Fab Five Documentary: Jalen Rose Makes a Point but Misses the Boat on Duke

Mike KlineAnalyst IMarch 19, 2011

There isn't any denying that ESPN's recent documentary on Michigan's Fab Five has drawn a lot of controversy.

The two-hour special, entitled The Fab Five, highlighted the now-iconic recruiting class that was known for its brash and cocky approach to the game.

It has since drawn a lot of heat surrounding comments made by former guard Jalen Rose, who proclaimed his hatred of Duke and his opinion during his college career that the Blue Devils' black players were "Uncle Toms."

More on that in a bit.

The Fab Five was a very real and frank look at the stories behind one of the most dynamic group of college basketball players in recent memory.

If the documentary fell short in any one area, it would be the inability to get Chris Webber's participation.

Webber was the best player in the class and arguably the leader of the group. Whether he and the rest of his former friends and teammates have had a falling out, creative difference occurred or the occasionally enigmatic Webber just didn't want to participate, the documentary never fully explained.

It was only briefly mentioned that Webber declined to participate. If he had, this documentary would have been much better.

Still, it did an amazing job of portraying these kids from different but similar backgrounds coming together to challenge the establishment.

Whether it was the black shoes and socks, or baggy shorts and trash talk, Rose was correct in saying that their type of basketball and style scared that establishment.

Nowadays none of that is unheard of, and some of it is quite common place even at programs like Duke.

The documentary showed the challenges that Rose and teammates Jimmy King, Webber, Juwan Howard and Ray Jackson faced during their time in Ann Arbor.

The players were criticized from the beginning for just about everything and received hate mail full of racist undertones and or direct threats.

It also portrayed the events that eventually lead to their departure and eventual detachment from the University of Michigan following NCAA violations.

All that in and of itself makes for a sympathetic audience.

But then there was all that hatred of Duke which culminated in what ESPN NBA analyst Chris Broussard called a big mistake on Rose's part.

Namely the use of the term Uncle Tom to refer to Duke's black players, something Broussard called the worst thing one black man can say to another.

There is nothing new in hating Duke, in fact is has become an almost national pastime in some sections of the media and of course among rival fans.

The reasons the Blue Devils are hated are numerous and been explained ad nauseum in countless ways.

Rose addressed one of the reasons some hate Duke, but from a new angle by referring to Duke's black players as Uncle Toms.

Many have criticized Duke for recruiting too many white players who are from elite families in lieu of more talented, but less fortunate black players.

Rose made a point but ultimately missed the boat when he began to refer to other black players in such negative terms.

The gist of Rose's argument was that there is no way Duke or a school like Duke would recruit a kid like him, even now.

Essentially his premise is that the Blue Devils wouldn't recruit a black kid from a single parent household, who didn't attend a private school.

Forget for a minute that Duke has recruited kids from single-parent households who weren't necessarily well off or from elite backgrounds. And forget for a moment that Rose's friend and teammate Webber attended a private high school and was recruited by Duke.

Rose described his time having grown up in the inner city, having attended and played at a rough public high school.

When he didn't see himself recruited by schools like Duke, he began to bare some resentment toward the Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski.

By the sound of his defense of his comments and feelings, which he hasn't backed down from, it sounds like he still does.

Rose is entitled to be bitter or even critical about how Duke recruits, but his choice of words has been less than ideal and has taken the focus off a well-done documentary and put it on this one issue.

In the documentary, Rose described how he and his teammates felt when playing the Blue Devils in the fall of their freshman year.

They underestimated star Christian Laettner calling him soft.

Most of his venom wasn't directed at Duke's players, though it was clear they didn't like them.

Grant Hill bore the brunt of Rose's ire. Rose took subtle, but personal shots at Hill and his parents during the section when he appeared to criticize the fact that Hill's parents both attended college and were successful and respected.

Rose is certainly entitled to be bitter and jealous of Duke and its players. For one, he never beat them during his time at Michigan, losing three times including the 1992 national title game.

But the contention that Duke as a program had and has a problem recruiting black players from anywhere but established two-parent families wreaks of jealously.

To be critical of how a program like Duke, one that has never had major NCAA violations under Krzyzewski, and that has graduated a majority of its players black and white, is just ignorant.

That doesn't mean Duke doesn't avoid the troubled inner city kid, but every program has a right to choose who they do and do not recruit.

Rose has continued to defend his arguments, and at times it appears he might back track on his Uncle Tom remarks, but hasn't as of yet.

It is a shame that Rose has continued to push the issue to the extent he has. No one would blame him for having these thoughts as a 17-year-old kid, but as a 38-year-old man, you might expect some of the bitterness to pass.

It hasn't.

Some of Duke's most prominent players have criticised Rose's comments. Hill wrote a scathing editorial in the New York Times. Shane Battier and Elton Brand have also chimed in.

Even Laettner weighed in saying, “Jalen Rose has always been a good guy to me. Chris Webber has always been good to me. ... But I don’t expect them to love me. I can’t even get Grant Hill to love me all the time.”

So obviously the hate Duke thing isn't a big deal, and really shouldn't be even for Duke fans. What else is new?

Ultimately Rose feels the way he feels and it doesn't look like he is going to change his tune anytime soon.

He has been quick to come to his own defense and criticize those who have been critical of him, but that is simply hypocrisy.

Rose is a smart guy and he surely will figure it out and hopefully think more carefully about the words he uses.

But in the meantime, he probably just needs to stop talking about it if he can avoid it and just stick to covering the NBA for ESPN for a while.


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