Have you seen the new ESPN documentary about The Fab Five?
First of all, it’s a great film. Remember that, it’s worth watching. It recalls what I would consider the “glory days” of hip-hop (before it became all about the benjamins and rappers actually had something to say) and it also shows how these five young black men serendipitously came together to change the face of college basketball and then some.
But you may not remember any of that because as you’re watching the film, there’s this sequence where a few of the players are reminiscing about their distaste for Duke University. And even though the interviews are in the present talking about a rivalry that goes back close to two decades, the sentiments come off as so raw, the epithets that come spitting out of the players start to snowball. You can already start to hear it get a little personal in this clip here:
And then the clincher is when Jalen Rose and Jimmy King in sequence call Grant Hill an “Uncle Tom” and the B-word. And as I was watching it, my jaw dropped and I remember saying outloud, “Oh snap.” I’m not Black, but I went to a magnet high school, and I know anytime anyone says those words to someone else, you better back up because there’s a fight about to break out.
But the documentary keeps rolling and Michigan re-traces the steps, they lose and it was good. It heightened the sense of antagonism and what was at stake.
Then I sleep on it and next thing you know, Grant Hill responds on a New York Times editorial. And ESPN was on it the next day:
In this back-and-forth, Chris Broussard uses a phrase, where he says this documentary exposes “an identity crisis in the Black community…around the question of what it means to be Black” and I got it. This is all about identity.Who do you represent? Who do you root for? This isn’t just about Dukies or Michigan.
The deconstruction of college basketball in Jalen Rose’s mind is quite sophisticated actually. He sees that Duke is looking for certain players and they’re not coming from the projects, which conveys to him that they are unwilling to look past stereotypes and take certain risks even today. Which is why his critique of Grant Hill as “Uncle Tom” is fascinating because while the media will pit Grant against Jalen, Rose is already implying here that the recruiting system is what differentiates them, not him. He’s naming the power behind the particularity of Grant Hill.
But of course, I don’t think Jalen would explain it that way. Here’s how he does reflect on Duke and his critique isn’t directed at Hill at all, but listen to where it is placed now:
Don’t hate the player, hate the game.