ESPN must be commended for the excellent 30 for 30 series that they have aired for the past two years. The U is an outstanding documentary about the criminals, felons, and thugs who played on the University of Miami football team in the 1980s and helped establish the culture of black players flamboyantly celebrating every single successful play. Others to be applauded are Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson , a film that documents the overly-tattooed, controversial basketball star’s inglorious high school arrest for a bowling alley brawl with white people, and The Best that Never Was , which highlights the 1980s Mississippi high school phenomenon Marcus Dupree, who ushered in the modern era of recruiting with every college football program in the nation desiring him and going to great lengths to ultimately boast his placement on their roster.
All of these, and more, represent excellent examples of the blueprint for the creation of Black Run America (BRA).
You can even watch The Legend of Jimmy the Greek , a documentary on the infamous sportscaster who dared admit publicly what everyone knows privately: that genetic differences between white and Black people play a major role in why Black people dominate positions in sports that require excellent sprinting and jumping abilities, such as running back and cornerback in football and all five positions in basketball.
This Sunday’s newest addition to the 30 for 30 family, The Fab Five, is most surprising because it documents — indeed, celebrates — the moment in basketball history when Hip-hop, ghetto culture, and Black-style all became fused with the game and has come to dominate the sport’s culture since. Simultaneously, this moment marked the repudiation of the white-style of play with its emphasis on the team accomplishments rather than the efforts of a single star.
The Fab Five represented the harbingers of change in basketball when they stepped onto the court for the first time at the University of Michigan. Retiring short shorts for baggy pants and playing with a street ball style, Jalen Rose, Chris Weber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson represented the merger of basketball with the burgeoning Black identity in Hip-hop.
In the most watched college basketball final of all time, the Fab Five lined up against the Duke Blue Devils to compete for the 1992 championship. Duke represented then — and still represents today — the old style game of basketball typified by screens, pick’n’rolls, tough defense and team offense; Duke’s game was and is, basically, the white style of play.
Of this Duke team, one of the Fab Five’s members had this to say:
If you grew up in the ’90′s you’re probably familiar with college basketball’s Fab Five, Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class which included Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. Rose, King and Jackson appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” Tuesday to discuss their “30 for 30” documentary on the Fab Five that will air on Sunday.
About midway through the “First Take” segment, they played a clip from the documentary in which Rose says:
“For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke. And I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.”
Asked about the comment, Rose elaborated:“Well, certain schools recruit a typical kind of player whether the world admits it or not. And Duke is one of those schools. They recruit black players from polished families, accomplished families. And that’s fine. That’s okay. But when you’re an inner-city kid playing in a public school league, you know that certain schools aren’t going to recruit you. That’s one. And I’m okay with it. That’s how I felt as an 18-year-old kid.”
College basketball in the early 1990s was already dominated by Black players, but the merger of hip-hop and the overt Black-style of play had not been embraced fully by the NCAA, the universities, or even the Black players. It was the Fab Five that destroyed this barrier once and for all, and it was the Hip-hop lifestyle personified by these athletes that was eagerly embraced by consumers nationwide:
The Fab Five didn’t just win, of course. They styled. They sported those now-ubiquitous baggy shorts and black socks, and they brought Michael Jordan’s bald look to the college game. They ran the floor with playground joy and swagger, slapping hands and bumping chests and talking. Always talking. “Michigan was one of the first anti-establishment programs in college,” says McCormick, who counted himself a fan. “It gave them a freshness.”
It gave them rock-star charisma. “We were almost compared to somebody like the Beatles,” says Howard, now with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. “We used to go on the road, and there’d be fans lined up outside our hotel wanting our autographs. There’d be people on the campus selling T-shirts with our names on them, with our faces on them.”The Fab Five made the Michigan brand red-hot, and the school cashed in. Annual athletic royalties more than tripled, from $2 million in the pre-Fab year of 1990-91 to a peak of $6.2 million in ’93-94. That windfall, according to then-athletic director Jack Weidenbach, helped the school accelerate upgrades in the women’s athletic program, from coaches’ salaries to facilities to travel.
“Kids could relate to the Fab Five and wanted to emulate them. Wearing Michigan merchandise became a way that you could transform yourself into being as ‘cool’ as the Fab Five,” says Derek Eiler of the Atlanta-based Collegiate Licensing Co.
The Fab Five brought short-term financial success, but ultimately the transformation of basketball into a hybrid Hip-hop, overtly Black game had devastating long-term monetary effects on the National Basketball Association (NBA). In essence, the overt Blackness of the game turned off white fans.
The college game didn’t completely thug-out because of those pesky academic requirements that mandate student-athletes actually go to class (the reason for the Duke-Butler 2010 championship game). Major institutions must maintain an air of academic legitimacy, and this is even true with regard to the athletes that represent the school. But perusing the graduation rates of Black players participating in the NCAA Tournament reveals that the alarming rates at which they fail to graduate when compared to their white counterparts.
Less alarming is the paucity of white players on these NCAA Tournament teams.
Many Black players do stay for one year at your Kentucky, Kansas, Kansas State or other big-time program as rented talent, but the best players normally bypass college and go pro straight out of high school. It is the ghost of the Fab Five and the ghouls they let of the ghetto-box that threatens to doom the NBA:
League and club executives decided to marry the NBA to hip-hop, and clearly didn’t know what they were getting into. As my friend Brian Burwell wrote in Tuesday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NBA marketing people “thought they were getting Will Smith and LL Cool J. But now they’ve discovered the dark side of hip-hop has also infiltrated their game, with its ‘bling-bling’ ostentation, its unrepentant I-gotta-get-paid ruthlessness, its unregulated culture of posses, and the constant underlying threat of violence .
The Fab Five created an environment where teams with majority white players are castigated by fans and media alike for a perceived lack of athleticism. Recall the words of sportswriter Bob Ryan who 2004 stated Vanderbilt was too white to win in the NCAA Tournament:
The team too white to win was too good to lose.Basketball remains a beautiful sport.
Stereotypes have no place here. The truth is always on the scoreboard. It showed a 71-58 Vanderbilt victory this day. So it’s official: Color has no bearing on a basketball game.Bob Ryan tried to test this certainty. The Boston Globe columnist said on a radio show this week that Vandy was “too white” to win its NCAA Tournament game against Western Michigan.
Don’t be too harsh to Ryan. The foolish have a strong following. Such thought dominates this game. In no other sport do people try to correlate ability and skin tone as much as they do in hoops. It’s the saddest fact in a game enlivened by its diversity.
“It really disappoints me,” said C.M. Newton, a Hall of Famer for his basketball contributions, which included detonating several racial barriers throughout college basketball. “I would think we’re way past that. Obviously, we’re not.”
Newton was disturbed that Ryan, a respected basketball writer, would make such an assertion. If someone so experienced and revered could think this way, then anyone could. It’s disrespectful to a man like Newton, who spent most of his career changing the game.
It’s amazing that, after all the melting, a new divide is starting to freeze.Blacks in. Whites out.
Basketball is a game of athleticism and movement. Apparently, only one race can supply that. Spread a few white players across the roster for shooting. This is how twisted we think.
What’s too white, anyway? The Commodores started three black players. Is two white starters too white? Is one too white? Is a single mixed player too white?
When a basketball player like Jimmer Fredette of Brigham Young University comes along, average basketball fans have been conditioned like Pavlov’s dog to proclaim “he’s pretty good — for a white guy,” The perception being that basketball is a sport wedded to the image of a tall Black guy covered in tattoos, hair in corn-rows and selfishly playing the game instead of selflessly playing the game.
Those selfish Black players in the NBA are crippling a league that once entertained visions of expansion into Europe, but now faces potential losses of $350 million this year and required an emergency $200 million to distribute among cash-strapped teams in 2009:
Commissioner David Stern says the N.B.A. is on course to lose $350 million this season. He says there’s a need to cut leaguewide salaries by as much as $800 million, hints at contraction, and acknowledges the ever-looming presence of the elephant in the room; there’s a good chance that there will be a lockout in the summer.We’re about to enter one of the most exciting periods in the sport’s history, and yet we might lose it before it even begins.
The possibility of contraction in a league that leveraged its future on the short-term profitability and marketability of the ghetto Black-style of basketball – which white fans have rejected and no longer pay to watch – should be on the minds of those who view The Fab Five 30 for 30 special.
Five white players could be on the court at tipoff. That’s the most since 1998, when six white players started in the Utah-Kentucky final.
Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard – two of Butler’s top players – are white. So are five of Duke’s top seven players.
Even though the race issue isn’t discussed in polite company, it’s been the subject of hushed conversations at the Final Four and will be obvious to anyone in attendance or tuning in at home. The subject is so taboo that even Larry Bird bristles when it’s brought up.
Perhaps it is fitting that the legacy of the Fab Five has been virtually erased in the history books, thanks to rampant rule violations:
The banners from the 1992 and 1993 Final Fours no longer hang at Michigan’s Crisler Arena. A federal investigation said that Chris Webber took $280,000 from Ed Martin, a local bookmaker and booster who pleaded guilty to conspiracy as a result of the inquiry. (Martin’s son, Carlton, said this week in a phone interview that the amount “could have been $100,000 to $200,000 higher.” Webber has said that he took far less, and repaid the money.)
Nearly two decades after their high point, the Fab Five’s legacy has gone from black socks to black marks, their swagger replaced by the shame of bequeathing the Michigan basketball program a generation of chaos.
The true legacy of the Fab Five is the demons they unleashed upon the game, demons which haunt NBA accountants on a daily basis. Sure, it was cool, rebellious, and edgy back in the 1990s for white kids to emulate the Fab Five they saw prancing around the television; but those same white fans, now having grown up, are rejecting the subsequent ghetto-ization of the NBA. Young, Black, Rich & Famous by Todd Boyd documents with gloating terms the rise of hip-hop in the NBA. Boyd fails to address, though, the financial devastation of the merger.
So check out the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary The Fab Five and understand that what you are viewing is men who ushered in the era of hip-hop, ghetto basketball culture that ultimately drove white fans away from the NBA and precipitated the slow financial slide of the game into oblivion.
So what is the important lesson we should glean from this? It is that Black people see nothing wrong with their behavior; it is that Black people love being Black no matter the effects such behavior has on how people perceive them.Outside of professional and college football, popular culture is is rejecting the ghetto aesthetic.
It should be noted that ESPN pays the NBA roughly $930 million a year for broadcast rights, while CBS and TBS paid $10.8 billion for the rights to March Madness over a 14-year period. The NBA season is 82 games, while March Madness transpires over a three-period in late March- early April.