Will Michigan embrace the Fab Five?

May, 21, 2012
5/21/12
11:35
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Michigan's Fab Five remains one of the most intellectually intriguing teams in the history of the game.

There are all the usual reasons to think so -- the brash style, the baggy shorts, the black socks, the flirtation with greatness, Chris Webber's tragic timeout, the ability to pose for amazing team photo after amazing team photo, etc. -- but as the ESPN documentary "The Fab Five" noted, one of the more underrated aspects of the team's appeal is the outlaw status it retains to this day. The Fab Five's years at the school (as well as teams starring Robert Traylor in 1997 and 1998, lest we forget) were among six expunged from the NCAA history books, thanks to the infamous Ed Martin booster scandal; basically everything Jalen Rose & Co. did as college players has been wiped from the records. In the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., where one of the most famous teams in the history of the game captivated audiences for years, no banner hangs in the Fab Five's honor.

[+] EnlargeJimmy King, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Ray Jackson
AP PhotoThe Fab Five -- Jimmy King, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Ray Jackson -- led the Wolverines to the finals of the 1992 and 1993 NCAA tournaments.
The question is whether that will change -- particularly sooner rather than later. In 2013, the NCAA's 10-year ban on association with and recognition of the four players implicated in the booster scandal will be lifted. That would allow the school to honor the team's legacy for the first time. And yet, as the Detroit Free Press reported Sunday, it's unclear whether Michigan's brass is interested in doing something most schools typically eschew:
The Free Press looked at the 11 schools forced to remove Final Four banners due to violations, and most have continued to comply with the sanctions. Most do not hang banners from or recognize vacated seasons. Only a few have welcomed back affected players, and often only in group settings.

There's no reason to think Michigan will open its arms, either. U-M president Mary Sue Coleman said to students this spring she doesn't think it's right to restore the removed banners -- from Final Four appearances in 1992 and 1993 with Chris Webber and 1997 NIT and 1998 Big Ten tournament titles with the late Robert Traylor -- and U-M athletic director Dave Brandon told reporters that he doesn't even know if it's a consideration, given the high-profile penalties.

There are hurt feelings from players not involved in the scandals. Jalen Rose, who played on those '92 and '93 teams, has stated he may pull his academic scholarships if U-M refuses to embrace the teams.

The only thing that would make this more awkward is if the Fab Five had actually won a national title. Were that the case, fans would surely be clamoring for a clear move on the school's part. At the very least, the outrage would be slightly more visible.

At this point, the people that seem most upset by the whole thing are the Fab Five themselves -- particularly Rose. Understandably so. He wants to ensure people remember his teams' history. I get it. But it's a tricky situation for the school, too, and you can't blame the administration from wanting to distance themselves from what has in many ways been a decades-long source of embarrassment, one the school's basketball program has only recently put in the past just in time to emerge under coach John Beilein as one of the nation's truly ascendant teams.

The good news in all of this, something Rose should feel confident in knowing, is that banners or no, we won't soon forget the Fab Five, and neither will anybody who was alive during their time together in Ann Arbor. The NCAA record books can tell us one thing. Heck, given that the players never won that national title, that would be the case even if the team's records were never expunged.

Why? Because we don't remember the Fab Five for their wins and losses. We remember the impact they made, the styles they changed, the playful rebellion they brought to bear on a college game that was only barely prepared. As the past 15 years have shown, banners have very little to do with that. In so many ways, the legacy of the Fab Five has nothing to do with banners. Whatever Michigan decides to do in 2013, that won't change.

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