Due to space constraints, the editorial posted in the New York Times was shortened. Read Grant’s full, unedited response to the Fab Five’s comments in their recent documentary here.
I am a fan, friend and long time competitor of the Fab Five. This should not be a surprise because I am a contemporary of every member of that iconic team. I have competed against Jalen and Chris since the age of 13. Jalen, Chris, and Juwan are my friends and have been for 25 years. At Michigan, they 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-80s 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, 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 Jay Williams and I received a Twitter apology from Jalen before its airing. And, 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 only recruits black 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. And, I wonder if I would have suggested to former Detroit Pistons GM Rick Sund to keep Jimmy King on the team if I had known, back then in the mid-90s, that he would call me a bitch on a nationally televised show in 2011.
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. They remain committed to each other after more than 40 years and to my wife, Tamia, our children, and me. They are my role models and always will be.
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 to remind me of the importance of education. 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.
It is unbeknownst to me what Jalen meant by his convoluted reference to black players at Duke considering how little he knows about any of them. My teammates—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 such as Johnny Dawkins (coach at Stanford), Tommy Amaker (coach at Harvard), Billy King (GM at 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), Kenny Blakeley (assistant coach at Harvard), Jay Williams (ESPN analyst), Shane Battier (Memphis Grizzlies) or Chris Duhon (Orlando Magic) now or 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 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. He is the quintessential young Dukie.
The sacrifice, the effort, the education and the friendships I experienced in my four years are priceless and 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. At Duke, the expectations are high for all of us. 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. The total experience at Duke taught us to think before we act, to pause before we speak and to realize that as adults we have a responsibility to do good, not just do well. A highlight of my time at Duke was getting to know the late, 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 only hope I can instill in my children the same work ethic, the same values, the same common sense approach to life and the same pursuit of excellence my parents, Coach K and Duke gave me.
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 you back then for your appearance and swagger. I wish for you the restoration of the bond that made you friends, brothers and icons. I hope you reach closure with your university so you will enjoy all the privileges of its greatness.
I try to live my life as a good husband and father. 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.
Grant Henry Hill