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Inside The Christian Laettner/Michael Jordan Ping-Pong Rivalry


This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity. This conversation is from an episode of the Layup Line podcast between Kyle Ratke, Julian Andrews and former Timberwolves forward Christian Laettner.

KR: You talked about ping pong earlier. I want to talk about playing ping pong on the stretch with the Dream Team. You couldn’t be beaten. 

CL: In my house also, I had a ping-pong table. I played some ping pong with the guys on the T’Wolves team. I might have been the champ on that team, too. But ping pong is a big part of my life. I grew up playing it against my brother and my father when I was young. They used to kick my behind for a long time, so I got very good at it.

Then in ’92 when I was on the Dream Team, a lot of basketball players love ping pong. It’s a game that requires hand and eye speed, hand and eye coordination. You have to be unbelievably quick. I think every basketball player I know loves ping pong. Everyone played in on the Dream Team. I played Clyde Drexler and Chris Mullin and even David Stern once David Stern saw I was pretty good. I played against Stern, like the biggest name in the NBA besides maybe Jordan. 

And then Jordan wanted a piece of me, too, and I beat him the first time. And now, I didn’t know this, but over the years, I’ve heard this story. I don’t know if this is true because I didn’t see it. I beat him on a Tuesday night in the family room at the hotel in Barcelona. They had a big family room, and off that room, there was a ping-pong table. I played everyone and Jordan and I finally played. I beat him that first night and I’ve heard over the last 25 years that he had a ping-pong table brought into his hotel room so he could practice a little bit. Not everyone knows that, but I just read something maybe a month ago or saw some documentary, one of the NBA security guys who traveled with us to protect those guys, he said that Jordan snuck a ping-pong table so he could practice to play me again, but I still beat him the next time. I don’t know if that story is true, but it might be true because that’s just how Michael is. He doesn’t like to lose to anybody and he especially doesn’t want to lose to a younger Dukie.

KR: When you’re playing him, what was your emotional state like knowing that he’s so competitive and you’re a younger guy? 

CL: I was just trying to stay calm. . .  When you’re in a stressful situation like that as an athlete, you just have to try to remain calm and force yourself to act like this is a normal every-day occurrence, even though I’m playing Jordan and he’s really trying to beat me, I’m going to hit my normal shots. . . My emotional state was ‘Geez, I know this is Michael Jordan and I know he wants to beat me and everyone’s watching.’ Stern was over here, Clyde was over here. It’s just so much fun, and you try to remain calm. 

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