(NNPA)—Forty-five years ago, Texas Western University’s all-Black starting lineup defeated No. 1-ranked University of Kentucky’s all-White basketball team for the 1966 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The game, played at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House on March 19, 1966, sent major White universities scouring the country for African-American players, literally changing the face of college basketball.
Pat Riley, a member of Adolph Rupp’s losing team and former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, was a member of the Kentucky team that lost 72-65. Jerry Bruckheimer, who made “Glory Road,” a movie about the game, told the El Paso Times, “Pat Riley told me this great story that Magic Johnson came into his office when he was coach of the Lakers and said, ‘Had not David Lattin dunked that ball over you, I wouldn’t be in here [the NBA].’”
Judging from the controversy created by former University of Michigan and Chicago Bulls basketball star Jalen Rose, one would be forgiven if he or she thought that Michigan’s all-freshmen and all-Black “Fab Five” played in the most historic college games. They didn’t. The team made it to the NCAA finals twice, losing each time.
The 1991 University of Michigan freshmen basketball players were considered the greatest class ever recruited. They included Jalen Rose and Chris Webber, of Detroit, Juwan Howard, of Chicago, and, Texas standouts, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
In addition to being talented, they were brash, talked trash, and popularized baggy gym shorts and shaved heads.
But, it was Rose’s comments in a documentary that he produced about the Fab Five that created a controversy that has gone into overtime.
In the documentary, Rose said, “For me, Duke was a person. I hated Duke, and I hated everything Duke stood for. Schools like Duke don’t recruit players like me. I felt that they only recruited players that were Uncle Toms.”
First, Rose’s statement isn’t true. Second, even if it were, they were exceptionally talented Uncle Toms, defeating Michigan all four times the Fab Five faced Duke, including one national championship game.
To his credit, Rose later said that was the view he held of Duke at the time, not today.
Former Duke star Grant Hill answered Rose in a New York Times op-ed.
“It was a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events, therefore, to see friends narrating this interesting documentary about their moment in time and calling me a bitch and worse, calling all Black players at Duke ‘Uncle Toms’ and, to some degree, disparaging my parents for their education, work ethic and commitment to each other and to me,” said Hill, who now plays for the Phoenix Suns.
Calvin Hill, a Yale graduate, had a successful NFL career as a running back for the Dallas Cowboys. His wife is an attorney.
Rose said his father was an NBA player who had no role in his life. Largely left out of the public controversy was the clear impression that Rose hungered for a family unit that included his father. Without that, however, he played on his image of a kid who grew up on the rough streets of Chicago.
Michael Wilbon, who covered both Hill and Rose as a columnist for the Washington Post and now share duties with Rose as ESPN commentators, knows both men well.
“Trust me, Grant Hill and Jalen Rose ain’t all that different,” Wilbon wrote. “They’re a lot more alike than they are dissimilar, even if they did come from different sides of the tracks. And, right now, way too much is being made of the fact that they did. Calvin Hill, Grant’s father, was no more an ‘Uncle Tom’ for providing every opportunity and advantage for his kids than Rose would be now for providing every opportunity and advantage for his. It’s called the American Dream, and the only real difference here is the Hills grabbed hold of it a generation before the Roses.”
New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden, a graduate of Morgan State University, in Baltimore, had an interesting take on the war of words.
“My view about the Fab Five, then and now, was that these young men had chosen the right pew but had gone to the wrong church. Seen through the prism of Black power and empowerment, and also from the point of view of one who attended a Black college, the Fab Five had simply made a wealthy White institution wealthier and had missed a grand opportunity to catapult a historically Black college or university to the mountaintop of March Madness.”
He continued, “Did Rose have any idea of the impact they would have had on history had they elected to attend a historically Black college or university? Yes, the stage would have been smaller, television nonexistent, at first. But the novelty of their act and then the courage of what they represented would have attracted attention. The Fab Five would have been the story of March Madness, not simply a spectacle.”
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)