A discussion of race, politics, media and the like… What I see is what you get.

My Thoughts on the Fab Five, the Documentary & the Hidden Racial Firestorm..


20110321-063003.jpg

My first recollection of the NCAA tournament and its preceding season was as a freshman in high school. It was the 1985-1986 season. I remember this vividly because I was amazed by the explosiveness of one of the premier guards at the time. I remember rummaging through my step dad’s Sports Illustrated magazines to cut out pictures of Johnny Dawkins as he dunked over some poor unsuspecting guy. I recall being riveted to the TV and watching him play a game versus David Robinson’s Navy team where he took the ball on a break and reversed dunked over a defender. It was the first time that I was really paying attention to the game. Alarie & Amaker were mainstays of that team and I was an early fan. At the time I had dreams of being a professional basketball player, like a lot of Black boys do or did back then, as I had just made my high school Junior Varsity team. I couldn’t help but to root for Dawkins and his team, Duke. I was therefore crushed by their, I believe, championship game loss to the Louisville Cardinals and their freshman center, Pervis Elison. As I recall, he was “Never Nervous”…

Since my earliest days as a basketball fan, I have never been a Duke hater…

I am a Detroit native and hence I was crazy about the 1989 Michigan team that won the National Championship and even more rabid about a group of five freshman that came to Michigan in 1992. In 1991, I was a Sophomore at Howard University and I may have been one of the only Black males on campus rooting FOR Duke AGAINST the UNLV Running Rebels during that 1991 championship game. I watched that game in my dorm room in Slowe Hall and I remember the looks I got when I cheered for a good play or a great pass from the Dukies. That UNLV team was a bonafide professional team and even I was surprised that the Dukies pulled that one out. The idea that Duke only recruited a certain type of Black player was very real back then. It was, and still is to a certain degree, an accepted notion. This notion was probably at the base of the deep animosity shared by members of the Black community and Howard was no exception. At the time, I was very clued in to the racial overtones involved (Duke the “clean” school versus the “rough” and almost “criminal element” tag that surrounded the UNLV program) but I considered myself (and still do) a fan of good basketball play. Duke epitomized that to me.

I am a Duke fan…

The ESPN documentary that aired this past Sunday night was powerful. Gripping. Emotional even. I was speechless. The documentary was riveting. While no two-hour documentary can be the “end-all-be-all” story for everyone, I could not help but to be inspired by what I saw. The truth, no matter how raw or hurtful seemed to be the emphasis of the producers. It was gritty and I loved it.

“Everyone knows sports is as much of a head game as it is a body game, and talking trash isn’t really new….but both the mode of black urban trash talk, and the way it was RECEIVED by a largely white consumer base was different. Race does not only change how people perform it changes how performances are perceived.” – Lester Spence

I couldn’t help but reminisce and think about watching those Fab Five games some 20 years earlier and feel nothing but deep pride as the members of the Five told their story as they saw fit. As a Detroiter, at Howard University, I paid very close attention to the Bad Boys who wore Piston Blue & Red and the Five who wore Maize & Blue. I defended them both intensely and bragged on their accomplishment and swagger. I STILL have the NCAA tournament games of the Five on VHS and have, on occasion, in the past, popped them in to see the velocity that the Five played. I felt I was the face of Detroit to those guys and gals with whom I had contact who only saw the media’s stereotypical portrayal of my city. I was proud to point to the Five and I felt they represented me as well.

I am imported from Detroit…

Since the airing of the documentary I have read many articles in favor (Wilbon and Zirin) and in repudiation (Whitlock and Hill) of the documentary and have reviewed the statements made by the Five during the documentary and those made prior to and subsequent to the documentary. While I can agree that Rose may have inferred that Hill was an “Uncle Tom” in the documentary, he never directly said so. When I reviewed the comment that seemed to cause the angst hidden in Hill’s rebuttal, it struck me that Hill’s response seemed to miss the point entirely. Rose’s accusations, thought as an 18 year old but expressed as an adult, were aimed more toward Duke’s recruiting practices than any direct assault on Hill’s perceived blackness, in my opinion. Instead of focusing on a comment that was not made implicitly and was not meant to show some kind of present day malice, Hill should have discussed the issue at hand. Namely, the, seemingly, discriminative recruiting practices that Rose thought precluded him from being recruited by Duke. I think Rose’s comments put Krzyzewski and his program on the hot seat, not Hill. I find it typical that those in the media (and those of us fans) like to focus on a manufactured issue rather than the more critical issue. Where is the discussion on Duke’s recruiting practices? Are our perceptions on why they do not recruit inner city kids a reality in the minds of the administration or the coaching staff or the players or the coach himself? Why or why not? What was it about Webber or Battier that made them coveted by Duke at the time? As opposed to Rose or Howard? It couldn’t just be there skill set. There had to be more involved. Where is the intense discussion of the racist letters and newspaper clippings received at what we all think of as a “liberal” institution? Remember, this was taking place in the early 90’s, not 1940. How much of that attitude is hidden behind the shiny veneer and tradition that is Michigan and the, seemingly, vehement reproach of the Five now? We can talk about Duke and their recruiting all we want (and we should) but is Michigan a better role model as it relates to racial enlightenment?

I think it’s telling that Hill attempts to uplift his Black bonafides by essentially name-dropping Black Duke players, except Elton Brand, and by mentioning the likes of John Hope Franklin in an attempt, I think, to keep the focus off of his beloved Alma Mater and it’s basketball program in his rebuttal. He never mentions Duke’s and Krzyzewski’s recruiting practices as it relates to Black players and by not dealing with this issue at all, I think Hill actually shows himself worthy of the “inferred” name that Rose thought some 20 years ago, in this limited respect. Why would Hill not deal with the issue of recruiting that Rose raised except for the fact that he was trying to protect Duke from a racial firestorm or that he didn’t think the issue worthy of being discussed. But why not discuss it? THIS was and is the issue discussed in the Black community surrounding Duke’s program since before and after Hill signed his letter of intent to play there. The Black community’s rather large, unhidden and boisterous disdain for Duke’s basketball program is way too hot for even Hill not to have heard it or understand it’s valid realism. Either way, Hill’s defense of Duke or his ignorance of the dialogue within the Black community, speak volumes.

I do root for Duke and respect the accomplishments of the program and coach. I have always thought well of Grant Hill as a player and a person (He is on my list of favorite Pistons as well), but I think this issue shows the classism within the Black community, the lengths that some within the community will go to shield themselves and their benefactors from charges that clearly sting (and hold some merit), the intra-racial struggle brought on by manifested white supremacy and the lack of real dialogue about it all.

I thank Jalen Rose and the Five for broaching the subject. I wish we all had the willingness to speak the truth…as hard as it may be sometimes.

Thoughts on the Fab Five.

20110321-063122.jpg

20110321-063527.jpg

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s