They’re college basketball’s most talked about team that never won anything, known as the Fab Five, Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class which included Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. Interesting to see that 18 years later, they still harbor some bitterness over what they weren’t able to accomplish. With special acrimony still reserved for Duke. Rose, King and Jackson appeared on ESPN’s First Take this morning to discuss 30 for 30’s documentary on the Fab Five that will air on Sunday [March 13th. - ST].
About midway through the First Take segment, they played a clip from the documentary in which Rose says:
“For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke. And I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.”
Asked about the comment, Rose didn’t exactly backtrack, but elaborated:
“Well, certain schools recruit a typical kind of player whether the world admits it or not. And Duke is one of those schools. They recruit black players from polished families, accomplished families. And that’s fine. That’s okay. But when you’re an inner-city kid playing in a public school league, you know that certain schools aren’t going to recruit you. That’s one. And I’m okay with it. That’s how I felt as an 18-year-old kid.”
See the First Take interview video here.
Hard to know where to start here. First, obviously you’re not “okay with it,” because if you were you wouldn’t still sound so bitter. For their parts, King and Jackson agreed, Jackson saying that he appreciates now “what [Duke] has accomplished,” but he still hates them.
Whether or not you are a Duke fan, and I know a lot of you probably aren’t, the comments are pretty outrageous. Sadly, Rose – who was the documentary’s executive producer and who is also a commentator for ESPN – is not the only member of the “Fab Five” to go down this road. More on that later.
It should be noted that Duke actively recruited fellow Michigan malcontent Chris Webber, who amplified and supported Rose’s comments here. This part was especially funny – for reasons I’ll explain in a minute:
Now for the “fire” part of my analogy, the reality. It is true during the time Rose was being recruited (91) , players from the Fab 5 weren’t heavily recruited from Duke, and they were the top players of the country! Why is that? Is it because Coach K came from that Army/Coach Bob Knight dictatorial, disciplined style of coaching he didn’t think was conducive for the Fab-5? Or was it because the Fab-5 were the first of its kind: hip hop listening, baggy shorts-wearing, trash-talking ballers from the urban city? Coach K must’ve been afraid for his life that these potential malcontents were thugs and killers.
What’s funny about that is that Webber, who likes to pretend he’s “street”, was never a ‘street thug’ himself – he went to private school:
And this is the most important question – would Webber have been able to live with himself had he attended what is widely considered a “white school”? Sadly, I don’t think so. It’s noted in the doc, and notably seen on TV from 1991 to 2005 or so, CWebb was never quite comfortable in his own skin. He wanted to be street, and despite growing up in Detroit, he really wasn’t. He was a private school kid, and that always bothered him in ways I can’t ever know (widely documented over the years). Just watch the doc – it’s clear that he was immature and wasn’t always comfortable in his situation. Really interesting dynamic that I can’t solve without a psych degree, but even a layman knows that dude was never quite comfortable. And that really bums me out, because he always was one of more eloquent athletes around. Would he have been even more uncomfortable at Duke? Perhaps, but perhaps not.
One thing’s for sure: Had he gone to Duke, he’d have won the NCAA championship once – and some 30 years later would have had to defend himself from Jalen Rose and other bitter former Michigan players’ accusations that he was an “Uncle Tom.” Instead, he and the “Fab Five” got their a**es handed to them four times by the Blue Devils during that time frame, and none of them achieved any real sports notoriety on the court after that. Aww.
Anyway, as to the charge that Coach K and the Duke basketball program is ‘racist’ because they supposedly only recruit black players from well-off black families, Rose hinted around at the reason why that happens but didn’t go full tilt in his explanation: Duke recruits where they’re going to typically find the best not just in terms of playing ability but also in terms of high academic achievement as per the decades-old standards of the school, and more often than not they’re not going to find that from “street kids.” But that doesn’t mean they don’t try to recruit kids from “urban areas” – as Dick Vitale pointed out here.
Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock slammed this point home here in his written smack down of the Fab Five’s ridiculous playing of the racism/elitism card:
The Fab Five clearly believe Coach K and Duke didn’t and don’t recruit inner-city black kids, and they believe race/racism/elitism are the driving forces behind the philosophy.
Let’s go back to the Fab Five era and Duke’s philosophy then. Coach K recruited kids who had every intention of staying in school for four years. He recruited kids who had a good chance of competing academically at Duke and could meet the standardized test score qualifications for entrance.
The Fab Five stated it was their intention to win a national championship and turn pro as a group after their sophomore season. Webber, who was recruited by Duke, left Michigan after two years. Rose and Howard left as juniors. Impoverished inner-city kids have good reason to turn pro early. I’m not knocking Webber, Howard and Rose for their decisions. They didn’t fit the Duke profile at the time.
Furthermore, unlike Steve Fisher at the time, Coach K did more than roll the ball on the court. He coached.
The ideal in college basketball is to lead four-year student-athletes to conference and national championships. That’s the goal.
During the three-year run of the Fab Five (one season without Webber), Duke beat Michigan all four times the schools met while winning two ACC titles and one NCAA title. During the same span, Michigan won zero conference or national titles. In addition, Webber’s interactions with booster Ed Martin put the program on probation and caused Michigan to forfeit all its games.
I think Coach K recruited and recruits the right kids for Duke.
It’s ridiculous for Webber to insinuate that Coach K feared the Fab Five were “thugs and killers.”
Coach K probably thought the same thing I thought watching the Fab Five play: They’re immature, arrogant, interested in playing for a coach they could ignore and incapable of putting together the consistent focus and effort necessary to win a conference championship.
Two teams consistently beat the Fab Five — Duke (4-0) and Indiana (4-2).
Let me translate that for you: Structured, disciplined, well-coached teams beat Michigan.
While making money for their white university and allowing their incompetent, white coach to learn on the job, the Fab Five were not man enough to harness the courage and focus to outduel — in their minds — inferior, racist teams.
Now tell me who the sellouts were?
It wasn’t John Thompson, Patrick Ewing or Grant Hill.
Sadly, Rose, Webber, and the rest of the so-called “Fab Five” apparently have issues with prestigious universities making stellar academic records a requirement for entrance into their university. It’s all about “diversity”, you see, and a “white team” can only be made truly “diverse” if it recruits from black families “in the hood” rather than from those whose children’s academic achievements – and ambitions – are second to none.
How much do you want to bet all of these guys are Democrats?
Living here in NC, home of the Duke Blue Devils – and being a huge fan of them, I’ve heard this accusation either insinuated or outright stated in so many words during the course of many conversations – and usually they come from fans of teams who’ve had a tough time trying to beat the Devils. Duke fans have pretty much heard it all about their team, and most of the time they take the teasing in stride, but when this false assertion rears its ugly head, you’ve got no choice but to fight back against it. Not only is it an attempt to demean the school, but it’s also an attempt at cheapening the accomplishments of black sports figures at Duke, whether they play basketball or another sport. It’s pathetic that Rose and his comrades think so little of black athletes at Duke and other “white universities” and their academic and sports successes that they would suggest/imply that these black athletes were ‘less black’ than they would have been had they been recruited ‘off the streets.’
And on that point, time to turn it over to Washington Post sports columnist Jason Reid:
[...] Rose explained his thinking has changed with maturity, but he seemed to hold firm to his flawed belief that the experiences of some African Americans are “more black” than those of others. The premise, misguided as it is, asserts that academic achievement, professional accomplishment and affluence somehow reduces or eliminates a person’s “blackness.”
Rose isn’t the first to express such thoughts. There has been a long, ongoing debate among black folk about the issues he raised.
As for Rose’s accusations about Duke, he appears to use “Uncle Tom” to refer to Duke players from economically successful two-parent families rather than blacks who act subserviently to whites — the latter being the term’s most offensive and common meaning. I got to know several former Duke players during my time as a NBA beat writer, and none fit the the latter description.
But this is about more than Rose’s inaccurate generalization, which he could not possibly support without knowing the background of every African-American player Krzyzewski has recruited during his more than three decades at the school. Rose’s comments stirred thought on a much bigger issue: What constitutes a “true” black experience?
While covering the 2004 Major League Baseball playoffs, I was involved in a locker-room altercation after former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley called me an Uncle Tom.
Bradley, who also is black, was upset about my interview questions and attacked me personally with the worst two words one black man can direct at another. I had to be restrained.
The situation still angers me because Bradley essentially was saying I was “less black” than he because of his perception about my educational background and job. Presumably, I would have been more black to Bradley if I hadn’t worked hard to excel in school and earned a job at the top of my field.
I’m happy my son and daughter live in a two-parent home and that we’re able to provide for them. I take comfort in knowing I have a partner who shares my views on the educational foundation we’re laying for our kids together.
I don’t think that makes me any “less black,” though, than I was when I watched in amazement at how hard my mom worked as a single parent to send three sons to college. I still feel as black as I did when I lived next door to abandoned buildings and held my brothers at night when they were scared by gunfire.
My children won’t have those experiences. But to imply that because of that, their racial identity is somehow compromised is insulting — not only to them but to all of us who know how our skin color has shaped our lives.
Rose certainly knows what that means, but so does Grant Hill and Elton Brand. Each lived very different lives, but the experience of being black in America is what they — and all African Americans — have in common. It’s not a measuring stick to tell them apart.
And as a side note, can you imagine what would have happened had a white commentator noted that certain schools only recruited from white families in “urban areas” in order to earn ‘street cred’ with their urban black players? Doesn’t even take five seconds to figure out how that would turn out …