Michigan lost, and it was one of the worst sports-related feelings I’ve felt in a very long time. But still, I was so happy that the Wolverines represented the greatest university in the world Monday night. In a stunning (if one looks at February and the first weeks of March, it really was stunning) run that came up one game short, Trey Burke’s team thrilled the faithful, and silenced their detractors.
Before the game, CBS showed Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson, in the stands. Then, a camera cut to a black SUV, as Chris Webber emerged from the backseat, wearing a ridiculous Michigan hat. My blood boiled. As much as I loved the Fab Five when I was 13 years old, and as sure as I still wear black Nike socks when I play basketball, the Fab Five never happened. Michigan, according to the NCAA, didn’t field a basketball team those years. Ray Jackson, Jimmy King, and Juwan Howard’s statuses are in limbo because of their two teammates, yet CBS, most of Twitter, and even elements of the University lauded the, “Fab Five Reunion,” like it was a reunion of champions. They never won anything, and even if they did, it would be boxed and hidden away in the Bentley’s basement.
I loved them when I was a teenager. They were brash, unafraid, cocky, ground-breaking, trash-talking, chirpin’, and proud, young basketball players. They also became controversial to those who feared change. ESPN’s documentary on the Fab Five shed light on some of the hardships they faced, just because of who they were. Alumni wrote letters complaining about how the, “…black players played. and Go Blue (white players).” When I saw that people who attended one of the most diverse universities, one that prides itself on inclusion, I was sick to my stomach. No one deserves that treatment. But what they endured does not excuse what they did. Yes, they made the University of Michigan a great deal of money, but they violated the rules that governed what they did.
They were not alone. Adults, people who should have known better, exploited their relationships with these 18 year old kids. So, Chris and Jalen are not solely responsible for their actions, but they each had a choice: take money or follow the rules. They chose not to follow the rules, and they deserve everything that happened to them. Jalen Rose told the truth to the Federal Grand Jury, and for that, he deserves respect. Chris Webber continues (to this day) to deny doing anything wrong. That is why the celebration of the Fab Five was in such poor taste.
Last November, before the Michigan/Ohio game, that school celebrated the Ten Year Anniversary of the 2002 National Championship team, and they even invited Jesus Tressel, who received a, “thunderous ovation.” When asked, University President Gee said, “We’re celebrating the good things he did here.” Celebrating the Buckeyes’ football under Tressel is akin to saying that Titanic was a very pretty ship. Yet, countless Michigan fans, the media, and even the University thought that the Fab Five Reunion was the greatest thing to happen since Thad Matta passed on Trey Burke.
The message sent is that if enough time passes, one doesn’t even have to apologize for breaking the rules and bringing shame upon one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world. Chris Webber needs to admit what he did and apologize to everyone who will listen. Just because he did not agree with the NCAA rules does not mean he had the right to break them.
So, Michigan fans, it’s time to forget the Fab Five. They never played at Michigan. You can love the young men who withstood vicious personal attacks on their character just because they wore baggy shorts, wore black socks, and listened to EPMD. You can respect them for being a small part of the struggle for equality and justice in the United States and for the men that four of the five of them are today, because the work that Ray Jackson, Jimmy King, and Jalen Rose do for their respective communities is noble. But the sooner we relegate the Fab Five to obscurity, the sooner the up-and-coming Michigan Basketball program (it’s on the RISE, Sparty, be afraid) gets the attention that it deserves.