Commentary

A Duke recruit responds to Rose

Originally Published: March 24, 2011
By Austin Rivers | Special to ESPN.com

EDITORS NOTE: The afternoon practice finished, Austin Rivers plops himself onto the aluminum bleachers next to the second-floor gym of the 1st Presbyterian Church in downtown Orlando. The nation's No. 1 recruit takes a long swig from his bottled water and then reaches for his car keys, which are attached to a Duke Blue Devils lanyard.

He had just sunk a free throw (nothing but net) that spared him and his Winter Park High School teammates a series of post-practice gassers.

"That's pressure," someone says.

"I'm used to it," says Rivers, who helped lead Winter Park to back-to-back 6A state championships, the first in central Florida high school hoops history. No wonder the team's recently ordered title rings say "Made History" on one of the sides.

The Duke signee recently watched the ESPN documentary "The Fab Five," which chronicled the seismic hoops change caused by the arrival of five highly recruited freshmen at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s.

But it was the racial dynamic between the Fab Five and the defending national champion Duke players that created a post-documentary firestorm. The centerpiece of the controversy: Fab Five member Jalen Rose's comments that Duke recruited African-American players who were "Uncle Toms." Those comments produced a quick and pointed response from then-Duke star Grant Hill, who called Rose's observations "sad" and "pathetic."

Rivers, whose father, Doc, coaches the Boston Celtics, whose older brother Jeremiah plays at Indiana University and whose younger brother Spencer also plays at Winter Park, discussed Duke, race, the Fab Five and more during a recent conversation with ESPN.com columnist Gene Wojciechowski.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- I remember when I committed, some kids were like, 'Oh, you're going to Duke. Man, those are all the white kids over there. They wear the low socks and the high shorts still over there.' They weren't serious about it; they said it in a joking matter. But I just laugh about it. Look at the people there now. You've got Nolan [Smith] and Kyrie [Irving] -- two NBA players who are black.

But it is Duke. It's the most hated school in college basketball. That's no doubt. Everybody knows that. Public Enemy No. 1 as far as college basketball. People do not want Duke to win. That's how it is.

[+] EnlargeAustin Rivers
Mike Buscher for ESPN.comAustin Rivers averaged 28.8 points per game for Winter Park High School as a senior.

You always hear about rivalries where teams don't like each other. Duke-Michigan wasn't a rivalry because of basketball. That was kind of a rivalry because of racial hatred maybe a little bit. [The Fab Five] didn't like the way Duke carried themselves as far as the preppy, white kids, or the black kids who they thought were traitors. That's why they hated them. That's what they told the camera for the documentary. It was, like, "Why are you over there?"

I had no idea that situation existed. I didn't know Jalen felt like that. It was kind of weird watching it. It was interesting, though. Everybody's been buzzing about it because of the Fab Five and what they said. "Uncle Tom" … the "bitch." You wouldn't think they'd felt like this.

I feel it wouldn't happen now. I think back then, racial tension was higher. Back then, hip-hop was rising. Everybody knows that basketball and hip-hop go together. It's not tennis and hip-hop. It's not golf and hip-hop. It's basketball and hip-hop.

Black culture was rising in the U.S. Changes were coming as far as how black athletes were handling themselves. The Fab Five kind of gave their own flavor to basketball. White people weren't used to that.

You saw in the documentary the letters written from some Michigan alums using the N-word and complaining about [the Fab Five] talking trash. [The Fab Five wasn't] used to that [criticism]. So maybe they saw the Duke black kids in the same way they saw the alums who wrote those letters -- as traitors. They're thinking, You should be joining us. You should be doing what we're doing, like all the other black people. You should have baggy pants. Why are you over there with the white people?

I was very shocked to see that. I didn't know it was like that. But they probably felt like they were betrayed, which is different than now. I think now it's a lot different. People don't care where you go. You've got black kids who play for Harvard. Black kids who play for Duke. It really doesn't matter now as much as it did back then.

I think people have realized that Duke actually is just a school that kids want to go to as far as basketball goes, as far as education goes. I think today it's more of whatever school best fits you, you go to. I think people realize that.

Kyrie and I were at [basketball] camps together and nobody said to him, "Hey, why are you going to Duke? You're selling out on being black. You should be going to Texas, or Kansas, or North Carolina, where it's mixed. Duke's all white kids. That's where all the smart, rich, white kids go." No one really said that to him. And they didn't say it to me.

I think the reason is that maybe they respect me as a player, like they respected Kyrie. Also, I'm half white and half black. So people didn't think I was selling out, anyway. I'm covered. I'm good either way.

I do understand why the Fab Five said what they said. But I don't think it was right for them to say it. If I was Grant -- and he was pissed off -- I would have been pissed off as well. I'm actually in a situation kind of like Grant. I was born with money. My dad is an NBA player and then [an] NBA coach. I grew up with two parents. So maybe there's a kid who was in Jalen's situation who says, "I hate Austin. He had everything I didn't. He had money growing up."

But if you had a chance to have a great father, great parents, wouldn't you take that? Everybody would. I'm very blessed to have my mom and dad. I could care less about the money situation. I don't even live off my parents like that. We have to earn everything in our house because that's how my dad was raised. He just doesn't give us $500 a day and say, "Hey, go spend this." That's not how our family was raised.

There might be kids who see me as a player who's just a spoiled kid. They might hate me for that as well. I know there's kids out there who don't like me just because of who my dad is. They think I get everything because of my dad. But I can't control that situation.

In my mind, I think I have to work harder than other kids. Because no matter how good I was in a camp, other kids would say, "Oh, it's just because of his dad." Or if I had 30 points, it's, "Oh, it's just because he practices with NBA players."

I had to work extra hard. Everybody wants the kid from the 'hood to be the best player. Nobody wants the kid who was born rich to still be the best player. That's not how it works. So I had to work extra hard. I've had a bullseye on me my whole life because of that. It's made me work even harder.

I'm very colorblind. I don't see black, white, anything. I see human beings. That comes from my parents, who were raised the same way.

As a kid, I went to a prep school. It was a majority of white kids. Those kids saw me as a black kid. They'd say, "Oh, you're black, so you can jump. You're black, so you can do this." But then I go to the public school and it's a mix. It was, "He's Austin." It's not like I was black or white anymore.

My parents told me not to worry about racial hatred. I remember as a kid, I was at camps where it was mostly white kids, I remember one time a girl called my little brother the N-word. It offended him. And I'd never seen my little brother so angry in my life. He wanted to go yell at the girl and I just told him, "It shouldn't bother you. That's a shame on them."

Racism is still here, but there's no slavery in this country anymore. People need to move on. It's not coming back. We have a black president. I told Spencer, "You can't worry about what people say. You've just got to keep looking forward."

My dad grew up in Chicago, came from a very hard, tough neighborhood. Back then, there was a lot more racial tension. For him to date a white girl, I'm sure he probably got stuff directed toward him. People looking at him funny, like, "Why are you with her? Why are you a traitor?" I'm sure it was like that.

But my dad is very strong mentally. He's taught us to be mentally strong, to not let people bother you, don't let them get in your head.

I don't think [the Fab Five] were racist. I thought it was more jealousy. At the time, I think Jalen wanted what Grant had and was frustrated that he didn't have it.

Grant can't control who he was born by. Grant came out as a Hill. And he used that and became one of the great players. And I think Jalen viewed it as, "Why does he get to have that? He went to Duke, where it's all white people."

It offended me as far as how they judged Grant before they even knew him or knew the situation he was in. It offended me that they just went ahead and guessed that he was all those names they called him. And it wasn't just Grant -- it was all the other black players on that [Duke] team. It offended me that they judged people. They're hypocrites because they would say, "People shouldn't judge us because we wear baggy pants and our black socks," but then you shouldn't be judging Grant for going to Duke. That's where they wanted to go. That's where they wanted to make their future. They're not any different from you.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Lance King/Icon SMIIn mid-October, Rivers had a front-row seat as Mike Krzyzewski began the season's first practice at Duke.

Yeah, Grant came from a good background. But some of those other kids that went there didn't come from that same background.

I'm not saying anything about Jalen, because I respect Jalen as a player and as a person. They were talking on camera about how those [Michigan] fans were judging them and yet the fans didn't really know them as people. At the same time, they were over here saying the same stuff to the kids that are at Duke.

I think most of what [the Fab Five] did was as motivation to hate their opponent. It gave them something to hate. They had no reason to hate Duke until they thought of something like that. It gave them a reason why they wanted to beat Duke.

I've always been raised not to view people by race. I think Jalen and them were colorblind as well. But I think they got frustrated with the fact that at the time they were trying to do their thing at Michigan and set new trends. At the same time, they have people of their same race doing a different thing at Duke. I think that frustrated them and they probably tried using it as a motivation and ended up hating them.

[The Fab Five] changed the way basketball is, and I think in a positive way. I like what Jalen and Chris [Webber] and those guys did as far as basketball. They went in there and did things their way. They played team basketball. It wasn't selfish basketball. If you watched them, they were a team. Just because you have baggy shorts and black socks doesn't mean anything.

The Fab Five weren't scared to be themselves. And I actually admire Jalen, Chris and those guys because … they didn't change for nobody. They were who they were. They played a team game, but they didn't change individually.

After watching the Fab Five show, I'd tell people two things: One, don't judge someone's situation until you get to know their situation. And two, as far as Michigan goes, don't be scared to stand up and do something different as long as it's in a positive way.

Austin Rivers, a shooting guard at Winter Park High School, is the top college prospect in the nation, according to ESPN's scouting services. He has signed to play at Duke next season. Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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