'Shop Talk': Documentary Stirs Tension Between NBA Stars

Basketball takes center stage in Tell Me More's weekly "Barbershop" conversation. Among other topics, host Michel Martin discusses President Obama's picks for March Madness as well as the discord between former Duke basketball star Grant Hill and fellow NBA veteran Jalen Rose. Weighing in on the discussion are author Jimi Izrael, columnist Ruben Navarrette, sports reporter Pablo Torre and cultural commentator and professor Marc Lamont Hill.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, columnist Ruben Navarrette, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre, and Marc Lamont Hill, he's a columnist. He's also an associate professor of education and African-American studies at Columbia University.

Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop, how are we doing?

Dr. MARC LAMONT HILL (Education and African-American Studies, Columbia University): What's up, man?

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Nothing, man. Hey.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Yo.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey, Dr. Hill, long time. Good to have you in.

Dr. HILL: Yeah, man. Last time I talked to you, I think LeBron was still in Cleveland, man.

MARTIN: Oh no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, why are you going there?

MARTIN: That's not right. You don't need to go there. He went right there.

Mr. TORRE: Right there.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, guess who's in Cleveland with me now? Pablo Torre is in town with me right now.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Pablo.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm looking right at him.

Mr. TORRE: I know.

Mr. IZRAEL: My man. He's in town for the NCAA tournament tonight.

Mr. TORRE: Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: So let's start right there.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah. We're waiting for the red carpet on the sidewalk...

MARTIN: You know what's really cold about that? Is that Pablo's giving him hints on his brackets. I don't think that's fair.

Dr. HILL: That's a horrible idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I really don't.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right. Well, I mean, how about you, Michel? Who you got money on?

MARTIN: Well, I'm - no, because I don't have a special adviser like some people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But, anyway, I plan on scooping all of you. But President Obama was willing to share his championship winning pick. We'll just play a short clip of him with ESPN's Andy Katz.

Mr. ANDY KATZ (ESPN.com): We actually have the same national championship game.

President BARACK OBAMA: There you go.

Mr. KATZ: Ohio State versus Kansas.

Pres. OBAMA: And I'm picking Kansas, just because I think they're deeper.

MARTIN: Now, he actually has a 50/50 record.

Mr. TORRE: Whatever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I know. When it comes to March Madness championship winners.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, no bias there, right?

MARTIN: Right. Last year he also went with the Jayhawks. But as we all know, they fell short. And in 2009, he correctly went with the Tar Heels from UNC. There you go.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, you know, he's gotten some heat for his picks, not because, you know, it's not necessarily a good bracket, but some critics say, you know, he's got more important things to do than be on some brackets, like the crisis in Japan and the Middle East.

Mr. TORRE: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: However, he is suggesting that people, you know, donate their winnings to charity in Japan. So, my man, he's on it. So, Ruben, let's get you in here first.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo.

Mr. IZRAEL: Do you think it's frivolous of the president to be spending time even picking brackets at all, really?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, listen, everybody knows the president's a basketball fan, everybody knows he plays the game, he loves the game, he follows the game. I'm not surprised by this. I'm not terribly disturbed that the president has this quality about him that he gets excited about the NCAA tournament.

But the reason this kind of charge sticks is because he has shown this tendency with other issues. There are times where he seems to be very, very disengaged, I think with foreign policy in particular, it seems not to be his forte, something he's particularly interested in. And lo and behold, guess what? Guess what? It's the most pressing stuff that's out there right now. I mean, there's a lot of foreign policy eruptions. So I think that's why this sticks more than it should.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, Pablo, sports and world peace, I mean, those are, you know, those go together, right? Those are just as important as each other, right?

Mr. TORRE: Right, right, right. I mean, to me there are two issues here. One is whether he should be spending any time at all on sports and other such distractions, which he did call them, in fact. And the other one is whether he should tell anybody about it, even if he did. And for me, the issue really boils down on both sides to whether sports is so frivolous as to be offensive to people in times of crisis. And the president, we can assume, is basically always in a time of crisis.

And to me, you know, I don't think so. I don't think, you know, the NCAA tournament, not to shill for my industry, but is, in fact, this a very American tradition blending athletics and higher education for whatever criticisms you have about the NCAA and big budget sports. And at the same time, you know, I wonder, well, maybe if the president was saying he was devoting an hour out of his week every week to watch "The Real World: Las Vegas" or "Jersey Shore," I might be more offended by that.

But I think - I draw the line a little bit below sports. I think my line for being offended sits below sports. We all know he's a basketball fan. I say if that's his leisure time, let him do what he wants with it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah. Hill, you know, even, all presidents need to blow off a little steam every now and again, right?

Dr. HILL: Exactly. And the reality is, as a practical matter, world peace doesn't hinge upon President Obama's active engagement at every minute. Every president does stuff.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Dr. HILL: You know, and it's not like they work alone. I mean, it's like they used to complain that George Bush is in Texas too much, as if they don't have computers in Texas. They don't have a lot of stuff in Texas, but they do have computers, and he did have aides. And this becomes almost like a partisan football, so that, you know, whenever you see a president doing something that isn't tied to the job per se, you can say, well, the economy could be fixed right now or he could be creating jobs right now if he weren't watching, you know, Temple beat Penn State yesterday. So, I mean, it's a political thing. It's not a matter of reality.

However, I do think as you move into 2012 the Obama administration should be a little more mindful of how it's being perceived by middle America. And if the Fox News crowd can beat up on Obama for something like that, then he needs to at least be mindful of it and make strategic decisions. I think this one's okay, because I think all Americans can buy into the tournament, and I think it makes him look more like an ordinary person as opposed to this elite person standing on high. But on other issues, I think they do need to listen, take the pulse of America a little bit better and respond accordingly.

MARTIN: And I've got to tell you that other people - political leaders do do that. There is, for example, there was a particular political figure - and I don't want to call her name, but somebody who we wanted to interview for Women's History Month. And she said, look. While these budget negotiations are ongoing, that's job one. That's what I'm focused on, and I'm not going to be making public comments about anything other than that.

And you can see the point. You can see the point. I do think that, you know, perception does become reality, and I think that Ruben's onto something when he suggested that - and also you, Marc, when you say people suggest that - you know, it doesn't have to be fair for it to stick in people's minds, right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: Because when voters go into that booth, they don't say, well, you know, nobody's checking to say: Are your decisions fair? You know, that's not how it is. But, okay. So before we move on, I'm going to relent and I'm going to ask, you know, what are your picks?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I've handed my bracket over to Argin for safekeeping, so I can't say -so I'm not cheating. So, what are your picks, guys, if you don't mind my asking? If we can't take time away from the other serious matters to talk about this.

Dr. HILL: I don't want to intimidate...

MARTIN: Marc?

Mr. IZRAEL: Can we get Pablo first in?

MARTIN: Go ahead. But that's cheating.

Mr. TORRE: Well, I'm cheating...

MARTIN: He's the man. Come on, he could go last. Let's hear everybody else.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right.

Dr. HILL: Oh yeah. I'm just going to go with what Pablo says, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Right. Everybody's saying no, I go with him, like he's it. No. Pablo last. Go ahead. Jimi, okay you first. Jimi?

Mr. IZRAEL: Ohio State, all the way.

MARTIN: Okay.

Dr. HILL: Oh, God.

MARTIN: I know. Okay, Marc?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. HILL: Actually, you know, I'm going to let Temple be it. Temple is a surprise, since we're being homers. Temple's going to be a surprise and actually sneak into the next round. I think Duke actually makes it all the way, all the way, actually, this year. And I think that's going to be a surprise to a lot of folks.

MARTIN: Okay. Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I got two, because I have to have two. I have - I'm in San Diego. I've got to pick the Aztecs, right, as sentimental favorite. But Notre Dame, Notre Dame, I think, looks good.

MARTIN: Okay. Pablo?

Dr. HILL: In basketball?

MARTIN: That's what, look. Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I know. Surprise, surprise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: All right. All right. Pablo, bring it.

Mr. TORRE: It's going to be Ohio State over Kansas in the final. I'm in Cleveland. I'm going to watch Ohio State play, basically, two home games over the next couple days. And so I'm not just being a homer here for Jimi's sake. It's a fact. They're the best team in the country.

MARTIN: Okay...

Mr. IZRAEL: And there's that.

MARTIN: Oh, okay. All right.

Dr. HILL: Do I get a prize when Duke wins? I just want to know. Or do I get to come back on and win something...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: By the way...

MARTIN: Absolutely do. You get a beautiful t-shirt.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And since I'm a football fan, can you just explain - I just have one question: As a football fan, what exactly is a bracket? I just need to know. Give me - get me excited about this sport, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That's so lame.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: How many days till football season starts?

MARTIN: Please, somebody take his guy card back. Just hand it over.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. We have author Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre and Columbia University professor and columnist Marc Lamont Hill.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

Well, let's stay on basketball, but move on to where old news is new news again. Now, "The Fab Five" is a ESPN special that aired this month about Michigan basketball players Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson from '91 to '93. Now, in it, Jalen Rose, also one of the executive producers of the special, blasts Duke University players.

Michel, we got some tape on that, right?

MARTIN: You know, and it's actually fighting words. So here it is. I'll just play it. This is Jalen Rose.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sure.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Fab Five")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JALEN ROSE (Former NBA basketball player): For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke, and I hated everything I felt Duke stood for.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. ROSE: Schools like Duke didn't recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.

MARTIN: Which is a very ugly thing to say about people, especially kids, you know, who are just playing basketball. So then Grant Hill, a player on the Duke team - of course, a lot of people remember, you know, Grant Hill. He was the, you know, rookie of the year, and so forth. That was the team that beat Michigan in the '92 Final Four, wrote an open letter to The New York Times noting the Fab Five's accomplishment, but saying that, you know, Rose's comments were sad and that they disparaged his fellow teammates and, you know, hardworking and committed parents.

And I think there is an important point to make here, because Jalen Rose then went on to say that there was some jealousy at work. And here's that comment.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Fab Five")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROSE: I was jealous of Grant Hill. He came from a great black family. Congratulations. Your mom went to college and was roommates with Hillary Clinton. Your dad played in the NFL, is a very well-spoken and successful man. I was upset and bitter that my mom had to bust her hump for 20-plus years. I was bitter that I had professional athlete that was my father that I didn't know. I resented that more so than I resented him.

MARTIN: What do you guys think about that? Is this just kind of airing dirty laundry, or do you think that there's - onto something here, that there might be - that might be worth discussing. Jimi, what do you think?

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Michel? Michel, this isn't a jealousy thing, per se, or even a class thing. It's an age and perspective thing. Look, dude was mad young when he was making all those comments, when he was having all these thoughts.

Dr. HILL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, we all have capricious thoughts in the folly of youth. Hindsight is always 20/20. Now, Rose as a producer of a documentary special, he really had no obligation to clarify his thoughts, what he thought in that particular moment. If anything, he had an obligation to be true to those thoughts. So, you know what? He's a grown man now. And he thinks grown man things. Cut him some slack, please. Move on.

Dr. HILL: And I think - this is Marc. I think he made a...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead.

Dr. HILL: ...powerful point, though. You know, I mean, on the one hand, I mean, it's easy to sort of reduce Jalen Rose to a straw man now and say, well, obviously all people who go to Duke aren't Uncle Toms, and obviously there's nothing wrong - there's nothing to be ashamed of, you know, having a two-parent family. And so we can kind of jump on Grant Hill's side very easily.

But there's this other conversation about, one, about Duke's long history of not dealing with black folk, and when they do deal with black folk, they deal with a certain type of black person, which also betrays the kind of shame around the black poor. There is a conversation to be had about that. There's a conversation to be had about the relationships between the black middle class and the black poor, which is sort of exemplified in this relationship...

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm. Mm-hmm.

Dr. HILL: ...between Grant Hill and Jalen Rose. I mean, I think there's a lot to be said here. And I think everything Jalen Rose said isn't wrong. At the same time, Grant Hill is right to say, look, you can't essentialize me because I'm middle class. Just because I'm middle class doesn't mean, you know, I think white people's ice is colder. You know, it's more complex than that.

Mr. TORRE: Right. Right. And this is Pablo jumping in. I think, you know, I think Grant Hill's op-ed in The Times - which is worthwhile reading for everybody. I mean, it basically dismantled to a T, as perfectly as you can imagine, the ugly notion that Michel was talking about - obviously, the notion of the Uncle Tom. And as Professor Hill just said, you know, it's a thing that still obviously has currency in the black community. But I am bothered by the fact that Jalen Rose is now becoming the stand-in - as Jimi was alluding to -for this topic. I mean, he was clearly speaking when he was younger, and the guy, you know, founded and runs a charter school today...

Dr. HILL: Right.

Mr. TORRE: ...where he's trying to create little Grant Hills. I don't think he would even deny that. And Grant Hill, as we know, is the archetype on the courts, amazing pro player before he got hurt, amazing college player, great student, played the piano, obviously, on talk shows, came from this great family. He is the people that - he's the type of person that the young black kids, I think, and all kids of all races should aspire to try to be. And I don't think Jalen Rose, in his current frame of mind, would deny that at all.

MARTIN: Let me just move on right quick, just because there's another important topic, and it's a sensitive one that we want to get to before we go. And Ruben, I'm not shortchanging you, but we do need to hear from you on this.

We're glad you are here today, Marc, because we wanted to talk about a column that you wrote. In it, you talk about being pulled over by the Philadelphia police for quote, "illegal discharge of a passenger."

Dr. HILL: Yeah.

MARTIN: This is after you dropped off a friend at his house. And I should mention that one of the officers involved was Richard Decoatsworth, a Latino officer who was hailed as a hero after having been shot in the face while on duty in 2007. He was later invited to sit next to the first lady during a presidential address. And you wrote about how you felt you were treated like a criminal. You were treated very rudely. You filed suit, and you never gave any interviews about this while this was going on. The case was settled.

But then you wrote about it now, and you said it's important to think about issues like driving while black. But you said it's also important to think about patrolling while racist. And you said that you also said that you think it might be the case that a lot of people - police officers, law enforcement officers - are actually more traumatized by the work than they may be willing to admit, and this has to be addressed. So would you talk a little bit more about why you decided to go public with this now?

Dr. HILL: Well, once the case was settled, I wanted to create an opportunity to talk about this stuff. I didn't want to make it a spectacle while it was going on, so I didn't do a lot - I didn't do anything, actually, while it was going on, because I didn't want to make a spectacle out of it. I wanted to go through the proper legal channels. But afterward, I wanted to at least help create a conversation about everyday forms of police terrorism, everyday forms of police misconduct, everyday forms of police brutality. My case wasn't the worst case in the world, but I had the opportunity, because of media access, to talk about it. I had the opportunity because of who I was in the world to at least be heard.

You know, every day, people file complaints against the Philadelphia police, against the Los Angeles police, against urban police everywhere, and almost all of them get dismissed. Internal Affairs throws them away. Federal and civil suits get dismissed because, you know, and there's no space to really even fight back. And beyond that, I'm not sure that the broader public understands that what happened to me happens every single day. I mean, this has happened to me dozens of times. I grew up in a poor neighborhood. I grew up in North Philly, so yeah, this happened to me all the time. This happens to brothers I know every single day, irrespective of their position in life, and it's almost become normal to us. And we have to fight back against that.

MARTIN: Ruben, I wanted to hear from you, and I'm glad you're here, too, because your father is a retired police officer, as is mine, as are other members of my family. What's your take on this? I know you read Marc's column.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

MARTIN: And I just want to point out that there's not exactly physical brutality here, but he was treated rudely, very verbally rudely. He was not given the chance to...

Dr. HILL: And excessive physical force. I mean, his knee was...

MARTIN: Well...

Dr. HILL: He slammed me into a car and pulled me out of the car and slammed me into it.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Dr. HILL: I mean, I want to be clear. It wasn't Rodney King, but it was excessive physical force.

MARTIN: Okay, I got. Okay, Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And the story talks about how, you know, later, as the two have a chance encounter, you know, it gets even uglier in the sense that this police officer's obviously still not over this experience and what he felt he was put through. So I think the significance of this - and I understand, yeah, my father...

MARTIN: Just to tell him what he's talking about...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: He actually spat at him, is what happened.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Absolutely. Yeah.

MARTIN: The officer actually spat at Marc after the whole matter was concluded. I just thought I'd let people know what we're talking about. Ruben, what's your thought, here?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Marc had looked at him and nodded and sort of tried to break the tension and this is the thanks he got, the reception he got. My dad's a retired cop, as was said, and my dad has a complexion where he's actually darker than some African-American friends I have. He's a Latino, dark-skinned Latino. And he has, himself, even as a cop, ironically, been the victim of racial profiling, been pulled over in other counties and cities. And this is not unusual. This is something that black cops will tell you happens to them sometimes, all the time, depending on who you talk to, and it's a real thing. It's a real issue that plays out right now in the Arizona debate because of the fact that there, they can look for illegal immigrants, and they're looking for people based on race and skin color.

So it's not just a black issue in Philadelphia. It's a Latino issue in Arizona. It's an issue all over the country. And anybody who believes that racial profiling doesn't exist is living in a fantasy world. It's part of policing. It's always been part of policing. They need to do away with it. It's against the law, but it continues on because when a police officer is approaching a car, he sees a Latino or an African-American as inherently more menacing and threatening. As my dad used to say to me growing up: The cops' credo is I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by six.

MARTIN: Mm. I hear you.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's what every cop believes, particularly in the middle of the night, and it doesn't matter. I mean, that's the perception, that Latinos and African-Americans are somehow more threatening.

MARTIN: Ruben, I'm sorry. Guys, we don't have time to hear other thoughts on this. But I think we'll return to this, because as Marc told us, this is a constant in the lives of many people, particularly men of color in this country, and we need to talk more about it.

Ruben, you have something to say before we let you go - briefly, if you would.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I do. Absolutely. Thank you, Michel. Last week, I mentioned in passing that Rick Sanchez, former CNN anchor, had gotten into trouble with CNN for saying that Jews control newspapers in the United States. I was wrong. In fact, Sanchez never said that. In fact, in that now-infamous radio interview, he was talking about CNN, not newspapers, and he never explicitly said Jews run CNN, or for that matter any television network. Sure, that was the impression a lot of people got from his comments, but I wanted to say here accurate - and be accurate, about what Sanchez said and didn't say.

MARTIN: Well, Ruben, that's very adult of you. Thank you for that.

Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post Writers Group and CNN.com. He was with us from San Diego. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland, along with Pablo Torre, reporter for Sports Illustrated, who was there also with Jimi, whispering into his ear and telling him about his brackets. I know you guys were doing it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And Marc Lamont Hill is a syndicated columnist and host of the TV show "Our World With Black Enterprise," and he was with us from Philadelphia.

Gentlemen, thank you all so much.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks.

Dr. HILL: Good to be here.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Farai Chideya will be here on Monday. Please give her a warm welcome, and we'll talk more then.

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