By by Eric D.Graham
Updated: March 25, 2011

Michigan's Fab Five

Michigan's Fab Five

North Carolina (BASN)-Since ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary, which highlighted the rise and fall of Michigan’s Fab Five, first aired on Sunday night, March 13th, the whole world has been discussing, debating, and dissecting this film frame by frame.

Most of the documentary showcases the Fab Five, which consists of Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, and Jimmy King and how they revolutionized the game of college basketball with their black shoes, black socks, bald heads, long baggy shorts, and braggadocious attitudes in the earlier 90’s.

But the big basketball brouhaha in the documentary, however, occurred when Jalen Rose, the executive producer of the film bluntly said that he thought that Duke University “only recruited players that were Uncle Toms.”

By definintion, an Uncle Tom is a derogatory term for a black person who behaves in a subservient manner to white people.

The “uncle tom” comment, in effect, sparked former Duke Blue Devils basketball player Grant Hill (now currently with the Phoenix Suns) to write an open letter in the New York Times condemning Rose’s remarks.

The problem with Rose’s “Uncle Tom” comment was no different from the ignorant remarks coming from Caucasian commentators, who constantly referred to the Fab Five as a bunch of “Thugs” in the newspapers and on the air throughout the documentary.

Both comments, in fact, were based on stereotypical assumptions and not facts.

And as Oprah Winfrey says so eloquently “hurt people hurt people.”

And without a doubt, Rose spoke from a place of pain when he discussed his dislike for Grant Hill but most people seemed to miss that point as they were sidetracked by the “uncle tom” comment.

“I was JEALOUS of Grant Hill. He came from a great Black family….”confessed Rose.

“Congratulations, your mom went to college and was roommates with Hilary Clinton. Your dad played in the NFL, and was a well-spoken and successful man.” Rose said sarcastically.

“I was UPSET AND BITTER that my mom had to bust her hump for 20 plus years. I was BITTER that I had a professional athlete that was my father that I didn’t know. I RESENTED that more so than I resented him.”

With those words, the case against Rose was closed.

In other words, there was no need for debate. No need for public apologies.

But for some reason, people missed that point in order to create some kind of controversy.

The great hip-hop scholar Grand Puba Maxwell of the rap group Brand Nubians, however, simplified this somewhat complicated issue when he said, “I can relate to the Good Times, the Cosbies on the sometimes.”

In other words, most of us can relate to the social issues and situations that took place on the sitcom Good Times, which was about a poor Black-working class family living in the Cabrini Green housing projects on the Southside of Chicago as well as the situations on the Cosby Show, which was about an an affluent African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York.

These two shows showed a slice of reality for Black people in America. One of poverty and the other of privilege. Even though, they were polar opposites, they were still the same.

Because, despite economics, both families faced hardships and problems, and they both showed love and pride for being Black. And in the case of Jalen Rose and Grant Hill, life imitated art or art imitated life.

Because Jalen Rose came from the world of ducking and dodging the violence produced by the inner city and Grant Hill grew up in the suburbs wearing Bill Cosby sweaters.

As a result, one was perceived as “too Black.” by the media. The other was considered “not Black enough”by his peers.

This is a classic example of divide and conquer amongst our people. And a larger part of the class warfare, that takes place in America.

But Hip-Hop legend Rakim Allah said it best in his classic song in 1989 entitled In the Ghetto that brilliantly said “it ain’t were you from, it’s where you’re at”

Because oddly, despite their different upbringings, these two, intelligent, Black, superstar athletes were both playing at predominately white universities, while seeking a quality education and chance to play basketball in the NBA.

With that said, we have to thank Jalen Rose for being brutally honest, while telling his story and not the one people wanted to hear as well as standing by his comments. But the same can be said for Grant Hill for defending the legacy of his family and denouncing Rose’s “Uncle Tom” remark with dignity and grace.

With that out of the way, now we can take a serious look at Rose’s assessment of Duke University’s recruitment practice, because there is a little bit of truth in his statement when we remove the “Uncle tom” comment from the equation.

First, let’s consider the fact that Duke is perceived as the Yale of the South.

As a result, they are going to recruit a certain type of player or athlete. (Let’s not deny that fact). And to be truthful, there is nothing wrong with that.

Coach Krzyzewski, who just recently won his 900th game, has made a career out of recruiting players that fit his system. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Despite all of that, however, it was Johnny Dawkins from Washington, DC, who changed the culture of Duke basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But the hatred for Duke basketball did not start with Dawkins; it began when they started winning National championships and became an elite basketball program in the eyes of America.

The media, in effect, started promoting Duke basketball, as pure basketball, much like Indiana University. But the more Duke won, the more arrogant they seemed to become.

And with the winning and the arrogance; came the hatred.

The hatred for Duke basketball and its players is no different than people hating the Dallas Cowboys, the North Carolina Tar Heels, the New England Patriots or the Boston Celtics, however.

Despite what you have been told, most people hate winners, especially Black people if the superstar of the team is white and considered overrated. Regardless if that player is Tyler Hansbrough (UNC), Larry Bird (Celtics), Danny Ferry (Duke), Tim Tebow (Florida), Tom Brady (Patriots), Brett Favre (Vikings) or Christian Laettner (Duke).

This stems from the “Great White Hope” concept America has fallen in love with after watching an endless amount of Rocky movies by Sylvester Stallone. Unfortunately, now that concept is subconsciously promoted, manufactured, and packaged as if they were trying to find the next American Idol.

Therefore, people shouldn’t be shocked at Rose or his teammates’ distaste for the Blue Devils or Christian Laettner while at Michigan.

“Duke was like America’s team and Christian Laettner was like…. God and I didn’t like that” said Juwan Howard, a member of the Fab Five.

Unlike Howard, however, his team mates’ thoughts of Laettner were a little harsher. As a result, they called him soft, overrated, “a bitch”, and an overrated (p****).

But to be honest, you probably would have heard harsher opinions about Laettner and Duke on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, regardless of race.

And I guarantee, they would have called them worse names, if that is possible.

For instance, I remember attending a UNC football game and seeing several tee-shirts with the slogan Carolina is Heaven but Duke is Hell. Even during the NBA playoffs last year in Charlotte, Orlando Magic’s J.J. Reddick, a Duke graduate, was booed every time he touched the ball.

In other words, a lot of people hated Duke long before this Fab Five documentary.

But I think the media was trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Even on the Dan Patrick Show, Laettner said he was not bothered by the Fab Five’s view of him or Duke University after viewing the documentary.

“What some one thinks of me when they are 18 years old that doesn’t bother me” Laettner said. “Sure, when they were 18, they were a little disrespectful and brash….yes…That’s how we all were when we are 18.

Lattener was correct.

These words were spoken 20 years ago.

But somehow, the media wanted the words of war to continue.

Besides, in the heat of competition, name-calling and trash-talking is a part of the game.

In other words, why should the Fab Five players apologize for their remarks about Duke or Laettner?

Let’s not forgot, Christian Laettner wasn’t an angel while wearing a Blue Devils jersey. Remember his infamous stomping of a Kentucky player as he laid on the ground during the 1992 NCAA regional finals.

And to add fuel to the flames, let’s not leave out Duke’s rowdy fans known as the Cameron Crazies, which were and still are known for psychologically punishing players on the court with their clever and sometimes harsh chants and cheers.

In other words, what’s good for the goose; is good for the gander.

So, as the sports world continues to debate the Fab Five’s historical significance and their hatred for Duke University, Jalen Rose, as a producer, accomplished his goal by keeping the tainted legacy of the Fab Five alive in the minds of another generation of basketball players and part of the lexicon of college basketball forever.

And in the end, we all must admit, no one did it better, or told it better.

Fabulous job, Five Stars, for five Fabulous Freshmen.