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Exclusive: Jalen Rose responds to ‘Fab Five’ controversy

By// Jerry Bembry

Last week’s airing of ESPN’s documentary, “The Fab Five” attracted 2.7 million viewers, the biggest audience for a documentary in the network’s history. The most intense reaction to the documentary (about Michigan’s trendsetting basketball team that reached the ’92 national championship game with five freshman starters — Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson) centered on the description of rival players at Duke.

NBA star Grant Hill, who played at Duke, felt strongly enough about the documentary and the way he was depicted that he wrote an opinion for The New York Times. Hill’s longer, unedited response is posted on his website.

In Jalen Rose’s first extensive interview since Grant Hill’s response, MyJet247.com’s Jerry Bembry asked him about the documentary, the strong media reaction and his feeling about Grant Hill and the Duke Blue Devils:

JET: ESPN for the last two years rolled out a series of documentaries but none of them has gotten the reaction and buzz of your “Fab Five” documentary that aired on March 13. Time Magazine described the reaction as a “media firestorm.” Did you anticipate the reaction that you got from the film?

JALEN ROSE: I absolutely did. That’s why the entire time it was noted that the revolution will be televised. That’s why it was very important for the story to be told 20 years later, as opposed to five years, 10 years, or even 15 years because a lot of issues that were noted in the documentary, a lot of the conversation we discussed in the documentary, and a lot of the situations that we exposed — good, bad or indifferent — I knew a lot of people weren’t going to be ready for, and/or were uncomfortable hearing them, especially knowing that a lot of it was true.

JET: You’ve described this film project as the bible of the Fab Five team – why was it important to make this documentary now?

JALEN ROSE: Our story had never been told. Mitch Albom did a great book in the early ’90s while we were in school, there was a “Beyond the Glory” (a one-hour show) on us that touched a little bit about our story, but no one had gone in depth about it. It was a perfect opportunity. ESPN was a great platform. It was a great opportunity while we were all adults, and everyone was doing well with their lives. Our fans deserve it. We had a lot of support then, we have a lot of support now. Everywhere we go, what we hear is the Fab Five. And we love and appreciate that.

JET: Some of the biggest controversy with the film stems from the deep dislike of Duke by the Fab Five. You said in the film that you felt the African-American players at Duke were “Uncle Toms.” Your college teammate, Jimmy King, said he thought that Grant Hill, a star player at Duke, was a bitch. Grant Hill was so taken aback by that criticism that he wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times. What was your reaction to what Grant Hill wrote?

JALEN ROSE: It was very eloquently put, the soliloquy he did for The New York Times. And I understand where he’s coming from. I’m pretty sure, whether it’s family members, friends, or the media, a lot of people have instigated this to a point where it’s become irresponsible journalism. I’ve heard people question whether Jalen Rose is a racist, I’ve heard people question whether I still feel that way now. The documentary clearly noted about how we felt about an opponent. [Grant Hill] was someone I was competing against. And what set the tenor of the documentary, (ESPN Analyst) Dick Vitale summed it up best when he said: “Michigan, they don’t represent the clean cut, All American kind of guy.” Well, that’s what Grant Hill represented.

In describing that term, that’s the word I used: Uncle Tom. Do I feel that way in 2011: of course not. He’s a very accomplished player, he comes from a tremendous family, Duke is an established program, Coach K is a tremendous coach, and the upbringing that Grant Hill had: that’s what I’m trying to bring to my kids. So I understand that it’s a school for everyone now. But then, I was fighting against Vitale’s comments; we were fighting against the letters you saw in the documentary that were so hate filled. And that was my way to express it.

JET: Have you had a chance to speak to Grant Hill since the documentary aired?

JALEN ROSE: I’m pretty sure, when we see each other in a week, a month, a couple of months — we will see each other soon, talk to each other soon, give each other a pound, hug it out, and move on. Really, the disappointing thing to me is when people try to make it a racial theme. The last time I checked, we’re both Black. It was a socio-economic issue that, at 17, I didn’t understand. Now, I do understand. So I don’t anticipate all of a sudden me and him setting up a heavyweight bout so we can slug it out. At the same time, I think it can now be a learning experience. Because whether people like the delivery or not, what remains is socio-economic issues based on class, based on status, based on stature, and those still exist.

It’s unfortunate that a couple of idiotic media members were so simple-minded to take the term Uncle Tom to use that to define the doc, but not responsible enough to pay attention to how I said it. Again what I said about Duke, what I said about Grant Hill – that is how I felt. And I stressed it – I hated Duke. Not “I hate Duke.” Two separate things.

Jimmy King didn’t say “Grant Hill is a female dog” now. He said he felt like “Grant Hill was a female dog” then. Also, we were in competition. We wanted what they had. We wanted to be champions. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be on center stage. I wanted to create a better life for my family, like (Grant Hill) had. I was jealous of that. I worked hard to be who he already was.

JET: A lot of people who watched the documentary were left wondering where was Chris Webber?

JALEN ROSE: Chris has a great opportunity to participate. I felt personally, as well as Juwan, Ray, and Jimmy that the forum could not have gotten any bigger. It’s not like it was me and my boy holding a camera, trying to do a documentary. He was initially 100 percent committed to do it. That’s what allowed me to pitch it to ESPN.

As he realized the project was moving forward, he got cold feet and he felt like he did not want to address the issues — good, bad, and ugly — that happened from 1991 to 1993. But since the story is about the Fab Five, the story is not just about him. For him to not give an interview in 2011, that really does not affect the integrity of the story.

JET: Now that the Fab Five documentary is behind you, are there anymore Jalen Rose productions in the works?

JALEN ROSE: I’m in the process of pitching a couple of projects that I’m really passionate about. We’ll see how that unfolds. When you’re doing a documentary, it’s just like doing a movie. Like doing a book. If it’s not about a polarizing figure or subject and if you don’t truly go in depth — good, bad, indifferent, warts and all — it’s not the best work of a quality production. That’s what I’m looking to do.

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Jerry Bembry is a freelance writer and video producer. His 2007 story on Jalen Rose for ESPN.com was honored as the best feature story by the Professional Basketball Writers Association.