ESPN is currently running a two-hour documentary about Michigan’s Fab Five (Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, and if you haven’t seen it, I’d definitely recommend it. Webber didn’t agree to participate, but the interviews with the other four members along with members of the coaching staff were quite compelling.
Yesterday, the internet was abuzz with comments made by the former Michigan players about Duke and especially Christian Laettner, whom Rose thought was an “overrated pu**y,” until he actually played against him and saw that he had some serious game. I’ll leave those comments alone since Rose eventually gave Laettner credit, but there are a few other moments in the documentary that jumped out at me:
1. Rose hated Duke because they wouldn’t recruit someone like him; they only recruited “Uncle Tom”-type black players. He also admitted he hated Grant Hill because Hill grew up in a great home while Rose grew up poor with an absentee father. Rose probably hit the nail on the head with regard to why many inner city blacks resent/criticize suburban blacks; it’s out of envy. They see lives that are more comfortable than theirs, and they lash out in anger. The Fab Five translated this to a hatred of the Duke players, including guys like Grant Hill and Thomas Hill.
I suspect if Mike Krzyzewski were asked about his recruiting habits and answered honestly, he’d say that he had the luxury of recruiting players (of whatever race) that he thought would fit into his team-first concept. He already had a successful college program, so why recruit a ‘risky’ player like Rose who may or may not fit into what he’s trying to build? The last thing he wants is to have a to battle a player on a daily basis.
In the end, Duke was 3-0 against the Fab Five, so I’d say the Blue Devils got the last laugh.
2. Forget the shorts, shoes, socks or even the style of play. The thing that bothered me about the Fab Five was the in-your-face taunting. The film was great because it reminded me of what I didn’t like about the Fab Five. Their play was outstanding. Nobody hogged the ball and winning was paramount, so from a pure basketball respect, they were wonderful. It was all the antics that drove me nuts. There were several highlights that showed the players getting into the face of the opponent after the guy was just dunked on. It’s one thing to over-celebrate with your teammates, but to show up an opponent like that is just bad sportsmanship. This was explained away as being part of the inner city playground culture, but my guess is that if they would have gotten into someone’s face on the playground, they would have been punched in the nose (or worse). At the time, officials didn’t really call taunting technicals, so there were no consequences to those actions. Oh, and Juwan Howard was the worst. Webber or Rose would dunk and there comes Howard, getting into the grill of the guy who just got dunked on. It was no surprise that against Ohio St. in their first Final Four, Howard got headbutt to the nose at one point in the game.
3. The Fab Five felt entitled to the money they were generating. This is understandable given their relative upbringings, but the Fab Five obviously didn’t value education very much if they didn’t think they were getting anything in return for their basketball prowess. They were also receiving free coaching, which improved their games and helped Webber, Rose and Howard have long and very profitable careers. What’s funny is that Rose came to this conclusion during a 16-day tour of Europe where the Wolverines traveled around and played a few professional teams in exhibition games. He looked around to the packed gym and said, “Somebody’s getting paid, and it isn’t us.” Keep in mind that the team got a FREE TRIP TO EUROPE, complete with food and board. This mentality is a little strange to me.
4. Rose brags about his trash talking, but then is surprised with Illinois fans return the favor. Rose freely admits do doing research about a player and then using that research against him. He might bring up the player’s mom or something that happened in the player’s family in an attempt to get into the player’s head. But when Rose got in trouble for being at a “crack house” (even though it wasn’t really a crack house), and the Illinois fans started chanting “Craaaaaack House” and “Just Say No,” Rose was surprised. He went on to have a great game, but shouldn’t he have respected what the Orange Crush was doing?
5. UNC/Michigan was a really weird game for me. As a long-time Duke fan, the 1992 title win over Michigan was obviously a great night. The documentary was cut in a way to make the game seem closer than it was, but the Blue Devils beat the Wolverines by 20 points even though Michigan held a one-point lead at halftime. The 1993 title game was a different story, because it was probably the only time I’ve ever rooted for North Carolina to win a basketball game. The documentary did a great job breaking down everything that led to Webber’s notorious timeout, including what was said in the huddle before the play and what might have happened along the Michigan bench to prompt Webber to ask for a timeout. There was a great, long shot of Webber walking off the court and the filmmakers also included the pretty painful post game press conference.
6. Webber was indicted for lying under oath about taking money from a Michigan booster. Rose didn’t get in trouble because he admitted to taking cash while in school. It’s estimated (alleged) that Webber took $280 K from a Michigan booster who was also an admitted bookmaker. Mitch Albom says that he got to know the Fab Five as well as or better than any writer during that time, and he doesn’t see how Webber could possibly have that much money stashed away without flaunting it in one way or another. He argues that Webber may have taken it after he declared for the draft, but that doesn’t jive with Rose’s accounts that he took money throughout college. Something’s not adding up. Regardless, the university made the decision to vacate the two Final Four appearances and those banners are sitting in storage somewhere.
7. “Our legacy is that we were bigger than the final score.” — Jalen Rose
This is exactly why so many people were turned off by the Fab Five. It’s a style versus substance argument, and what kills me is that this group had plenty of both. The only reason Rose says this about their legacy is because they never won a national championship. They were blown out by a better team in 1992 and Webber’s timeout (along with countless other plays throughout the game) cost them a chance to win it all in 1993. While it’s true that the Fab Five will always be remembered, it’s not always for good reasons. Many people associate the Fab Five with taunting or the rise of the hip-hop culture, when they should be remembered for playing really good basketball.
ESPN is replaying “The Fab Five” throughout next week. I’d definitely recommend checking it out.