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The Fab Five Weren’t That Fab

Why are people still going on about the Fab Five Michigan team?

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Chris Webber
Chris Webber as a Michigan Wolverine

ESPN has a bit up on the Fab Five Michigan team and its failure to win the 1993 national title. The piece originally ran in 2017 and is reposted for the Final Four.

The spin here is, more or less, that they had it and let it go.

The truth is that anyone with half a brain could see that despite the talent, this was never a championship team.


It lacked courage and it lacked maturity. It was long on flash and short on substance.

In 1993, the first stirrings of a partnership between Boswell and Julio that ultimately led to DBR started on Prodigy and it was there that we made this prediction about the 1993 title game: it would be close, but in the closing minutes, Michigan would make a crucial mistake and UNC would take advantage and win.

It was a pretty good prediction in retrospect, but also really easy to make.

First of all, that was a legitimately great UNC team even though it lacked a truly great player, at least by NBA standards.

The Tar Heels had Eric Montross, Pat Sullivan, Henrik Rodl, Derrick Phelps, Donald Williams, George Lynch, Dante Calabria, Kevin Salvadori and Scott Cherry.

They also had Dean Smith who did one of his best coaching jobs and perhaps his best ever with this group.

By contrast, Michigan had the Fab Five - Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwann Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson - and as ESPN correctly says, they changed the face of college basketball.

But they were never champions.

They lost to Duke in the 1992 title game, complained over the summer that Duke “stole” their championship (by 20 points) then lost a Cameron rematch. Despite immense talent, they failed twice to win the Big Ten championship.

They overwhelmed less talented teams but tough-minded squads could stand up to them and we were sure UNC would as well.

So when Pat Sullivan missed a free throw and left UNC up 73-71, it didn’t take long for the differences between the two team to show up.

Webber got the rebound and then made three mistakes: he traveled, which wasn’t called. Then he dribbled himself into a double team in the right corner with UNC’s two best defenders - Lynch and Phelps. And finally he called a sixth timeout which led to a technical.

There was actually one other mistake, partly his fault and partly his teammates: when Webber grabbed the rebound there were 19 seconds left. Everyone fled downcourt and left Webber stranded with the ball. Only one guy - we think it was Rob Pelinka - stayed back to help. Webber started to pass to him but changed his mind, which led to his walk.

Any way you cut it, that team was not prepared for that moment. Much of the blame goes to the coach, Steve Fisher, who later became a truly superb leader at San Diego State, because he should have had them prepared to handle that situation better than they did.

On the other hand though, the players are the guys who actually are on the court and some things are common sense. They had 19 seconds. It was more than enough time to get a basket. Webber blew it, but part of the reason why he blew it was because everyone else who might have helped quite literally ran away including the team’s best ballhandlers. Even so, getting trapped in the corner is an elementary mistake.

In retrospect, the Fab Five caused a sensation but what did they actually accomplish? Not much really. They were a very good team but there are lots of good teams every year.

None of them won anything until Howard, in the twilight of his career, rode the bench as LeBron James and the Miami Heat won an NBA title.

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