College Basketball: Lessons We Should Learn from the Fab Five

Michael JohnsonContributor IApril 2, 2011

8 Mar 1992: Michigan Wolverines forward Juwan Howard, guard Jalen Rose, and forward Chris Webber (l to r) look on during a game against the Indiana Pacers.
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

I watched with great interest when ESPN aired the “Fab Five” documentary, chronicling the lives of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson during their careers at the University of Michigan.

The biggest controversy emerging from the documentary were the views that the “Fab Five” Michigan players had of black players from Duke University, referring to them as “Uncle Toms," b######, and sellouts.

Jalen Rose’s comments about Grant Hill have gotten the most attention since he works for ESPN and was the executive producer of the documentary. To paraphrase, Rose basically stated that he thought Grant Hill was a sellout for attending Duke University. Also Rose said that he was envious of Hill because Hill was raised in a two-parent home with his dad, Calvin Hill, a former NFL player and his mother who was college roommates with Hilary Clinton.

Rose was envious because his father, former NBA player Jimmy Walker, didn’t contribute to his upbringing in any way, causing him to grow up in a poor single-parent home without a father.

I understand perfectly how Mr. Rose feels when it comes to growing up without a father. My mother raised myself and my two older siblings in a single-parent upbringing. She worked her ass off and did the best possible job she could, and to this day I don’t know how she managed to raise two college graduates and one future graduate (me) in the concrete jungle known as Philadelphia. But the graduations and success stories are the end on the road; not the beginning and not middle.

I remember her walking miles to go to sell shoes at Sears. I remember her rummaging through thrift stores for clothes to dress us with. I remember us eating rice and cheese for dinner and living in roach and mice infested tenements. And I experienced this while wondering what my father was doing because I didn’t know. I met him, finally, when I was 17 years old.

I was one of the lucky ones. My mother got us out of the ghetto and gave me and my siblings a chance to achieve our dreams. It’s not easy to grow up without a father, though. Now that I am a father of two young boys, I definitely feel the impact of not having mine growing up. Without being raised by my dad, I find myself being unsure as a father at times. Am I doing this right? Am I teaching him the right way? Would this be easier if I had a dad? I recall being bitter that my mother had to work so hard while we were younger.   

And I would have been envious of anybody from a two parent house if I knew anyone that blessed back then.

The only thing about the whole documentary and its coverage afterwards that confused me is that Rose didn’t clarify if his feelings expressed in the documentary about Grant Hill were representative of what he felt then or what he feels now.  

Grant Hill rightfully responded to Mr. Rose’s comments, as did Coach K, and former Duke University basketball player and teammate of Grant Hill, Thomas Hill.

The whole Duke-Michigan debate is a small portion of a larger problem that black people deal with every day. It would be easy to follow the Duke-Michigan saga and make the conclusion that some black people feel that being African American, educated, and from a two-parent home makes you a sellout. But that’s not entirely true.

Being black, and appearing to be educated and from a two-parent home can get young black kids branded as “Uncle Toms.” I know because I grew up struggling as I mentioned above and was often accused of being a sellout, an Oreo, Uncle Tom, and white boy—among other names—by the same people who were living just like me and my family.

With the rise of Hip-Hop, it became un-cool to be educated and that sentiment has escalated over the years. Pants that were relaxed fitted became baggy. Baggy pants have to be sagged now. I’ve seen students on college campuses wearing flak jackets to look the part.

To carry oneself as a knucklehead is much more popular than being seen studying and reading. It’s such a stigma to be labeled as “acting white” in the black community that some black people from middle-class upbringings will behave as if they come from the 'hood because they know that they will be more accepted by their peers that way.

Whoever is selling out or not should be a moot point for black people in 2011. The Fab Five-Duke discussion is a high profile example of black-on-black crime anyway. The institution of slavery was greatly furthered by the black slaves and their commitment to dividing themselves by insignificant differences; dark-skinned vs. light-skinned, working is the house vs. working in the field, good hair vs. bad hair, etc.  We keep the slave mentality alive by arguing over trivial issues like who was a sellout while they all went to predominantly and prestigious white universities. And we do Civil Rights pioneers a great disservice by letting education become a victim to going “hard in da paint.”

We should all strive to be educated and to raise our children with a strong work ethic and with two parents in the house. That’s the lesson we should all learn from the Fab-Five-Duke debate.   

Michael Johnson is a contributor for and the author of Shades of Gray: The Introduction of Walter Harrison, available on Follow him on Twitter @