When it comes to sports, especially basketball, everyone has his own set of prejudices

Mar 19 2011 - 5:08pm

WASHINGTON -- Close your eyes and tell me what you see. Gritty and gutsy. Fast and athletic. Heady point guard. Sky-walking forward. Disciplined. Street ball. Soft. Tough. City kid. Suburban kid. Public school. Private school. Thugs. Good guys. Grant Hill's Dookies. Jalen Rose's Fab Five. Mike Anderson's Mizzou basketball team. Norm Stewart's Mizzou basketball team.

When viewed through the countless prisms of race, gender, culture and generation, we can see our sports world a million ways. We see heroes and villains, good guys and bad guys. We want to cheer for this team and root against that one. It may not be right or rational, politically correct or even remotely accurate. But it embodies who we are and how we were raised, and can expose some flattering and not so flattering truths about us all.

So this is yet one more reason why I love sports so much. It opens our eyes if we allow it to. So go ahead and tell me what you see.

Now ask yourself why you see it that way.

There's no better forum than sports to examine every one of our dirty little secrets, harmful hang-ups and uncomfortable truths. It's one of the reasons the ESPN documentary "The Fab Five" -- which aired Sunday night -- registered the highest ratings of any film in the network's long history. Executive produced by one of the central characters (Jalen Rose) and directed by longtime HBO Sports producer Jason Hehir ("Costas Now," "Inside the NFL," "On the Record with Bob Costas"), "Fab Five" has sparked some compelling and surprising public conversations about one of sports' worst-kept secrets:

On the basketball court, everyone has prejudices.

Rose admitted through the prism of an angry, culturally biased 18-year-old kid from poverty that he detested anyone of privilege, most particularly black players from Duke like Grant Hill, who the 18-year-old Rose believed was an "Uncle Tom," one of the most incendiary insults that can be hurled in the face of a black male with any heart or soul.

It's why Hill was filled with so much righteous indignation, going so far as to reach out to the New York Times to express that anger. "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," Hill wrote. ". . . 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."

Good for Grant Hill. It's good to see a young black man speak so well about the nonsense of how anyone should attempt to define another man's racial identity or solidarity. As a 38-year-old husband and father with 20 additional years of experience and maturity -- and millions of dollars in the bank -- Rose no longer feels that way. In fact, he has become a perfect symbol of everything he once rejected. He has raised children of privilege and created a charter school in inner city Detroit to help produce another generation of successful young men and women. But as he so eloquently and honestly said, as an immature kid he understood the source of his jealousy and wrong-headed misperceptions.

Grant Hill had an Ivy League-educated father who was a professional athlete who was married, at home and readily acknowledged his son. He had a well-educated mother who was Hillary Clinton's college roommate. Rose's father was a professional athlete, too, but never acknowledged his son's existence. Rose was raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, working two and three jobs to get by.

It was jealousy, Rose admitted, that fueled his hatred.

Sadly, that sort of nonsense wasn't restricted to the Fab Five.

Look around you. Close your eyes and what do you see?

Gritty and gutsy. Fast and athletic. Heady point guard. Sky-walking forward. Disciplined. Street ball. Soft. Tough. City kid. Suburban kid. Public school. Private school. Thugs. Good guys. Grant Hill's Dookies. Jalen Rose's Fab Five.

What do you see? What do you think?

"That's why basketball is the universal language," said Kim English, the thoughtful Missouri guard who was born and raised in inner-city Baltimore but spent his high school years in the suburbs. "I remember growing up in Baltimore and we always thought kids from Columbia or Baltimore County couldn't ball. But then you see these guys in the summer and I remember this one guy from the suburbs and he could hoop. And that was all that mattered. Oh yeah, you do definitely look at people like that. I remember in AAU ball, if we saw some kids from Minnesota, we definitely thought 'Oh yeah, we got this'."

This is how kids think when they don't know any better. But the game changes you if you let it. It certainly changed Jalen Rose.

"That's the beauty of the game," English said. "Once you throw up that basketball, it doesn't matter (who you are). Larry Bird? Jimmer Fredette? Those white boys can hoop. That is the good thing about (basketball). Like I said, it's the universal language."


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