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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Grant Hill's Open Letter About ESPN's Fab Five Film Speaks Volumes

ESPN's "Fab Five" documentary examined the impact that Michigan's 1991 freshman class had not only on college basketball but society in general. During the film, the four members of the Fab Five who participated in the project* graphically described how they felt about the Duke basketball program and some of Duke's players. The opinions that the Michigan players expressed--specifically that the Duke players lacked toughness and that the black Duke players were "Uncle Toms" (a powerfully negative allegation for one black person to hurl against another black person)--are ignorant; the Duke players proved their toughness by beating the Fab Five every time Duke faced Michigan (including the 1992 NCAA Championship Game) and the "Uncle Tom" slur is ridiculous: less than four decades ago, Civil Rights leaders marched and died precisely for the purpose of ensuring that blacks would have equal opportunities in the educational system and the work force, so it is foolish to belittle anyone who correctly took advantage of opportunities to create a better life for himself and his family. Duke star Grant Hill was singled out for a lot of verbal abuse by the Fab Five players and he authored an eloquent response that refuted everything they said without personally attacking them; frankly, if I were in Hill's shoes I am not sure I would have made such a measured response. Here is a brief selection from Hill's essay:

I come from a strong legacy of black Americans. My namesake, Henry Hill, my father’s father, was a day laborer in Baltimore. He could not read or write until he was taught to do so by my grandmother. His first present to my dad was a set of encyclopedias, which I now have to remind me of the importance of education. He wanted his only child, my father, to have a good education, so he made numerous sacrifices to see that he got an education, including attending Yale. This is part of our great tradition as black Americans. We aspire for the best or better for our children and work hard to make that happen for them. Jalen’s mother is part of our great, black tradition and made the same sacrifices for him.

It is unbeknownst to me what Jalen meant by his convoluted reference to black players at Duke considering how little he knows about any of them. My teammates—all of them, black and white—were a band of brothers who came together to play at the highest level for the best coach in basketball...

My mother always says, “You can live without Chaucer and you can live without calculus, but you cannot make it in the wide, wide world without common sense.” As we get older, we understand the importance of these words. Adulthood is nothing but a series of choices: you can say yes or no, but you cannot avoid saying one or the other. In the end, those who are successful are those who adjust and adapt to the decisions they have made and make the best of them.

You can read Hill's complete rebuttal here.

While Hill focused specifically on the slurs that the Fab Five directed toward him and his teammates, Jason Whitlock declares that the "Fab Five" film rewrites history:

The legacy of the Fab Five is that they were on the cutting edge of America’s unashamed embrace of style over substance... The Fab Five are taking credit for the real accomplishments of John Thompson’s and Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas.

It was Thompson’s all-black, Ewing-led teams a decade before the Fab Five that shook the foundation of college basketball, changed the complexion of starting lineups across the country, opened coaching doors that had previously been closed to blacks and paved the way for black sportswriters at major newspapers.

It's easy to forgive Rose for his lack of self-awareness. It's America. In this country, self-awareness and common sense are our most rare commodities.

What's not easy to excuse is the clueless robbery of what Thompson, Ewing, Bill Martin, Reggie Williams, Horace Broadnax and David Wingate accomplished.

They won championships--conference and national. They scared and intimidated the establishment. They were the inner-city black kids who left a legacy of jobs and playing opportunities for other impoverished minorities that exposes the lack of substance in the fads popularized by the Fab Five.

"Hoya Paranoia" is the story that deserves celebration and should serve as a teaching tool. Fab Five is a safe, harmless story celebrating black kids for choosing style over substance.

*Chris Webber, who later pleaded guilty to a criminal contempt charge relating to his false testimony about hundreds of thousands of dollars that he received from booster Ed Martin, declined to be associated in any way with the film. The court fined Webber $100,000 and ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service; the NBA suspended Webber for three games without pay after Webber pleaded guilty.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:48 AM