College Basketball Nation: Chris Webber

It was easy to be cynical about the Fab Five at the Final Four.

[+] EnlargeJimmy King, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Ray Jackson
AP PhotoMichigan players were cynical about the presence of The Fab Five in the locker room at the Final Four in April, but what Juwan Howard said helped change their perspective.
From the outside, former Wolverines star (and ESPN analyst) Jalen Rose's public pressure on Chris Webber to attend the 2013 national title game, and all the fanfare that accompanied it -- a close-up of Webber arriving at the arena, constant shots of the Fab Five in the crowd -- seemed to be calculated, a way to reflect some of the overwhelming national attention being paid to the Wolverines' rebirth back onto a group that, save Webber, has never been shy about touting its complicated legacy. With John Beilein's career 30 years in the making, and Trey Burke's player of the year bona fides up against the best defense in the country, the visibility allocated to a team that played in the early 90s felt at best like a bunch of old guys working out their demons and at worst like a public relations stunt. Maybe both.

That might not have been the motive at all. But that's how it looked, at least from outside the Michigan locker room -- especially when the Fab Five crammed into said locker room after a devastating title game loss. There is never a more sensitive time to be with a team, and it was easy to picture Michigan's players' puffy eyes staring blankly ahead, if only to keep them from rolling.

Turns out, some of Michigan's players might have been just as unconvinced of the Fab Five's motivations as I was. UM Hoops asked former reserve Josh Bartelstein -- one of the best, and most honest, quotes in the sport last season -- about the whole Fab Five thing, and his response was both polite and illuminating. There were raised eyebrows, maybe a dash of resentment. And then Juwan Howard spoke.
"At first, it was a little like, 'What are these guys doing here, they haven’t been a part of this team or a part of this program for a really long time.' But then, once all the media cleared out they spoke. And I thought Juwan [Howard] really had a great message: They were here for us. They were here to link Michigan past and the present and the future together. And he said one of the greatest accomplishments this team will have is bringing Michigan basketball back. They weren’t there to talk to the media, they weren’t there for themselves. They were there to support us and Michigan basketball. They came around and gave everyone a hug, and they said that if any of us ever need anything from them they’ll be here, whether it’s advice about basketball or life; they’re here for us. I think after initially feeling like they were here for the media circus of it, they were here because they loved what we stood for and loved how we played. I think that meant a lot to us. Juwan did a great job with it."

For one, that pretty much lines up with everything NBA people say about Howard, who at 40 years old remained worth a roster spot in Miami the past two seasons even as a quasi-assistant coach/part-time motivational speaker. If you have the cachet to scream at the best player in the world during the Eastern Conference finals, you have officially mastered the art of locker room chemistry.

But the larger points are that A) even Michigan's players were skeptical, and understandably so; and B) Howard, and presumably the rest of his old-school cohort, got it. For whatever other baggage was bound to come along for the "Fab Five Takes Atlanta" routine, they were ultimately there for support, as fans and former players, as people who desperately want Michigan basketball to be elite again. They might even have been grateful: It took a long time for the Wolverines to recover from the Ed Martin scandal, but after a few years of rebuilding, Beilein and a bunch of kids too young to remember the glory days finally got it done.

For the first time in 15 years, the future of Wolverines basketball seems as bright as it did in the halcyon days of the early 90s. The through line has been drawn. The outside noise was deafening, sure, but maybe the Fab Five needed to be in that locker room after all.

Michigan breakup with Webber, others over

May, 8, 2013

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan's 10-year dissociation from Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock has ended.


The former Wolverines have to want to reconnect with the school. And the institution has to welcome them back after they were part of one of the biggest scandals in NCAA history.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon insisted the door is open.

"I've never met any of those guys, and I am looking forward to meeting them," Brandon said late Tuesday night in an interview with The Associated Press. "If any of those guys are interested in meeting with me, that would be great."

No one, though, is sure when or if those face-to-face or telephone conversations will happen.
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.