Grant Hill Misses Chance to Slam-Dunk on 'Uncle Tom'

You can't blame Hill for striking back after he was insulted in an ESPN documentary, but he missed an opportunity to further the conversation about a class rift among some blacks.

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Grant Hill (Getty Images)

If you haven't watched ESPN's The Fab Five, a documentary on the 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 seasons of the University of Michigan Wolverines men's basketball team, you should. 

The film takes a look back at how the team garnered attention for starting-five freshmen, who became famous for their charisma, uncompromising style and attitude. Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber wore baggy pants and walked around with headphones blaring Ice Cube and Naughty by Nature.

In other words, they were like me. At age 13, I identified heavily with their bravado, trash talk and loose-fitting clothes. I'd emulate Rose during marathon sessions of basketball on backyard courts or during practice for my junior high school team.

But some of the film's better qualities have been overshadowed by a racially charged sound bite, during which Rose explains the negative feelings he had as an 18-year-old about Duke University and its star player, Grant Hill. The resulting media chatter, along with Hill's impassioned response, has put a spotlight on the rarely discussed class rift within the black community. And Hill, instead of furthering the discussion, missed the point.

When I watched The Fab Five, I found it refreshing to see Rose, who executive-produced the film, and King describe my 13-year-old self's feelings about the Duke Blue Devils' basketball team with pitch-perfect accuracy.

"I hated Duke and I hate everything I felt Duke stood for," Rose says in the film. "Schools like Duke didn't recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms."

Rose goes on to say he was jealous of Duke superstar Grant Hill because he came from a strong black family with educated parents who were still married. Rose says he was bitter that he grew up poor and didn't know his own father, who was a professional athlete.

"I resented that, more so than I resent him," Rose says of Hill. "I looked at it as they are who the world accepts and we are who the world hates."

Hill retorted Wednesday with a blistering column on the New York Times blog the Quad.

"It was a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events, therefore, to see friends narrating this interesting documentary about their moment in time and calling me a bitch and worse, calling all black players at Duke 'Uncle Toms' and, to some degree, disparaging my parents for their education, work ethic and commitment to each other and to me," Hill wrote.

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