In ESPN’s Fab Five Documentary, Jalen Rose and the three other Michigan players who participated recollected honestly what they felt twenty years ago about Duke. All of the comments were explicitly in the past tense. Grant Hill penned an articulate response to the comments, but why did he feel compelled to respond presently to issues so far in the past?
The Michigan players’ comments were about what “Duke” represented to them two decades ago. They felt that Duke recruited “a certain type of player,” who was middle or upper class (often white), came from a stable well-off family and probably planned to stay at Duke for four years. Jalen Rose dropped the “Uncle Tom” bomb. That was an accurate portrayal of what they thought at the time. Grant Hill, obviously, felt differently.
This isn’t shocking. Though usually in more sublimated words, Duke often faces this accusation. It’s the reason, coupled with their success, why the Blue Devils are hated and why players like J.J. Redick* are morphed into pantomime villains. Whether it’s racism, classism or effective basketball strategy, Duke is perceived as elitist. It is gratifying to root against elitists.
Rose specifically references Grant Hill and Hill’s family. He acknowledges he was jealous. Both their parents were professional athletes. Hill grew up in a stable, nurturing household. Rose never met his father, never received support and grew up poor with a single-mother. Jealousy is natural in that situation. Revealing it is more of a reflection on Jalen’s life than an indictment of Hill’s family.
Perhaps, Rose and his comrades could have gone into further detail about how their thoughts on Duke have evolved as they’ve become adults, but that wasn’t the subject of the documentary. It was a personal story, not a balanced journalistic portrayal.
The sticking point for the rest of us seems to be the implied definitions of “blackness” and “Uncle Tom” the two men present. Most are not qualified to weigh in on that, least of all the soft, affluent caucasian man typing these words. Though, I would question why we care what teenage basketball players thought of the subject in 1992.
Grant Hill’s retort was eloquent. His praise for his own upbringing and the value of higher education was compassionate, but tearing away the lofty forum, the rhetoric and the Latin quotations, he’s just angry because they called him a bitch. This rears its head with the biting, incongruous ending. “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.”