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A look back at Fab Five

February 11, 2007|From the Associated Press

ANN ARBOR, MICH. — The Fab Five's tangible accomplishments are rolled up, wrapped in plastic and tucked away in the basement of the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library.

A blue banner with "1993 NCAA Finalist" in maize lettering was unfurled earlier this week for an Associated Press reporter and photographer for the first time since it was taken down from Crisler Arena's rafters in 2002.

Chris Webber knows that banner and one from 1992 are out of sight because of the school's self-imposed sanctions, but insists the Fab Five never will leave the public consciousness.

"You can't think of Michigan without thinking of us," Webber said in an interview with the AP.

Michigan's Fab Five went to their first of two straight NCAA championship games 15 years ago, when the freshmen's style and swagger transcended the basketball court.

Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson set trends with fashion and turned heads and dropped jaws with a brash style of play not seen before. They captivated younger generations of fans -- and disturbed some older ones -- by strutting, shouting and slamming as if they were on a playground, not playing in front of thousands in arenas and millions on TV.

"We were so much either loved or hated and judged by the way we looked," Rose said. "Back then, it was 'Oh, look at these hoodlums, these thugs, these gangsters,' because we had big shorts, because we had black shorts and black socks. But then once Michael Jordan and the Bulls started wearing them, once mainstream America started to wear them and corporate America embraced it, then I guess it became cool."

Instead of using the Fab Five's legacy to boost its now-lackluster basketball program, Michigan awkwardly avoids the tarnished era that led to what the school president called a "day of great shame," on Nov. 2, 2002, when self-imposed sanctions were announced.

The NCAA added more program-crippling punishments later, including forcing the school to disassociate from Webber and three non-Fab Five players for 10 years, after a federal investigation revealed that now-deceased booster Ed Martin gave them more than $600,000 while they were student-athletes.

Athletic Director Bill Martin said four of the Fab Five players not involved are welcome back, but that doesn't appease Jackson.

"If they don't accept Chris, they don't accept any of us because without Chris, there is no Fab Five," Jackson said. "The fact that we can't even be embraced by our own university puts a black eye on everything for me."

And it hasn't been good for the current basketball program at a school and in a community that makes football the first, second and third priorities. Michigan hasn't been to the NCAAs since 1998, and the tournament drought will be extended if it doesn't close the season strong.

"We can't bring back all of our glorious past and wonderful days of Michigan basketball that so many people identify with," said Michigan Coach Tommy Amaker. "Those unfortunate circumstances haven't helped us."

Freshman forward DeShawn Sims agreed.

"It hurts the basketball program that a guy like Chris Webber can't come back because we look up to him," Sims said.

These days, Webber is only an hour away from campus. The five-time NBA All-Star signed with the Detroit Pistons last month, and the center has rejuvenated his career by complementing a contending team with his shooting, savvy and passing.

Howard is a key player for the Houston Rockets, averaging nearly 10 points a game. Rose is a seldom-used reserve for the Phoenix Suns after being a double-digit scorer for other NBA teams the previous eight years.

While Webber, Howard and Rose will earn more than $300 million during their NBA careers, so far a championship has eluded them -- just as it did in college.

King, who had a brief stay in the NBA a decade ago, is a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch in an office two miles from Crisler Arena. The player known for his spectacular dunks at Michigan stays lower to the ground in the South Oakland Men's Winter League.

Jackson runs a moving company and Rise Up Inc., a not-for-profit organization that assists children socially, educationally and on the basketball court.

"It took me a long time to get over the fact that I was the only one that didn't make it to the NBA from the Fab Five," he said in a telephone interview from Austin, Texas. "But I'm over it because I'm back home and I'm happy with what I'm doing with my life."

Life was good in the bright lights for the Fab Five at Michigan, but the behind-the-scenes highlight for them happened when the two Detroiters (Webber and Rose), Chicagoan (Howard) and Texans (King and Jackson) were on campus together for the first time in the fall of 1991.

On the court outside of South Quad, they played against their fellow dorm residents and anybody else that wanted to take them on.

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