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The Fab 5, Baggy Shorts, and Uncle Toms

Growing up, I watched a lot of basketball with my parents from hotel rooms.  We didn't live in a hotel, but it seemed that each year the final four would fall during our Spring Break, and we'd be in a hotel room in Gettysburg, or Santa Fe, or some other city that made 10 year old me say things like "can we just go to Disney World next year?" and "What do you mean this hotel doesn't have a pool?"  It meant that a lot of championship games a seared into my memory as being part of a particular vacation and their outcome is irrevocably tied to that location.  Rick Pitino's Kentucky squad?  San Diego (at least there was a zoo).  Miles Simon and Arizona?  Flagstaff.  You get the picture.

I was at an age in 1992 where there wasn't a bigger picture.  Michigan had an awesome basketball team.  That was it.  There were these 5 freshman that everyone talked about and they were just about the most exciting thing that could possibly happen in a gym.  The long shorts and black socks were lost on me as things that meant something outside of what I saw on my TV.  There was no radical shift in the way I enjoyed basketball - it was still basketball, I still pretended to be Chris Webber or Jimmy King on the playground, and I had bragging rights (for the most part) over my predominantly Hoosier classmates.  

Something that the documentary did for me was illuminate the fact that in many ways the Fab 5 were 5 black men who threatened the establishment of college basketball, and were in many ways (wrongly) looked at as just that.  I knew that my love for them was met with, in some cases, disapproving looks (as disapproving as you can give a 10 year old) from the older generation.  I just didn't know why.  It's easy, looking back now, to see how that shaped the attitude of that team in 1992.  They came from mostly disenfranchised backgrounds, and the reception they got only fed that feeling.  It's not hard to see the circumstances that led to a 19 year old Black student to believe that the Duke players - at their private school - were bitches and uncle-toms, whether their feelings of being disenfranchised were real or perceived.

Jalen Rose does not think that today.  You'll note, courtesy of the WLA:

“was”. “hated”. “hated”. “felt”. “hated”. “was”. “came”. “went”. “played”. “was”. “had to”. “was”. “resented”. “looked”.

These are the verbs that the four members of the Fab Five use during their description of their feelings towards Duke. What do all these verbs have in common? They are in the past tense.

This is what makes Grant Hills rebuttal so intriguingly bad.  Instead of addressing the larger issue of race and culture at the time - admittedly a topic that few can take on - he sets up a straw man definition of what Jalen said:

In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only “black players that were ‘Uncle Toms,’ ” Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families. He leaves us all guessing exactly what he believes today.

Then proceeds to knock it down. What's more is that the first thing Jalen says is:

 ”I was jealous of Grant Hill. He came from a great black family. Your mom went to college…Your dad played in the NFL. He was a very well-spoken and successful man.”

When viewed from an 18 year old kid who had none of those things perspective, you can see how Jalen - and maybe the rest of the team - thought that about Duke.  They were largely coming from inner-city poverty and were met with vitriol from nearly every media outlet and fanbase, non more so that predominantly White Duke.  The Fab 5 were 5 young Black men who were actively disrupting what many - including Duke - considered to be the "college basketball world order."  They came from mostly poor backgrounds.  Again - not hard to see where they're coming from.  Jalen has clarified his position, saying:

"I know a lot of people are trying to circumvent a great documentary that was two hours of quality content and paraphrase a statement that I made and look at the headline but not read the story. That's basically when I talked about my recruiting as a high school student as it related to Duke. I just want to make sure I verify how I felt about that. I was clearly talking about a framework from 1991-1993, not about 2011."

The fact that he has to clarify to a nation that grips on to anything regarding race as something that is immediately inflammatory is frustrating, and Grant Hill did not do himself any favors by responding the way he did.  Instead of using Jalen's comments to hold a larger discussion on why many youths would still feel that way today, and how to go about promoting change within communities, he sets up a straw man and the clumsily knocks it down.  To 18 year old Jimmy King and Jalen Rose?  Yeah, those Duke guys were bitches - the world view they held as an 18 year old during that period of time led them to believe that, and they have grown and matured to a point where they can put that time into context.  Just like 10 year old me, they didn't have that capability in 1992.