. Hyde.

Who’s got next?

Magic was the face of the Lakers, Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster of the 1980s and early ’90s with their “Showtime” sizzle. Who can forget the smile, the style and the no-look passes?

Mr. Excitement.

Laettner was the face of Duke, a band of blue-bloods who rolled through college hoops with teamwork, athleticism and toughness. The dude with the ’tude made the girls swoon with his boy band looks and had hoops fans mesmerized with his precision in the paint and fearless play.

Mr. Perfect.

Both were hyper-competitive. Both thrived on challenges. Both were cold-blooded killers.

Remember Magic’s “Junior Skyhook” to close the door on the Celtics’ run in the 1980s?

Remember Laettner’s turnaround buzzer-beater to propel Duke past Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final?

Two of the most famous game-winning shots in all of basketball.

Laettner sneered and scowled his way to success. He filled the role of the older bully brother on the Duke team, often picking on the younger players in an effort to toughen them up.

And yes, the documentary doesn’t ignore the infamous footage of him stomping on Aminu Timberlake’s gut during the Kentucky game. Over and over. In slow motion.

After watching that segment, even the most ardent Blue Devils fans can’t defend Laettner’s actions. Although he does.

“A love tap,” he called it.

Magic, on the other hand, built up his teammates like a caring brother, slapping bottoms, sharing high-fives, and searching out bear hugs to anyone close enough to be embraced.

Even following his emotional press conference to announce his retirement, he signed off as only he could — poised and positive about his future.

“I’m gonna go on, I’m gonna beat it,” he told the throng of media assembled.

Then his flashed his trademark smile.

“And I’m gonna have fun.”

After watching both films, you’ll have a difficult time finding any common ground between the two. Yet despite their differences, they’ve given us a deeper insight into what a leader looks like in the athletic arena.

Leadership is nothing more than going first.

Leadership is nothing more than wanting to be the last man with the ball.

Leadership is nothing more than a willingness to speak up.

Leadership is nothing more than a willingness to sit down and listen.

Leadership is nothing more than believing in something so passionately that you can’t help but share it with those around you.

Leadership is your personality.

Leadership is your style.

Leadership is Laettner with a grimace.

Leadership is Magic with a smile.

Man, it seems like a lifetime ago.

And thanks to a couple of terrific documentaries, it seems like just last night.

For the record, Magic, I did remember “The Lake Show.” And I did remember “The Laett Show,” too.

But it’s always nice to be reminded in such a special way.

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