Higher Learning

The college basketball season has begun and UNC is emerging as an early season favorite. However as games are played and student athletes battle for supremacy, it’s interesting to measure how far the game has grown in the past 27-years. In 1981, the women’s game wasn’t as advanced or applauded as it now. In fact, ESPN aired the UCONN vs. Oklahoma women’s game in the primetime TV slot on Sunday, featuring super sophomore Maya Moore, against the dynamic Paris twins. As I look the landscape of how the game is revered and played, it pails in comparison to the best three teams of the modern era.

Back to the Future

The NCAA Men’s National Champion in 1984 was none other than the Georgetown Hoyas, coached by John Thompson. A few things stand out about this team, as they had a combination of fundamental skill, speed, and intelligent guard play, mixed with an indomitable frontcourt anchored by Patrick Ewing. Coincidentally after Ewing, the school was known for having great centers with Mutombo, Mourning, Othella Harrington, Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje, Michael Sweetney, and Roy Hibbert. Last but not least they were the ultimate team that played without fear, while imposing their Hoya Paranoia on all who opposed them.

What I remember of this team was their affect on my neighborhood and others like it. I grew up in Philadelphia, the home of the Big 5, and my beloved Temple University, but it was Georgetown that I identified with being the epitome of college basketball, because everywhere I looked, people were wearing hats, jackets, sweatshirts, and tees that were the imposing color of silver and navy blue. I don’t want to turn this into a sociology lesson, but when you have a successful program, with an all black cast the people within the urban areas will rally around them, with a fervor and loyalty beyond logic.

The Hoyas were acknowledged so much so, that the fledgling sneaker company at the time…Nike gave that team it’s own sneaker aptly named “The Terminator”, with the word HOYA emblazoned across the heel. Where I’m from, that’s a sign of the ultimate respect and not only did coach Thompson and his team earn it, they commanded it from any, and everyone.

This team is the predecessor to the acclaim that basketball players take for granted today. Prior to my penning this rather racially biased piece, I watched the movie HOOP DREAMS, and one thing I noticed throughout the film was the Georgetown University references. The documentary takes place on the North Side of Chicago in and near the Cabrini-Green Housing Projects, and the co-stars Arthur Agee, and William Gates, are seen through the years (‘88-‘92) wearing their admiration for the ’84 champions from Arthur’s basketball and baseball jersey’s to William’s tee-shirt. The Hoyas are just as much a constant in this masterpiece as are the people that look up to, and represent them.

1990 ushered in a new decade and along with it came a new breed of Hoya Paranoia that challenged the status quo in the form of the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV. They were a band of brothers that had the same high-octane offense that was lead by a powerful front court with Stacey “Plastic Man” Augmon, and Larry Johnson. LJ with his, Texas style, gold tooth…played and lead with his raw emotions, directly from the heart and soul. The guards Greg Anthony, and Anderson Hunt paced the offensive with Anthony as a key to the defense that didn’t give opponents a chance to breathe or win.


In their championship match against Duke, they cruised to a 103-73 win, as their 30-point victory remains the largest margin in history. Naturally cites near and far embraced this team and their style of play. Everyone from my older brother to 2 Pac had the Runnin’ Rebels shirt, hat, or jacket. I’ll never forget the UNLV hat and STARTER jacket that Tupac wore in the Brenda’s Got a Baby video.

I had a red UNLV shirt that I wore a least once a week the summer following their title run. They were easy to rally around because unlike most other college and professional teams…this team was more like me, and the people in my community.

There is one team in recent history, that combined the intimidation of Georgetown, and scoring ability of UNLV…and they hail from Ann Arbor, Michigan…the Wolverines of the University of Michigan. They were affectionately known as the Fab Five. In the fall of 1991, college basketball received a facelift from Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson.

Standing at an impressive 6’8″, Rose the left-handed lead guard controlled the team’s offense, while Jimmy King was Mr. Defense. The frontcourt was lead by Webber and his ubiquitous scowl, which made him a fan favorite…while Howard and Jackson rounded out the forward positions with flair.

The Fab Five played in the National Championship game as freshmen and sophomores, but much to my dismay…they were not able to win it all like Georgetown and UNLV. Had they been able to beat Duke or North Carolina their lore would have grown and would have been bigger than perhaps the game itself. They are the 5 most important freshmen in the modern college basketball era. In relation to where they stand in the bigger picture of sports, they are up there with Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali.

This team has been heralded for everything that is both right and wrong with team sports. They are credited for basketball players wearing black socks, and long baggy shorts. Black socks are commonplace now, but in that day it was very rare, and the long shorts…well I can recall other teams wearing long shorts, but Michigan at that time, did everything better. They even had their “own” Nike sneaker with the never seen before Huarache that had replaced the high ankle support with straps. It became a truly remarkable shoe that is as historic, as the players that first wore them.

I was a point guard and I wanted nothing more than to grow taller and be just like Jalen Rose, while a lot of my friends wanted to overpower opponents like Webber. Even to this day, a pair of Michigan shorts on the basketball court is a sign of respect. There will never be a team like this again and while a lot of people, and the mainstream media didn’t understand or like their style, they were in actuality a very good team with a coach that led the ’89 team to a National Championship. They were and still are reviled because of the fact that they were young, talented, teen-aged men, that didn’t cater to the decorum of the NCAA tradition. Aside from their unique love of the game, their only crime was the color of their skin, and not the content of their character.

History and experience are great teachers, and what I learned from these teams is that there is nothing more beautiful than the play and cohesiveness of a team, as they have inspired not only athletes, but millions of people worldwide. It was an evolution, or better yet. a revolution to the end of the way things used to be.

Peace.

The Most Known Unknown.

10 Responses to “Higher Learning”

  1. Diallo says:

    It’s amazing how much the Fab Five is underrated right now. Five Freshman will NEVER start in an NCAA Final game. Will. Not. Happen.

  2. michelle says:

    AXG,

    I love this piece! Webb and the Fab Five are the reason I am a basketball fan. Freshmen. WHAT? They were all that. NOW AND FOREVER!
    This team was amazing. For me not winning the national title does not define them. Since every game is win or go home. I’m practical. To make it to the title game not once but twice was a huge accomplishment. Those in the media who wish to erase them from history will use the fact that they didn’t win it all as ammunition. I say WHATEVER! The baggy shorts, black socks and incredible swagger was electric. I will never forget them. I can’t since I have a huge painting of them hanging in my loft. LOL!

  3. In doing some research on the Internet I found two stories that were intriguing. One was on the the Hoyas written by Temple3, and the other was a similar piece to this one written by BOUNCE Magazine’s website. While I enjoyed Temple3′s view, I didn’t like how BOUNCE tried to say that the Fab Five were nothing more than a STREET BALL team.

    They played with flair, however I know that Jalen Rose is a very intelligent point guard and to say they are street is unfair and discredits all that they accomplished.

    In fact all of these teams were very good at what they did, and were well coached, especially the Georgetown teams of the early to mid-1980′s.

  4. Temple3 says:

    We always go through this — and I’m the biggest G’town fan I know, but how can you possibly exclude a North Carolina team with James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan and Jimmy Black? The Georgetown team they beat in 1982 was every bit as good as (if not better) the 1984 team. Eric Floyd was the offensive leader of the ’82 squad.

    I don’t think there is ANY question that the 3 teams you highlighted had the greatest impact on the game. The Fear Factor of Ewing and Graham had Billy Packer’s panties as tight around his little nuts as they’ve ever been — before or since. Vegas’ squad was its best and it symbolized the ability of “outsiders” with serious inside connections to trump the Tobacco Road powerhouses — for a minute — until that second game vs. Duke was f-i-x-e-d. Michigan, of course, with its youth, swagger and competence was “revolutionary” for the game. Just as Michelle and Diallo highlighted — it’s simply amazing that 5 frosh ran this squad…of course the point guard Jalen Rose never, ever played “young.” His NBA pedigree was always apparent in his cool, heady play. I think these 3 teams definitely belong together in any conversation about transformational teams, but if you’re talking BEST teams — I think that Carolina squad has to be in the conversation — even if the list only has 2 teams.

  5. I love that UNC team, however I wrote this piece based upon what Georgetown, UNLV, and Michigan did within the black community in which I grew up in. Those teams had such a positive affect on my neighborhood, more so than UNC, DUKE, or UCLA.

    The “three” represented more than basketball…it represented a pride that was needed, and it gave people hope that they too could go to college. When I was growing up…no one in my family had graduated from college, so watching college basketball was my first impression of higher education.

  6. Temple3 says:

    You said:

    As I look the landscape of how the game is revered and played, it pails in comparison to the best three teams of the modern era.

    As you can see from my post, that’s the only reason I mentioned the UNC team.

    If your emphasis was on the significance of teams to Black folk, you should have led with that. I absolutely agree that these are the 3 squads. I also think you should have mentioned the personal side of it as well.

    For me, the Hoyas were such a big deal because of John Thompson. He was the first Black college basketball coach of my recollection whose “race pride” was evident. Guys like George Raveling and John Cheney had put serious time in, but when G’town rose to the top in 1982, Temple hadn’t had a signature national season yet. Terence Stansbury was still in grade school — and Mark Macon was probably in the womb. Raveling’s teams were decent, but never much better than Sweet 16 material. John redefined the role and he protected his players from the media. He took the weight and demonstrated the power of his practice: discipline, hard work, defense and intimidation.

    Vegas won me over because of their style of play. This wasn’t the first Vegas team that was fun to watch, but it was their best defensive squad by far. The most intriguing part of their games was that Amoeba Defense and Stacey Augmon. LJ was clearly the best player, but Augmon seemed to be the key to those huge runs they’d go on (20-0, 15-1, 18-3, etc.). Once he got going, it was a wrap.

    I was in Ann Arbor when the Fab Five first took the court. I won’t go into that, but their impact is clear.

    Finally, I think a team that merits some consideration in this conversation with respect to Black folk is the Arkansas Razorback squad of Nolan Richardson. I wouldn’t put them in the top 3, but Nolan’s teams were a combination of the Hoyas and the Runnin’ Rebels. They brought 40 Minutes of Hell to the court every night — and they won a championship…and curiously (just like Vegas) were run out of the gym the year after winning it all. Arkansas had the 2nd Black coach to win it all and were no less than the 3rd or 4th team that played tenacious full-court defense — so they’re off the radar, but they were damned good. Scottie Thurman, Oliver Miller, Cory Beck, Clint McDaniel, Corliss Williamson. Nice squad.

  7. My bad Temple3, sorry that I wasn’t clear, and it’s good to see you mention the Razorbacks, as Michael and I were just talking about Scotty Thurman yesterday. They had a heck of a team!

  8. Mizzo says:

    Yeah that’s crazy we were just talking about him. I wonder if I can track him down.

  9. Diallo says:

    ” until that second game vs. Duke was f-i-x-e-d. ”

    Not to get off on a tangent, but I’m glad I’m not the only cat who finds the outcome of that game to be bogus.

  10. China man says:

    yo…

    everything dynamic and very positively…

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