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Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 at 11:45 am  |  16 responses

Leaders of the New School

A look back at the most impactful team in college basketball history.

In the semifinals, Michigan was a seven-point underdog to Jamal Mashburn’s powerful Kentucky team, which had dismantled its previous tourney opponents by an average of 31 points, thanks to Rick Pitino’s brutal end-to-end pressure. The Fab Five took the Cats into OT, their fourth extra period in eight games, before winning 81-78. It was not only their best-played game in months, but also one of the most memorable Tournament battles in recent years.

Despite all the criticism, pressure and close calls, they’d made it back to their second title game, where they would face UNC. In the first half, the Fab Five were again flat and out of sync, down six at the break. Then Fisher aggressively challenged them in the locker room and Webber lifted the team en route to 23 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. The team got in trouble when Rose and King lost their shooting touches down the stretch, but Webber seemed fated to be the hero when he grabbed a missed UNC free throw with 20 seconds left and looked upcourt. After getting away with an uncalled traveling violation, he was headed for the history books—for all the wrong reasons.

Carolina led by two. With Rose covered, CWebb headed to the other end of the court, picked up his dribble and panicked. With Pelinka wide open and desperately waving his arms behind the three-point line across court and King staking out position underneath the basket, Webber called timeout. Michigan had none left. A T was whistled, UNC hit the shots and went on to win 77-71.

To a man, the Michigan players will tell you they never considered the possibility of losing that game. So they had to skip doubt and leap directly to heartbreak. Again. Before long, Webber would announce he was leaving school for the NBA, and that was that for the Fab Five. They finished their two-year run at 56-14, including losses in the two games that mattered most.

Might Walton have been right? Were they just a bunch of overhyped losers? If you ever ask Vitale that question, be ready to duck.

“It is absolutely absurd for people to criticize the Fab Five as underachievers or failures because they didn’t win a title,” Vitale says. “College ball is not the NBA. It’s one game and there’s a lot of luck involved. Many great teams don’t win titles, but we unfortunately live in a world where if you don’t cut down the nets, you didn’t achieve anything. That’s a ridiculous perspective.”

And no team ever proved that point more than the Fab Five.

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  • 23

    funny how much recognition this team still gets. i always thought they under-achieved when you look at their talent. i know they were freshmen and at that time freshmen wouldnt play. but still, talent is way more important than age. they never won a chip, yet they are one of the most celebrated teams in all of college sports. especially when people dont consider any pro athlete great until he wins a ring. sure webber dunked like an animal, and rose was a “magic esque” pg. but they never won a chip. and they broke ncaa violations. AND their best player made the BIGGEST MISTAKE in college basketball history! but yeah they wore slightly longer shorts and black socks, so they are cool! smh

  • 23

    before i go on let me just say i think this michigan team was one of the most talented ever in college bball hisotry. but i think it was better before them, when freshmen had to EARN their playing time over the course of a season. and not just awarded starting spots at the start of the season. now we get alot of undeveloped pros because they dominate in high school, so college coaches dump the hardworking juniors for a STAR freshman who leaves after one season……

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/tray24 T-Ray

    Honesty I don’t see where they under-achieved. They lost to two great programs and they were only freshmen when they played Duke. Their recognition is deserving because they started 5 freshmen that’s crazy and was unheard of at that time. They dealt with race issues and the longer shorts and black socks had a big part for those race issues they faced. Great read I would also recommend the 30 for 30 segment it goes more in depth.

  • 23

    judging from the way jalen rose spoke about duke players in that 30 for 30, i dont think that the racism was one sided….
    heck id even argue that duke has dealt with many racist issues. the terms “fake black” and “oreo” are still thrown around by some people when reffering to duke players. but yet that michigan team plays the victim.

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/tray24 T-Ray

    Oh by no means was it one sided at all. I never said that. I think the reason why they played the victim was because the spot light was on them at that time. Do I think it’s right? No but it’s a reasonable claim as well as duke players facing the same race issues if not more.

  • 23

    i guess i can see why theyre celebrated. but i just wonder how a TEAM can be celebrated when they never won. but i suppose this one is one of those things thats “bigger than basketball”?? i dont know. i think theyre like the allen iverson of college basketball.

  • http://www.slamonline.com TADOne

    If being the Allen Iverson of college bball is supposed to be an insult, then insult away. The Fab Five were unprecedented and will never be duplicated. At the time they played the NCAA was in the midst of being very top heavy with Duke, UNC, UNLV, etc and most teams never stood a chance in the tourney. So I’m not surprised they didnt win it all. However, it was very surprising, especially at that time, that a team so young could challenge for a championship.

  • http://www.slamonline.com TADOne

    People also celebrated the Utah Jazz teams that never won, the Seattle Sonics, the Denver Nuggets, the Run TMC Warriors, the Chris Webber led Kings, etc.

  • Yann Blavec

    Excuse me, I’m white, (and French :) ) but this is malcolm X vs. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • http://www.acb.com A l a n

    Great story. And to win, it also takes a little bit of luck, and they only had 2 chances. It took Jerry West 8 finals to win 1 for example.

  • 23

    first of all the iverson comparison wasnt an insult. just pointing out how iverson was looked down upon by some people because of his image, just like the fab 5. and secondly, im not gonna sit here and pretend people dont bring up those teams time and time again, but answer me this… which team is talked about more, the jordan pippen bulls or the stockton mailman jazz? run tmc, or the kobe/shaq dynasty? the kemp – payton sonics, or the bird mchale celtics? my point is that even tho some franchises are celebrated without winning a chip, its kept to a minimum. not held to as high a standard as champs. but this fab 5 team is one of the most celebrated teams in ncaa bball history! they are talked about more than joakim noahs gators and arguably more celebrated than the duke team that beat them.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    Co-sign T-Ray, the 30 for 30 piece about the Fab Five was fantastic, a must watch.

  • LA Huey

    23, I hear what you’re saying but I think a part of the reason folks love this team so much is that they simply connected very strongly with so many fans. Penny Hardaway still has a huge cult-like following despite never winning any trophies (sans the Rookie game) or rings. And like TADOne mentioned, that was a very unique group of individuals that came together in a unique way.

  • bike

    Yeah, that 30 for 30 piece was a gem. The only thing about this team that I found unlikable was their notion (especially Webber’s) that they should have been compensated for the b-ball paraphernalia their fame generated. They got full scholarships—nothing to sneeze at. It was their choice to forgo the diploma for NBA riches.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Alan Paul

    Very happy to see this up here. I went to UM and was not an impartial observer of the whole thing. The team could be frustrating, but they were great fun – and five frosh going to the Champ was really incredible. The Kentucky semis game against Mashburn et al their second year was the best of the bunch. I’d love to watch that again.

  • CESII

    A bunch of great points… Yes the Fab 5 story is about talent, race, winning, and all the things mentioned in the thread but most importantly whether you like it or not they were a collective that created cultural change. They totally changed what college basketball is on a cultural level. You can like it or dislike it but know that to have the type of impact that group had it takes all that you like and all that you hate to shift the paradigm and they did it. And being a dude who played ball and hailing from Michigan, I’m a proponent of them being worthy of the praise and hype.

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