Grant Hill on Wednesday called comments that Jalen Rose made about Duke in "The Fab Five," the 30 for 30 documentary, "sad and somewhat pathetic."
Hill, who knew Rose as a teenager and played against him in college and the NBA, takes issue with the characterization of him and his teammates and with the comments about Hill's family.
"I hated Duke and I hated everything Duke stood for," Rose said in the documentary. "Schools like Duke didn't recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms."
The exchange has spawned a wide-ranging debate about race and perceptions across media. We asked some of the writers who contribute to ESPN to provide their perspective.
Jemele Hill: Two sides of same story
It's not often that I agree with both sides in an argument. My job as a columnist is to pick a side, or at the very least, tell you which side makes the most sense.
In this case, both Jalen Rose and Grant Hill brilliantly illustrate the bitter class divide that exists in our country, particularly in black America.
I identify with Rose's candor because I was just like him. I'm also from inner-city Detroit. I was raised by a single parent. I was in high school at the height of the Fab Five's popularity, and I despised Duke because at every turn, the media seemed to use Duke to remind folks like me that we were inconsequential.
But I can't dismiss Hill's point of view, either. My guess is that part of the reason Hill felt so compelled to respond to Rose -- even if Rose was characterizing immature feelings from 20 years ago -- is because Rose probably isn't the first to question Hill's blackness based on his upbringing and school affiliation. Unfortunately, there are some African-Americans who not only penalize successful black people like Hill, but also believe that you can only live an authentic black experience if you grow up fatherless and poor.
The only thing I ask is that we, the media, not cheapen this debate by placing the same stereotypes on Hill and Rose now that we did on them two decades ago. Let's appreciate the fact that during a time when athletes' opinions aren't valued or offered, we have two bright athletes who have had the courage and introspection to elevate a sensitive discussion.
Gene Wojciechowski: What do Fab Five believe today?
I recently finished writing a book called "The Last Great Game," which details the 1992 seasons of Duke and Kentucky and their epic NCAA regional OT game (Christian Laettner's shot for the ages). But more than a year ago I sat in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hotel room with Grant Hill, and for several hours and we discussed, among other topics, the Fab Five versus Duke racial dynamic of that '92 season.
Several Duke players (not Hill) had told me of the Uncle Tom -- and worse -- comments made by certain members of the Fab Five during pregame warm-ups before the '92 national championship game (of the four Fab Five members I interviewed in 2010 for the book, none denied the sentiment toward Duke's African-American players). The racial element troubled Hill, partly because he had grown up in conflict about his own blackness, but mostly because he was offended by the unfairness of such accusations. But here's the thing: Rose and Hill were teenage friends. Rose, who grudgingly came to respect the Blue Devils, told me: "To be honest, I wanted a lot of the things he had."
The irony, of course, is that the "bitches" and "Uncle Toms" beat Michigan twice during the 1991-92 season -- in mid-December and then in the national championship game. There was a certain innocence, arrogance and ignorance to the Fab Five. They were so young, so talented and so judgmental. The question isn't whether they believed it when they said it nearly 20 years ago -- they did. The question is whether, with the benefit of time and perspective, they believe it today.
Scoop Jackson: Perceptions and (mis)education
This is all about -- as it often is when it comes to race, even when interpersonal and intra-cultural -- perception and association. A large part of black America has a distorted perception about universities like Duke (and Notre Dame and BYU and most of the Ivy League schools) when it comes to their relationship with us. And anyone that "associates" or is "allowed" to associate with those institutions opens himself (or herself) up to be labeled something that nine times out of 10 they aren't. It's a higher-education version of the ignorance that exists when black kids think that if another black kid is smart or wants to do well in school that that kid wants or is trying to be white.
(Hell, I could say that I looked at all of the Fab Five as "Uncle Toms" because they went to a white state school instead of an HBCU.)
Is it wrong? Yes, but unfortunately it comes with the territory in America. Is it ignorant? Yes, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it or find a way to eliminate this perception of racial guilt by association.
When this issue surfaced, someone said to me that whites should not be allowed to chime in. He suggested that they should not be a part of this conversation, that this is one of those situations where the world should learn about us (blacks) from us. I asked, "Well, how can that happen when in both instances 'we' used their outlets (ESPN and the New York Times) to open the dialogue in the first place?"
Adena Andrews: Who fits definition?
According to Princeton's lexical database for the English language, an Uncle Tom is someone who behaves in a subservient manner to white people. Having two hard-working parents, taking advantage of opportunities and having access to higher education -- all the things Grant Hill and his family had -- fit the definition, according to Jalen Rose.
So why didn't Rose think his own teammate Chris Webber, who was recruited heavily by Duke, was an Uncle Tom? Webber had two hard-working parents who made sure to place him in an expensive private school in the suburbs, against his will, so their son could succeed. Hill's upbringing and Duke were foreign to Rose, so like a child he resorted to name calling. But even as an adult on a recent episode of "First Take," Rose didn't shy away from calling Duke players Uncle Toms or shy away from the use of the word toward another black man.
Rose knew he was wrong in calling Hill an Uncle Tom; that's why he apologized in advance of the film's release. If he knew it was wrong, why leave it in? After all, he was an executive producer of the piece. Why take a shot at an NBA fraternity brother on film?
It has led to an educational public discourse, but I really wish as black people we didn't have to put each other down in public in order to make a point. Even Hill's public rebuttal in the New York Times was too much. The two affluent black men could have solved this with a hug and a fist bump. But bickering for the world to see, doing exactly what some racists want to see, does more damage than the initial use of the phrase Uncle Tom in this situation.