Grant Hill’s Response to Jalen Rose’s “Uncle Tom” Blast

Posted: March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

The following text was a blog featured in the New York Times written by current NBA and former Duke basketball player Grant Hill as a response to the ESPN film entitled “The Fab Five.” While I do HIGHLY recommend watching it for those that haven’t seen it, you do not have to have watched the film to respond if you read the following article. My question is simple, who do you side with? Jalen Rose or Hill? Do you think Rose was justified in his characterizing of Duke’s black players? Should Hill be ashamed by the fact that he had a well rounded upbringing and two college graduate parents who stressed the value of education? Is it hypocritical for those associated with the University of Michigan to criticize those at Duke when there are so many cultural status similarities between the two schools? What’s your take?

“The Fab Five,” an ESPN film about the Michigan basketball careers of Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson from 1991 to 1993, was broadcast for the first time Sunday night. In the show, Rose, the show’s executive producer, stated that Duke recruited only black players he considered to be “Uncle Toms.” Grant Hill, a player on the Duke team that beat Michigan in the 1992 Final Four, reflected on Rose’s comments.

I am a fan, friend and longtime competitor of the Fab Five. I have competed against Jalen Rose and Chris Webber since the age of 13. At Michigan, the Fab Five represented a cultural phenomenon that impacted the country in a permanent and positive way. The very idea of the Fab Five elicited pride and promise in much the same way the Georgetown teams did in the mid-1980s when I was in high school and idolized them. Their journey from youthful icons to successful men today is a road map for so many young, black men (and women) who saw their journey through the powerful documentary, “The Fab Five.”

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. I should have guessed there was something regrettable in the documentary when I received a Twitter apology from Jalen before its premiere. I am aware Jalen has gone to some length to explain his remarks about my family in numerous interviews, so I believe he has some admiration for them.

In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only “black players that were ‘Uncle Toms,’ ” Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families. He leaves us all guessing exactly what he believes today.

I am beyond fortunate to have two parents who are still working well into their 60s. They received great educations and use them every day. My parents taught me a personal ethic I try to live by and pass on to my children.

I come from a strong legacy of black Americans. My namesake, Henry Hill, my father’s father, was a day laborer in Baltimore. He could not read or write until he was taught to do so by my grandmother. His first present to my dad was a set of encyclopedias, which I now have. He wanted his only child, my father, to have a good education, so he made numerous sacrifices to see that he got an education, including attending Yale.

This is part of our great tradition as black Americans. We aspire for the best or better for our children and work hard to make that happen for them. Jalen’s mother is part of our great black tradition and made the same sacrifices for him.

My teammates at Duke — all of them, black and white — were a band of brothers who came together to play at the highest level for the best coach in basketball. I know most of the black players who preceded and followed me at Duke. They all contribute to our tradition of excellence on the court.

It is insulting and ignorant to suggest that men like Johnny Dawkins (coach at Stanford), Tommy Amaker (coach at Harvard), Billy King (general manager of the Nets), Tony Lang (coach of the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins in Japan), Thomas Hill (small-business owner in Texas), Jeff Capel (former coach at Oklahoma and Virginia Commonwealth), Kenny Blakeney (assistant coach at Harvard), Jay Williams (ESPN analyst), Shane Battier (Memphis Grizzlies) and Chris Duhon (Orlando Magic) ever sold out their race.

To hint that those who grew up in a household with a mother and father are somehow less black than those who did not is beyond ridiculous. All of us are extremely proud of the current Duke team, especially Nolan Smith. He was raised by his mother, plays in memory of his late father and carries himself with the pride and confidence that they instilled in him.

The sacrifice, the effort, the education and the friendships I experienced in my four years are cherished. The many Duke graduates I have met around the world are also my “family,” and they are a special group of people. A good education is a privilege.

Just as Jalen has founded a charter school in Michigan, we are expected to use our education to help others, to improve life for those who need our assistance and to use the excellent education we have received to better the world.

A highlight of my time at Duke was getting to know the great John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor of History and the leading scholar of the last century on the total history of African-Americans in this country. His insights and perspectives contributed significantly to my overall development and helped me understand myself, my forefathers and my place in the world.

Ad ingenium faciendum, toward the building of character, is a phrase I recently heard. To me, it is the essence of an educational experience. Struggling, succeeding, trying again and having fun within a nurturing but competitive environment built character in all of us, including every black graduate of Duke.

My mother always says, “You can live without Chaucer and you can live without calculus, but you cannot make it in the wide, wide world without common sense.” As we get older, we understand the importance of these words. Adulthood is nothing but a series of choices: you can say yes or no, but you cannot avoid saying one or the other. In the end, those who are successful are those who adjust and adapt to the decisions they have made and make the best of them.

I caution my fabulous five friends to avoid stereotyping me and others they do not know in much the same way so many people stereotyped them back then for their appearance and swagger. I wish for you the restoration of the bond that made you friends, brothers and icons.

I am proud of my family. I am proud of my Duke championships and all my Duke teammates. And, I am proud I never lost a game against the Fab Five.


Brandon Davis


  1. crmalec says:

    According to this article, I do not believe that Hill should be ashamed of his well rounded upbringing and had two educated parents that stressed the value of education. I don’t really see much that Hill should be ashamed for. He basically grew up in a higher social class and had great role models to follow which were his parents. As a result of being encouraged down the right pathway in life, he happened to be successful and deserves nothing but credit it for it.

    Chris Malec

  2. Yeah and that’s pretty much how I generally feel on the subject, but in the interest of creating more conversation, I think there are a multitude of interesting dynamics that arise from this particular situation that should be commented upon.

    For instance, while we both appear to be in agreement that Hill should in no way feel ashamed about the circumstances surrounding his upbringing, let’s look at it from the other perspective. Even though I tend to side with Hill’s argument on the topic, I do feel that Jalen Rose did make some very real and very valid points, pertaining to how a very large segment in the black community views Duke as an institution. That being said, I think it is important to clearly define what it means to be labeled an “Uncle Tom” in the black community.

    Was Rose justified in his assessment of black players at Duke? If so, why should any athlete, no matter where they attend school, be ashamed to come from a two-parent household that stresses the value of education? Are these the guidelines that constitute the attachment of the label “Uncle Tom” to a black man/women in America today?

    By: Brandon Davis

  3. Sarah Harmon says:

    I think this blog is very insightful, I was very shocked by several things. First, I was shocked by the fact that Grant Hill would seemingly take such offense to this situation, as he should be nothing but proud, which he proclaims he is. Secondly, I am still troubled by Rose’s use of the phrase Uncle Tom. Although he says he meant it in a different way that the majority of us view the phrase, the article stated it is still unknown for sure how he meant it.

  4. gardner42 says:

    I would have to agree with Hill on this one. Like some have mentioned, he should not be ashamed one bit. But I agree with the offense he has taken towards the comments and the situation. Thiat just makes it unfair and to me makes it seem almost as if other black players want to make Duke’s black players for playing for them which is totally wrong. Anyone who goes to play for Duke should be totally respected black or white. Not only is it an honor to be considered to play for a prestigious basketball program such as Duke, but being able to get in to the school itself is quite the accomplishment.

    Jeff Gardner
    Comm 275

  5. I agree which each one of your statements, and I feel like I can relate to this article because as an African American Women ppl in the typical black community tend to be sensitive when it comes individuals defining themselves through education. I say this because, though I come from the west end and in the west end it is a lot poverty, be-litting, drugs, and etc. Because, I am in a great institution which is UofL and I came from that area in Louisville and talk about what you have overcome and the people who backed you up to get to that place is kind of like bragging. It is bragging to those persons who are still dealing with those trials and tribulations and thats what makes it seem as if one is trying to make yourself seem better. That’s what makes people up set because they have those assumptions and preconceived notions that your trying to brag but in actuality you could just be try to make them see that they can do the same thing too if they work hard. But, when you look at it, it is all about communications factors and limitations of how and when to say things based on the context.
    – Kirstin Plunkett COMM 275

  6. (EMMA LUTZ) I also agree with the fact that Hill should not be ashamed of his upbringing. Being privileged does not make him less “Black.” This article shows just how strong stereotypes in today’s society are. Growing up with two parents and a good education should be “normal” for all people and race should not even be questioned. Being black does not mean you have to come from a broken home or a troubled childhood, that is a false stereotype. Having a good childhood does not make one “less black.” The statement, “To hint that those who grew up in a household with a mother and father are somehow less black than those who did not is beyond ridiculous” is very important in the article. Questioning Hill’s “race” is ludicris just because he was born into a supportive family.

    What does the “uncle tom” label exactly mean ? Jalen is just a bigg “hater” in my opinion !

  7. Yeah, I can agree on everybodies view points in a way its just basically as I said it depends on the person and the background they came from on how they would view what Hill basically did… I said my comment because I feel like everybody in some form of light has an opportunity whether it is big or little to better themselves and then when people beat the stereotypes about minorities or what the media says then that’s when people tend not to put their head around or can’t understand it. Like for example, people in my church some said because I lived in the worst part of West Louisville when I was older I should have been in not focused on school, not in church as much as I was and has been, I should have been a teen mom,etc. Just because that didn’t happen and I am much more educated then back then when you be around people who are used to seeing what the media portrays then that’s when they start saying your “Uncle Tom” or your a black girl or black man being white. That’s just my experience I am sure you all have had some experience that was based off of stereotypes. So, that’s why I try not to judge people because you don’t know where they come from or their situations. -Kirstin Plunkett COMM 275

  8. (EMMA LUTZ)When one overcomes obstacles and stereotypes their community should support them. When someone betters their lives and becomes successful they should be praised by their community. I understand your opinion. Sometimes little is expected of certain people. Society sometimes expects less from the minorities. Its sad that when one becomes successful and proves society wrong, many people “cant understand it.” I agree with you. When someone beats all the odds against them, they should be supported, not questioned. They should not be questioned about their race or where they stand in their community; They should not be told that they are trying to be something they’re not. I think it is wrong that Hill is questioned about his identity when all he did was become successful. The Black community involves the idea of oneness, the “I” and “We.” Doesnt this mean that if one succeeds, the whole community has succeeded? In the African American community, I and We are interconnected. Therefore I dont understand why Hill is being questioned in the first place instead of being praised by doing good for himself and his community. (EMMA LUTZ)

  9. Right, your so right the African American communitie takes pride I guess when one succeeds; but, then it becomes this big problem when it’s not them and they came from the same situations, communities, or obstacles then thats when some people tend to become “sour’! It shouldn’t be like that but it happens and I think that is what any race! I think that the African American community has been viewed as such a negative sterotype that the people are starting to dwell on it and not going and try to rise above it and prevent the crime and problems that have been going on for decades or even centuries! Because, it is like when somebody constantly is telling or displaying that your race is bad just because one person didn’t something bad that was also of your same race you start to think sometimes, Well maybe it’s true what their saying, so I am going to do what I want to do and not even care about the direction of where my life can go!” I think that comes from also, what the parents where taught and then what they pass on to their kids and if they grew up not being able to see that bad can come from good or all they know is bad things then that’s kind of what starts the foundation for problems. I think that is a major reason why you see a lot of African American men going to jail ;because, really they might not know better or might not know anything but the ugily so that is how they grew up because the cycle just kept repeating. -Kirstin Plunkett COMM 275

  10. (EMMA LUTZ) exactly! and the word you are looking of is “internalization.” The persistence and constant pressure of negative stereotypes experienced by African Americans can lead to the internalization of these stereotypes. Some begin to believe these false stereotypes and begin to buy into them. Thats why the media needs to start telling the ENITRE story of the Black community and stop neglecting the positive successes of African Americans. The youth of the Black community need to see the positive stories of their people, they need to see heroes that they can relate to. The only way to stop the cycle is to tell the entire story of the community and start promoting positive images. (EMMa LUTZ)

  11. I found this post very interesting. I like millions of other Americans tuned in to “Fab5” when it first came on ESPN. It was very enlightening. It amazes me how race is so present in everything! Even basketball. Nevertheless, I do not believe Hill should be ashamed that he had a nicer upbringing then the stereotypical black family. ( single parent..etc). It seems to me that Rose was knocking Hill for wanting to not be a stereotype and be productive in college & his lifestyle.

    *Raven H.*

  12. I can agree with you, Raven with what you said because that is very accurate about how when a African American person beats the stereotypes it seems to be this big thing or debate and I can also, see everybody elses views as well of why you all feel that way too… My big question is “What is it going to take for it to stop or will ever stop with the stereotypes?” Because, with America slowly becoming a big “melting pot” of different races and ethnicities it might have to stop in order for the country to maintain being neutral and holds it power!
    -Kirstin Plunkett COMM 275

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