Friday, April 1, 2011

The Real 'Fab Five' Controversy

"For me, Duke was a person.  I hated Duke, and I hated everything Duke stood for.  Schools like Duke don’t recruit players like me.  I felt that they only recruited players that were Uncle Toms" - Jalen Rose.

That quote is from an interview that appeared in the ESPN documentary "The Fab Five" that aired a few weeks ago.  The documentary was intended to tell the story of how five black freshmen players came to play for the Michigan Wolverines in the early 1990s and how they impacted on revolutionized the game of college basketball.

What instead ended up happening was a public backlash over the 'Uncle Tom' comment and a back and forth between Jalen Rose and former Duke star Grant Hill about race, class and family.  The controversy has made its rounds on all of the major sports talk shows and everyone has chimed in their with their opinion on whether or not Rose was justified in his comments or not.

I for one will not be joining them.  A few people have asked me to write about this but I just don't feel comfortable writing about race.  The only time I have ever heard anyone use the phrase 'Uncle Tom' before was in stories I have read about the build-up to the Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight.  I assumed it was a time period type phrase like that people didn't really use anymore as the language had evolved over the years.  However upon hearing the public response to Rose using the phrase clearly it is an extremely derogatory word that African Americans find very offensive so I would rather just avoid writing about that topic entirely.

The other reason I don't want to discuss the public feud between Hill and Rose is because to me that wasn't the biggest issue I had with the documentary.  The real issue is the main message of the film itself, that the 'Fab Five' revolutionized the game of college basketball and left behind a legacy that is still felt today.  That claim couldn't be further from the truth as the only real impact the 'Fab Five' had on college basketball was the scandal they created by having most of their wins and on-court accomplishments taken away due to numerous NCAA rule violations.

Their other legacy, as Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports so eloquently puts it, "The legacy of the Fab Five is that they were on the cutting edge of America’s unashamed embrace of style over substance."  Normally I don't agree with Whitlock on most issues but on this one he is bang on.  The 'Fab Five' never actually won anything as they came close to winning multiple NCAA championships but both teams were beaten soundly by far superior teams.  They are most well known for their over-the-top celebrations of mediocre achievements and their desire to wear baggier shorts.

Yet according to the documentary they were a revolutionary team that challenged the establishment and are still relevant today.

If you watch the documentary itself at one point Jalen Rose says, "from the first day we stepped on the Michigan campus it was a revolution.  It just so happened that this revolution was televised." Not a surprising comment considering Rose was part of the 'Fab Five' as well as being the executive producer for the documentary itself.  Clearly this is a man that is trying to create a revisionist history of what happened in order to increase his own fame and standing within the world of basketball.

Wearing baggy shorts, over celebrating mediocre achievements and having 5 freshmen start for a team are not revolutionizing basketball and to say so is a slap in the face to those that came before Rose and paved the way for him to even play NCAA basketball.

Not once in the entire documentary does anyone mention the name John Thompson or the Georgetown Hoyas.  John Thompson is the most famous black basketball coach of all time and his Hoyas teams of the 70s and 80s were the ones who were actually making an impact and revolutionizing the game of college basketball.

Thompson was one of the first coaches to have all black starting lineups and he was also one of the first coaches to recruit black players from the inner city.  It was Thompson and his teams that had to fight against racial inequality and rules like Proposition 42 that were intended to lower the amount of black athletes in the NCAA.  Without the work of John Thompson and other trailblazers Jalen Rose might never have been able to play for Michigan.

Plus Thompson and his Georgetown teams actually won something.  Thompson still holds the record for most Big East conference championships (seven regular season, six tournaments) and in 1984 led his Hoyas to a National Championship by beating Houston in the Finals 84-75.  Sure their shorts may have been way too short but they were making an impact on the game and on society.

So while people are focusing on Rose calling Duke players 'Uncle Toms' the real issue is being overlooked. The 'Fab Five' revolutionized basketball by adding two to three inches of fabric on the length of shorts and that's it. 

Random YouTube Video

1 comment:

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