Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson. Better known as the Fab 5 these names comprised one of the greatest recruiting classes college basketball has ever seen. Their legacy is known throughout college basketball to this day. They weren't simply a phenomenally talented group of players but were pop culture icons on and off the court. Their popularity extended beyond the reaches of college basketball, setting fashion trends and bringing hip-hop culture to the foray. They helped basketball and hip-hop become so tightly intertwined and popularized baggy shorts and black socks. Their fashion trends would come and go but more importantly the Fab 5 signified a shift. The power was beginning to shift to the players. No longer would teams, coaches, or organizations have the lives of athletes completely at their whims. The players had influence, a voice, and legions of fans loyal to them and only them to back it up. Today players are able to command huge contracts and fans follow players around instead of teams. It all started with the Fab 5.
Depending on who you ask, the Fab 5’s career at Michigan can be seen as a roaring success or an unqualified disaster. Before the era of one-and-done’s or monster recruiting classes, the Fab 5 was an unprecedented amount of talent coming into a school all at one time. Four of the top ten recruits in the nation including three of the top five was a phenomenon, and it came with sky-high expectations. In their Freshman and Sophmore seasons, the Fab 5 managed to collect 56 wins with only 15 losses to their name. Unfortunately for the Fab 5, two of those fifteen losses came in National Championship showdowns. That’s right, possibly the single most talented team college basketball has ever seen went 0/2 in national championship games. For many, this is why they consider the Fab 5 a failure. For many others, it's exactly why the Fab 5 was a success. Anything can happen in a championship match, but to make it all the way through the NCAA tournament two years in a row? That’s unassailable. 56 wins in two years and their influence off the court that reverberates to this day is nothing to scoff at as well. After their sophomore season, Chris Webber would enter the draft and be drafted #1 overall. Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose would leave Michigan after their junior seasons and be drafted #5 and #13 respectively.
No matter what you think of the Fab 5, there’s no denying they gave us many great memories over their two years together. As it is March Madness, we were talking around the Vintage Sports office about some of the greatest moments in tournament history. In our discussion we found there was one story, in particular, we felt like went under-told and as we believe it's our job to preserve those moments in sporting history we decided we’d tell it. While the Fab 5 gave us great memories, they also gave us one of the most tragic in March Madness history.
It came in the 1993 National Championship game. Michigan and the Fab 5 were facing off against North Carolina. Michigan had lost in the championship game a year earlier but with another year’s experience, they finally felt it time for the Fab 5 to seize their crowning achievement. The stage was as big as they come with 35 million people watching that night, one of the largest TV audiences in NCAA tournament history. It was a battle of two contrasting styles. Michigan’s Fab 5 had flair and style while North Carolina was old school and straight-laced. The championship bout was full of nonstop action with the two teams trading blow after blow. Michigan pulled out a ten point lead at one point in the first half but come halftime the two sides were all tied up at 35. Each team’s stars were leading the charge that night with Chris Webber of Michigan and Donald Williams of UNC dragging their squads forwards. It was a showdown for the ages. However this game was going to be decided, it looked like it was going to be off the backs of one of these two. Was it ever. Down 73-71 with 20 seconds remaining Webber pulled down a rebound and began the transition for possibly the games final possession. He got away with a travel on one end of the floor but after getting trapped in the corner on the other end Webber frantically called for a timeout in order to reset the play. Just like that the final nail had been slammed into the blue and yellow coffin.
You see, Michigan didn’t have any timeouts left and that’s a technical foul. Disaster had struck. Everything the Fab 5 had been working towards for two straight seasons thrown away because of a mental lapse. UNC would shoot free throws and get the ball back. The game was over, decided off the back of Chris Webber, one of the two we mentioned would decide the game earlier. Soon after Webber would declare for the NBA draft and get drafted #1 overall. The Fab 5 era had met an unceremonious and abrupt end, the perfect contrast to a legacy of unrivaled skill and a devotion to playing with style.
Knox Ashford, a content writer for Vintage Sports, is a regular contributor to the site including stories, product descriptions, and video scripts. You can follow him on twitter @KnoxVSports for regular updates.
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