During ESPN’s Fab Five documentary that aired on Sunday night, Jalen Rose said that Duke only recruited black players he considered to be “Uncle Toms.” Apparently that ruffled some Blue Devil feathers. Grant Hill, who played on the Duke team that beat the Fab Five in the 1992 Final Four (remember them?), responded to Rose’s remarks in an editorial in today’s New York Times.
Before we get into Hill’s response, here is Rose’s comment that provoked it:
“Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt that they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms… I was jealous of Grant Hill. He came from a great black family. Congratulations. Your mom went to college and was roommates with Hillary Clinton. Your dad played in the NFL as a very well-spoken and successful man. 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, moreso than I resented him. I looked at it as they are who the world accepts and we are who the world hates.”
As much as I loathe Duke, it is a good school (academically…chill), that teaches its students to write very well. And man, did Grant Hill take to the power of the pen. A few of the more powerful paragraphs:
It was a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events, therefore, to see friends narrating this interesting documentary about their moment in time and calling me a bitch and worse, calling all black players at Duke “Uncle Toms” and, to some degree, disparaging my parents for their education, work ethic and commitment to each other and to me. I should have guessed there was something regrettable in the documentary when I received a Twitter apology from Jalen before its premiere. I am aware Jalen has gone to some length to explain his remarks about my family in numerous interviews, so I believe he has some admiration for them.
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.
I caution my fabulous five friends to avoid stereotyping me and others they do not know in much the same way so many people stereotyped them back then for their appearance and swagger. I wish for you the restoration of the bond that made you friends, brothers and icons. I am proud of my family. I am proud of my Duke championships and all my Duke teammates. And, I am proud I never lost a game against the Fab Five.
(Okay, you have to admit that last line was awesome.)
Part of me thinks that Rose had no idea the controversy his remarks would create. During an ESPN interview today, Rose was asked what he thought of Hill’s editorial, and he stood his ground, again insisting that at the time, as a seventeen-year-old basketball player from the inner-city, he thought Duke only recruited black players from well-to-do families. When pushed about what he thinks today, he maintained that Duke “recruits a certain type of player” and that he’s never seen Coach K in Detroit.
The other part of me also thinks that although he is an eloquent writer and this was a cutting piece, Hill kind of missed Rose’s point. Rose’s statements were in retrospect, made when he was young, hungry, and admittedly jealous of Hill and his family’s situation. He wasn’t slamming Grant Hill’s family, he was just pointing out how different it was from his. One of the reasons that the Fab Five documentary was so great was the participants’ honesty about that part of their lives. What stirred the pot was Rose’s use of the term “Uncle Toms.” If anything, I wish Hill would have addressed that more that defending the Duke tradition (is there a written equivalent to court slapping?), but maybe that’s just the Kentucky fan in me talking.
Nevertheless, the back and forth between Rose and Hill is fascinating, and guess what? No one’s bothering to stand up for Christian Laettner right now.