Jalen Rose: Review of Fab Five Documentary on ESPN

Dexter RogersCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16:  Reitred NBA athlete Jalen Rose arrives at the 2008 ESPY Awards held at NOKIA Theatre L.A. LIVE on July 16, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.  The 2008 ESPYs will air on Sunday, July 20 at 9PM ET on ESPN.  (Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)
Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

The ESPN 30 for 30 special on the Fab Five is a must-see.  It was an excellent depiction of how five freshman basketball players at the University of Michigan changed the landscape of college basketball with their confidence and style.

The piece was a job well done.

Even more telling, I was extremely surprised at some of the brute honesty that came from the likes of Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.

Chris Webber declined to participate in the documentary. 

I have more on Webber a bit later.

Rose suggested the type of African-American players Duke recruited were “Uncle Toms.” He suggested Duke rarely recruited players from the hood or from poverty stricken circumstances.

Jimmy King referred to Christian Laettner as an overrated “bitch” over-hyped by the media.

Ray Jackson said he simply “hated Duke” and all they stood for.

The latter statements were very powerful points of view: As those of you who follow my commentary, such points of view are right up my alley. 

Why not keep it real?

The Fab Five ushered in an era that embodied the hip-hop revolution that was transpiring in the early 1990s. 

The Fab Five wore baggy shorts with black socks.  They sported tattoos with bald heads to add to their undeniable mystique as being great basketball players who were changing college basketball.

As a group the Fab Five realized they were more than college basketball players.  During their freshmen year they were student-athletes but as sophomores they realized they were professional athletes who were treated as amateurs.

While Rose has the utmost respect for then Michigan head coach Steve Fisher, he pointed out he was getting mega-paid while they suffered financially.

Rose pointed out Fisher was making money from his coaching contract, endorsement deals and radio shows.  But the fans were not coming to watch Fisher coach: They were coming to see five young men usher in a brand of basketball that reflected their upbringing and hip hop.

The Fab Five witnessed first hand the hypocrisy in 1991 that still exists in 2011.  Student-athletes, particularly the African-American athlete, are being taken advantage of. 

For instance, Nike made tons of dough off selling Fab Five jerseys and shoes.  The coaching staff sported Nike gear as well.  

When Michigan won the National Championship in 1989 the school reportedly grossed just over 1 million.  While the Fab Five was there the figure rose to 10 million.

How can the most important cog on the wheel—while generating a lot of press—were not recipients of some of the revenue they produced?

While they were at the apex of their celebrity at Michigan the Fab Five were the recipients of a depth of racism that largely went undocumented.  The documentary showcased letters boosters and fans wrote to the coaching staff and the players that were littered with racial slurs.

They were often referred to as "niggers" and uncivilized “coons” wearing “baggy shorts” that listened to ghetto music.

They were characterized as miscreants who were menaces to society because they played a brand of basketball that reflected their reality—which by most accounts then and now—is in direct opposition to what a segment of white America embraces.

This phenomenon has long existed before the Fab Five.  Those whites—in the mainstream media and otherwise—who harbor negative sentiment towards African-Americans do so out of a combination of fear and ignorance. 

The media contingent that covered the Fab Five 20 years ago reflects the whiteness that now exists in mainstream media.  According to The Institute of Diversity in Sports and Ethics currently 94%, 88% and 89% of the sports editors, columnists and reporters at mainstream newspapers, magazines and online entities are white; therefore it would not be a stretch to suggest the numbers were slightly worse two decades ago.

Imagine a group of young African-Americans playing a brand of basketball that captured the sports world by storm yet their every move is being chronicled by a vastly white media contingent.  They were labeled in a negative fashion because they were largely misunderstood.  

As mentioned earlier Webber declined to participate in the program. I didn’t concur with his decision to participate but it’s not for me to decide what he does or doesn’t do.  But I am free to speculate.

After Webber bolted to the NBA and investigation was launched into the Michigan program, Webber lied to a grand jury about taking money from Ed Martin.  Other members of the Fab Five took money but they kept it real and told the truth and Webber didn’t.

Martin helped many urban youths by providing monetary assistance to those who needed whether they were blue-chip athletes or not.

Michigan officials want an apology from Webber, but he won’t oblige.  I totally agree with Webber should not apologize to Michigan.  There would only be one instance where Webber should consider apologizing.

If I were Webber I would grant Michigan a thorough apology via press conference on ESPN.  I will call it the “Apology.”

If Webber apologizes the Michigan administration should cut him a check in proportion to the revenue Webber helped to generate his two years there.

Also, if he hasn’t already, Webber should apologize to his Fab Five brothers and Martin’s family for dragging his name through the mud and lying during the investigation.

Lastly, I must give ESPN some kudos.  They allowed this production to have a level of realism that is needed.  Networks must allow those who have voices in the sports world to be covered by those who they feel comfortable with.   

We have a long ways to go before we reach a level of diversity in the media that not only allows but embraces varying vantage points. 

The Fab Five documentary was a job well done.

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