Absolutely FABulous

Ever since KICKS 3 (summer 2000), each issue of the annual sneaker mag—KICKS 10 not included—has contained two or three new inductions into the KICKS Hall of Fame, where footwear legends past and present are honored. This may not be fresh material for those of you who’ve been copping the mag since before the new millennium hit, but for the younger heads, we’re posting the entire HOF online over the course of the next few weeks. (It’ll be archived under the KICKS tab above.) Enjoy, and don’t forget: KICKS 14 is on sale now! —Ed.

Originally published in KICKS 5

by Ryan Jones / @thefarmerjones

It was about two years ago now…phone to my ear, the voice on the other end of the line belonging to Central Michigan head coach Jay Smith, and the topic being a couple of CMU standouts, one of whom just happened to be Chris Webber’s younger brother, David. Given that, and the fact that Smith had been an assistant at Michigan back in the early 90’s, when I was an undergrad at Penn State, talk eventually turned to a topic that held great memories for both of us: The Fab Five.

It didn’t take me long to bring up the dunk. It’s one of my favorite stories from my college days: February 17, 1993, and I was standing at my usual spot (front row, courtside, toes about eight inches from the sideline, near the baseline corner, directly opposite the visitor’s bench—with a student ticket that cost $3.00!) at creaky old Rec Hall. On this night, I had as good a seat as there was to watch The Chris, Jalen, Juwan, Jimmy and Ray Show. This was my sophomore year, just as it was theirs. I was a dorky 19-year-old whose basketball life was confined to pickup games and intramural leagues; these dudes, all decidedly undorky, were arguably the most famous quintet on the basketball planet. It was—and still is, when I think back on it—surreal.

So anyway, the dunk. As expected, the Wolverines were toying with my squad, and while me and my friends were loyal as hell, we were definitely enjoying the Fab Five’s display. Then, about four minutes into the second half, Penn State turned the ball over, Jimmy King collecting the rock and feeding Ray Jackson, who loped up court for the uncontested basket. But instead of laying up or throwing down, Ray tossed the ball high off the glass, momentarily leaving all of us to wonder what the hell he was doing.  We found out a half-second later, when CWebb collected the carom, two-handed it home, and hung on the rim a la the Shaq logo—all of it happening right in front of my eyes, a mere 25 feet away.

“Oh, I remember that one,” Smith says over the phone. “And I remember a bunch of kids in the front row actually bowing down after Chris dunked it”

That was me—me and my boy Rob, specifically, spontaneously dropping to our knees and offering a “We’re not worthy!” gesture of awe and praise. I tell this to Smith, who tells me that he’s probably got the game on tape. I ask (beg?) for a copy, which he promises to send. Not long after, the VHS cassette arrived at the SLAMDome, where a quick viewing confirmed a dorky 19-year-old in the front row bowing down to the craziest dunk I’d ever seen in person.

Nearly a decade later, this is still the first thing I think of when I think of the Fab Five. Why does it stick out? Obviously, the caliber of the play is key—the unexpectedness of Ray’s off-the-glass alley, the ferocity of Webber’s oop celebrated it—but had this been Deon Thomas or Acie Earl, or some other Big Ten big man of the era, I doubt the memory would be so clear for me. Fact is, it was Webber, and Michigan, and the Fab Five, the true hoop celebrities of my era. Kids my age who, as far as I could tell at the time, were the greatest show on earth. You never would’ve known Penn State was a football school, given the buzz in Rec Hall that night, but then, they could’ve played anywhere and drawn a standing-room crowd. So I remember that dunk, just as I remember the grinning and laughing and shit-talking and confidence that made it all so clear: They knew how good they where, and they knew, even in our home gym, we were there to see them.

Oh, yeah—I remember the shoes, too. I don’t remember ever owning a pair of black hightops before 1991, but I know I had a pair shortly thereafter. Like most suburban white boys I knew, I never did have the guts to pull off the black socks, but I still rocked the black Air Force Max with the big white swoosh. And that was the Fab Five’s fault. Their style, like their game, had an effect that hasn’t worn off yet. But y’all knew that.