On Sunday night, interviewed for the ESPN documentary The Fab Five (a film about the Michigan basketball careers of Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson), Rose said that as a college athlete, he believed Duke recruited only black players he considered to be "Uncle Toms."
Grant Hill, a player on the Duke team that beat Michigan in the 1992 Final Four, has responded to that comment in the Quad, the New York Times' sports blog.
(To be fair, Rose made it pretty clear in the film that the Uncle Tom label was his perception as a 19-year-old with a difficult upbringing, great bitterness and a limited worldview rather than his current assessment of Hill or Duke athletes. But as a producer of the documentary, he had — and failed to take — an opportunity to update his assessment.)
Hill's reflections on the African-American family and the limits of stereotypes are insightful and touching and go way beyond athletic rivalries. They're unusually mature, not just in comparison with basketball banter but in comparison with our daily conversations about black identity. Because of this, his piece is worth reading in its entirety (even for the non-sports fans among us who still can't figure out what to do with a March Madness bracket).
In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only "black players that were 'Uncle Toms,' " Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families. He leaves us all guessing exactly what he believes today.
I am beyond fortunate to have two parents who are still working well into their 60s. They received great educations and use them every day. My parents taught me a personal ethic I try to live by and pass on to my children.
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. 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.
I caution my fabulous five friends to avoid stereotyping me and others they do not know in much the same way so many people stereotyped them back then for their appearance and swagger. I wish for you the restoration of the bond that made you friends, brothers and icons.
Read more at the New York Times.