This Or That

If you watched college basketball during the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons you had to pick a side.  There would be no fence-sitting on this one.  Black Sheep had just dropped their album "A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing".  Grant Hill was entering his sophomore year at Duke University.  Chris Webber was a freshman at University of Michigan.  Black Sheep could not have captured the atmosphere better than they did with their hit single "The Choice Is Yours":

You can get with this:


Or you can get with that:


"This or that, this or that, this or that, this or that..."  What a time to be alive!  There never was and never will be another time like the early 90's when it comes to basketball, hip hop, culture and politics.  It was a time when all of these things collided on the court.  You may not have realized it at the time, but when you were choosing this or that, you were really choosing sides on something much bigger than hoops.  You were choosing a "white" school or a "black" school.  You were choosing the establishment or the street.  Standard regulation, status quo uniform or baggy shorts, black socks and black shoes.  You were either looking to fit in or you were looking to stand out.

Grant Hill had won an NCAA National Championship in 1991 as a freshman at Duke when they upset defending National Champions UNLV.  In the 1991-92 season, they were looking to continue what they had started and become the first team to win back to back titles since UCLA in the 70's.  They almost didn't get the chance.  Playing Kentucky in a Regional Final with the winner advancing to the Final Four, Duke found themselves down 103-102 with 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime.  It was in this moment of intense pressure and circumstance that Grant Hill made the play that would define his basketball career.  Some people call it "The Shot".  I call it "The Pass".

Christian Laettner made a hell of a shot, no doubt.  But the pass was unbelievable.  Laettner basically posted up at the elbow and put his hand up.  Grant Hill hit him in the hands from his own baseline.  In that situation, under that pressure, with the world watching.  (And hating no doubt.)  Duke would barely get by Indiana 81-78 in the Final Four to get to the National Championship.  Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, Michigan...

The Wolverines had the top recruitment class in the nation, and these were not your run of the mill freshmen.  This was 26 years ago.  Not a lot of players were starters as freshmen.  Well coach Steve Fisher knew he had something special and he let his young stars have the freedom a lot of others wouldn't have, and in return demanded their full commitment to winning.  In an unprecedented move, he would make all 5 freshmen starters.  The Fab 5 was born.  And they started a revolution.  They got oversized shorts, they wore black shoes with black socks.  They trash-talked, they shoved each other, they threw lobs off the backboard.  They shaved their heads?  The temerity of these young ruffians!  This kind of stuff was unheard of in the NCAA ranks, it was a different time.  But times were changing.  It wasn't just the style of their game that had the buttoned down college basketball world nervous, it was the quality of their game.

The Fab 5 would run through the NCAA Tournament on a collision course with their polar opposite Blue Devils.  There was a lot of hype for this colossal clash of the insurgency and the ruling order.  The young Turks put a scare into the defending champs and led by a point at halftime.  The second half and the championship game as a whole would be anticlimactic as the defending champs exposed the inexperience of the raw talent rookies.  Duke outscored Michigan by 21 in the second half to win 71-51.

But that wouldn't be the end of this epic match up of opposing ideologies.  Well, yes it would be sadly.  In the 1993 NCAA Tournament, Duke would be upset in the second round by California and their point guard, some guy named Jason Kidd (Who coincidentally would share Rookie of the Year honors with Grant Hill 2 years later.)  The Wolverines would waltz back to the title game where they would attempt to redeem themselves as a more confident team that had been there before and knew what to expect.  With the back to back champs out of the way, Michigan faced a tough North Carolina squad featuring... I'm sorry I couldn't do it.  I was trying to let Michigan off the hook for that one.  Truth is UNC had no business beating Michigan with that line up.  Nevertheless, the Wolverines found themselves down 73-71 with 11 seconds left.  Pat Sullivan misses a foul shot that would have pushed the lead to 3.  Webber gets the rebound and... he straight up travels!  The man went for a walk.  He's flustered.  He takes the ball down the court himself and dribbles into the corner!  Facing trap defense he calls a timeout.  A timeout that they don't have.

I'm not telling you anything new here.  You know all of this.  I'm just shining a light on a mirror for the sake of reflection.  A snap shot of a day gone by.  A period of time, a time of change.  A couple of guys whose best and worst moments collectively were the bookends of an era.  One of them embraced the moment and made the impossible happen.  The other succumbed to the moment and did the worst thing possible.  I love them both.  But in the 90's you had to decide... this or that.


Tim Caldwell