Before I say anything that has anything to do with race relations in America, let me be clear: I’m completely aware that nobody comes to this site to read my musings about history, politics, sociology, or any of the hot-button issues that tend to divide Americans. So, I generally stay away from even touching on any of those issues here. (In response to that, some might observe that nobody comes to this site to read what I have to say about basketball, either, and, yet, I continue undeterred. Fair point. Wiseass.)
For a few weeks, though, I have been compelled to dip my toe into that dangerous water, because of the brewhaha involving, Jalen, Grant, Duke, and Michigan, in the wake of the airing of “The Fab Five” on ESPN.
To even dip a toe in the water, it is necessary to first set the table for a discussion that touches on race: In my experience, it is impossible to talk about race in America. Regardless of what position you take in a discussion about race, there are people who are ready to accuse you of racism. Against affirmative action? Plenty of people will call you racist. In favor of it? Same thing.
Because there are accusations of racism around every corner in a conversation about race, I appreciate people who are honest about their racial feelings. Of course, that appreciation only goes so far — people who shamelessly espouse racist feelings get no appreciation from me. But, in general, assuming people are expressing opinions that I consider to be on the spectrum of opinions that people of good faith can have, I’d rather have someone who is fully open about their feelings than someone who speaks in code, or hides their feelings. So, when I hear that someone used controversial language about race, I try to put the comment in context before being too critical.
Which brings me to Jalen Rose’s comments. I watched the film, and it sounded to me like Jalen was expressing jealousy at Grant Hill’s upbringing; Jalen pointed out that Grant’s father was a professional athlete who raised Grant in a loving, supportive household, while Jalen’s father was a professional athlete who wanted nothing to do with Jalen. It was also clear to me that, when Jalen talked about hating Duke because the only black athletes it recruited were “Uncle Toms,” it was obvious to me that Jalen was expressing the feelings he felt as a 19-year-old, not the feelings he holds now. I mean, the guy sits in a tv studio cracking jokes with Hannah Storm; it’s quite clear that he thinks black folks can work with white folks without giving up part of their identity. Thus, while I generally find references to “Uncle Toms” offensive, I didn’t have much of a problem with Jalen’s comments, because I understood the context.
In light of that, I was a bit surprised at the emotion the comments stirred up in Grant Hill. I thought Grant’s response (here) was both thoughtful and thought-provoking. It just seemed slightly over-the-top.
There’s much more to say about the comments from Jalen and Grant, and the various issues those comments bring up, but I don’t think I could add much to the statements above and to the insightful analysis of Michael Wilbon (here).
So, let’s switch the topic to some hoopservations about the film. I have two:
1. Mitch Albom’s comments about the money Chris Webber allegedly received as an amateur resonated with me. Mitch said that he spent lots of time with Webber in Ann Arbor during his days at Michigan, and, if Webber was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of money from a booster, he was doing a fantastic job of hiding it. I wasn’t at Ann Arbor when C-Webb was (and, if I had been, I’m pretty sure that he would have been able to find people to hang out with who were more fun than I am), but I’ve been hearing stories for years about Webber having to go without things that he wanted even while his jersey sold for $70 in stores that he would walk by. (Perhaps I just spend too much time listening to and reading Mitch Album.) Something about the notion that he was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars while he was there doesn’t make sense to me.
2. As a basketball fan, it was sad to look back on that footage and that era of college basketball. None of the players in those videos, who seemed to have such promising careers at the time, wound up being an important player on a championship team in the NBA. I’m not just talking about the Fab Five themselves, I’m also talking about Hill, Laettner and Hurley from Duke; Johnson, Augmon, and Anthony from UNLV, and all of the guys on the Carolina team that beat Michigan in the famous national championship game. It just goes to show that, no matter how talented college athletes are, there are no guarantees about what the future has in store for them. For all we know, the high-flying, trash-talking, trend-setting, rising young star might one day retire from the NBA with no championships, and move on to become an ESPN analyst alongside Hannah Storm.