The Fab Five Uncovered
Their revolution was televised.
by Thomas A. Harden
As Division I Men’s basketball teams and coaches await their Selection Sunday fate this weekend, March 13, ESPN Films will premiere the latest documentary of their storied 30 for 30 series, highlighting one of the most heralded and infamous teams in NCAA history, The Fab Five.
Comprised of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, when the five All-Americans signed their letter of intent to play for the University of Michigan in 1991, great things were expected, but neither one of the freshman expected that their style of play would transcend the game of basketball and spark a cultural revolution.
Along with wins, the Fab Five brought an attitude that had not been seen in college basketball. Despite their swagger on-and-off the court, the freshman introduced their urban style to the game from the long shorts they sported, all the way down to the black socks and Nike’s on their feet.
Produced by Jalen Rose’s Three Tier Entertainment and directed by Jason Hehir, the two-hour documentary is an honest and riveting account of the Fab Five’s two-year reign on college basketball. The in-depth film, divided into six chapters, explores the five Wolverines triumphs (the first time in history a starting lineup consisted of five freshman) and failures (the back-to-back National Championship defeats in ’92 and ’93) and shows the impact of their legacy during and after Michigan.
Often referred to as rock stars throughout the film, never-before-seen footage and pictures reveals just how popular the players were. From their rites of passage meeting with Muhammad Ali to their expected appearance on the Cosby Show, the Fab Five became larger than any freshman class in history.
Noticeably missing from the project is the group’s leader Chris Webber, due in part to “the timeout” and his involvement in the federal investigation of alleged University of Michigan booster Ed Martin. Although, Webber’s absence is a lone sore in the film, Rose and King defend their friend and former teammate, but not without expressing their disappointment.
SLAM caught up with Rose after a private screening of the film at the Tribeca Cinemas, in New York City, to discuss the Fab Five’s legacy, the absence of Chris Webber, including the infamous timeout and the Fab Five’s disdain for Duke.
SLAM: You, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson addressed a lot of the unanswered questions in this documentary, especially surrounding the banners being taken down. Who original brought this idea to ESPN?
Jalen Rose: Well ESPN was already doing the critically acclaimed 30-for-30 series, about the 30 top stories they thought over the last 30 years, we were just happy that they chose to do ours as one. We felt like the timing was good with Coach Fisher having great success at San Diego State, he has a top ten team this year. Chris and I are doing well in television, Jimmy and Ray are doing well as high school coaches, and Juwan is still playing for the Heat; so it’s all about timing. We felt it was a good time to tell the story on a platform that doesn’t get any bigger than ESPN.
SLAM: How were you able to shape the entire story?
JR: It wasn’t very tough because I’m one phone call away from everybody. Voskuil, Pelinka, Dugan Fife, Eric Riley, media members who participated, Bryan Burwell and Mitch Alborn, I still do interviews with them. And it’s the same with the other guys in the Fab 5. Everyone was excited about really contributing and the fact that ESPN chose to do our story.
SLAM: Chris Webber declined to be a part of the documentary. Towards the end of the film, you stated that you guys are brothers. What’s your feeling towards him not participating?
JR: There’s a part of me that appreciates his pain and appreciates his hurt and understands that he never wants to talk about it. But, then there’s another part of me that feels like, ‘you know what, you’re doing well with your life, you have had a successful career, and [now] someone can learn from it.’ And it’s time for us to tell the story. It’s only been 20 years later…I mean, we’re all still healthy, we’re all still doing well. None of us is dead. There’s no better time than the present. He just felt like it wasn’t a good time for him to participate.
SLAM: The Final Four banners are stored away in the Bentley Historical Library. Did Webber’s public reaction towards Ed Martin allegations put a strain on your friendship?
JR: Ed Martin was like a family member to me and Chris. It didn’t put a strain on my relationship with Chris but it put me in an awkward situation because I considered both of those guys family and I was stuck in the middle.
SLAM: During the 1993 National Championship game, you and Jimmy state that you heard Coach Fisher say there were no remaining timeouts in the final moments of the game. The documentary reveals that certain teammates on the bench signaled Webber to call the timeout. It especially eludes that teammate Michael Talley’s applause during Webber’s gravely mistake were intended. What were your thoughts when you first learned of Tally’s reaction? And why wasn’t Talley included in the documentary?
JR: I don’t think it was just Mike Talley. There were a few players clapping. Anyone who has played basketball knows 15 guys don’t have their heads in the huddle like they should and can’t always hear, especially in a raucous environment. To the coaches’ credit, they did a good job of informing us of the timeout situation. In terms of Mike Talley, it really does not impact the credibility of the story.
SLAM: After the infamous timeout, you said it stop being about the game at that point, as you saw your brother on the ground, and it was time to uplift him. What was that moment like for you?
JR: That moment was surreal because I couldn’t really grieve, be disappointed or hurt because I knew his pain was more. And that’s who we were. That’s who we represented. That’s way we wanted to be called “Five Times” because we had that one for all mentality. It wasn’t fake, it wasn’t manufactured, so really it was about making sure [Chris] was in a good space and picked him up to dust him off. Fortunately for him, he still went on to have a successful life and a successful career, being the No.1 pick in the NBA draft; that he really didn’t have to heavily carry a burden of someone who made a tragic mistake like he did.
SLAM: You not only band together on the court, but off as well in protest against UM?
JR: We figured everyone was making paper, but us, so if they going to make money and sell everything we do, we’re going to wear plain grey shirts, plain blue shirts. It was dumb and immature because they still sent us some Nike product a couple of weeks later, that was plain colored t-shirts with Nike on the sleeve, but it was just our way to try and understand the business of college sports and we weren’t participating.