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The Fab Five

The release of the Bracket is one of my favorite sports events each year. But I have to admit that all day I was more looking forward to the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the Fab Five. This was a fantastic look at the Michigan Fab Five teams from 1991 to 1993 narrated mainly by the Fab Five guys themselves (minus Chris Webber).

As an 11 year old white kid, I latched on to this team like no other team before and followed their every step, right down to the heart break of the Webber timeout. Six years later, the Michigan scandal went down and I enrolled at Texas a few months later for my freshman year, relocating my allegiances to the then pathetic Horns basketball program. Yes I missed the Penders and Mackovic era. TIMING! I am NateHeupel like defensive about any of the cheating allegations and still find myself giving a quiet fist pump whenever the Michigan basketball team does well.

The documentary starts with the recruitment stories of Chris Webber (#1 National Recruit), Juwan Howard (#6), Jalen Rose (#9), Jimmy King of Plano East (#11) and Ray Jackson of Austin LBJ (#40). Essentially Juwan was the glue of the class and did the majority of the recruiting. Jalen and Webber were both Detroit kids so they were most likely going to their favorite home town school anyway. In other interviews, Jalen said he took visits to UNLV, Michigan St and Syracuse but chose Michigan because it was close to home and was always his favorite school. The main thing that stuck with me was how that class would have been followed and viewed in today’s 24/7 uber-transparent culture.

They go onto spend a segment on each National Title game run, but not spending enough time on every game, in my opinion, but it was a two hour documentary. Both of those runs were great ones by the Wolverines, the Final Four game against a dynamite Rick Pitino Kentucky team led by Jamal Mashburn should have been given more air time.

They brought in Chuck D of Public Enemy and Ice Cube to be the purveyors of hip hop culture opinion and how much of an effect that culture had on the Fab Five phenomenon and vice versa. Ultimately, in my mind, that is how Michigan’s legacy will live on (especially since their basketball legacy has been erased.) Things were so incredibly different on a before and after perspective from a college basketball culture standpoint, for better or worse.

Michigan Black Socks
Did dick wear black socks while he was ballin'? You betcha"

A couple of quick hitters:

- Jalen Rose killed it in the interviews, which shouldn't surprise anybody but I seem to be getting that sense on the reviews I'm reading. He has toned down the brashness on ESPN as an analyst but he has always been funny and not afraid to speak his mind. He was my favorite Fab 5 member, just completely fearless and unique in both his size and play.

- One of the big missing pieces to the whole show was that Chris Webber declined to speak for it. I get that there might be some legal implications on the Ed Martin story arc and I get that he would not want to talk about the time out. But there were other things he could have chimed in on. I believe he’ll regret that decision eventually.

- I feel like I see it everywhere that the Fab 5 underachieved on the court. There is a ridiculous interview with Bill Walton with him bashing the Fab 5 guys about them accomplishing nothing and thinking they are better than they are. They made it to two title games, one Elite 8 (without Webber) and one Sweet 16 (without Webber, Howard and Rose). The Elite 8 team lost in OT to eventual champ Arkansas and Webber would have been a good bet to outplay Arky’s best player "Big Nasty" Corliss Williamson. Bottom line, they did not underachieve. UT has a fantastic program and we would like to just get to one national title and we've had all world recruiting classes such as that one.

- Chris Webber's timeout in the 1993 championship game against UNC was the most over-hyped sports moment in history. It was a blunder but they still would have had to score. The bigger blunder was the refs not calling traveling on him after he got the rebound. My thinking is that Webber knew he traveled and sort of freaked out and just started dribbling down the court. He should have gotten the ball into Jalen’s hands immediately.

- Showing the jump in Michigan apparel revenue numbers jump after the Fab Five arrived was interesting. From $1M to $10M. I'd bet that was the first time that a short spike of that magnitude had occurred and you could pin point the exact cause of said spike. I can see why those guys felt taken advantage of, they were all pretty savvy guys that knew they were being exploited worse than usual.

- Chris Webber leaving after his sophomore year changed college basketball forever. Leaving after your sophomore year was not done that frequently until he did and it just seemed to cause a domino effect in later years that really put college basketball in a talent and excitement funk in the mid to late 90s that it really just recently has come out of. You’ll just never see college teams stacked with that quantity and quality of experienced players; players that would go on to be NBA All Stars would even stay till their Jr or even Sr years back then and it was normal.

- As far as the Ed Martin stuff, I already knew most of the story but it seems that the big issue is that he laundered his gambling ring money to inner city Detroit basketball players. Almost all of them, not just the good ones. If you lived in Detroit and were a youth that played basketball at a good high school, then you knew Ed Martin and were offered money by him for little things because he wanted to get rid of cash won through his organized gambling operation. Jalen Rose even admitted to this. This is why I am sure that Webber took some money. I don’t buy that he got $280k and hid it the entire two years he was at college but he got something. Howard, King and Jackson were clean as far as Ed Martin was concerned simply because they weren’t from Detroit. None of these guys went to Michigan because Ed Martin was a booster paying them money to go to Michigan.

I’ve also heard a few negative comments on the interwebs about Perry Watson being hired by Steve Fisher as an assistant coach to get Jalen to commit, which was likely one of the reasons, but Watson was an incredibly successful high school coach and after his short stint at Michigan, went on to be the head coach at Detroit and won two first round NCAA tournament games with them. That could easily be considered just a smart hire by Steve Fisher. That isn't the same as Baylor hiring John Walls' AAU coach to some bull shit job just to get him on staff.

These ESPN 30 for 30s have been awesome even though they had tailed off in the more recent episodes. I would recommend everyone to give it a watch and feel free to share any of your Fab Five memories and thoughts.

Fab 5