Sunday, February 11, 2007

I Guess Now I Have To Worry About Tuesday

How long must we lament for the poor departed Fab Five? Will we have to be subjected to stories like this every two to three years, and from the likes of Larry Lage, who should know better? (I happen to know that he went to Michigan State when those guys were at Michigan.)

The Fab Five are, of course, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, five players who as freshmen and sophomores started in two national championship games. After the last two players graduated, the school was put on probation (mostly because of Webber), most of their wins were stricken from the record books, and the banners from those two championship games had to be taken down. Now we're supposed to feel sorry for them, because even though they cheated, they Changed College Basketball. Yeah, they changed it all right. They made it worse. Much, much worse.

Every so often we get one of these articles that goes on about the Fab Five and their "swagger" and "attitude" and "brash style of play not seen before," provided you never witnessed a UNLV game. Also, they wore big, baggy shorts and black socks with black sneakers and liked to push each other around when they did good things. This is all true and it's also true that an entire generation of basketball players grew up trying to emulate them and their style, and their legacy lives on today in the players who watched them as young kids and now play alongside them in the NBA, and hope to be like them in college. That is why basketball has never been less interesting.

You see, the thing that never gets mentioned after the word "swagger" is that they never backed it up. Sure, they won quite a few games those first two years, and yes, they had two great runs to the national championship game ... but they lost them both. They got blown out by Duke and choked away a game that they could have won against North Carolina. (Although Carolina was clearly the better team.) Also never mentioned: Those five players won zero Big Ten titles. But they looked good in the shorts.

The legacy of the Fab Five is that they—and all the Albom-esque sycophants who can't shut up about them—put style before substance. In this instance, substance equals wins, of which they have no significant ones. In fact, they barely have any wins at all anymore, because of the aforementioned probation. Yes, they were flashy, but what good did that do Michigan besides sell a few jerseys? There are no trophies in Crisler Arena with their name on them and the program has been in shambles for years, again, partly because of the probation.

Yet, over ten years later they're still the most talked about college basketball team ever. Does that make any sense? Of course it does, because that's the culture of basketball that they helped create. Looking good is more important than being good. That's the legacy of the Fab Five and that in a nutshell is everything that's wrong with basketball—college and pro—today.

But don't mind me, I'm just a disgusted "purist" who stupidly prefers wins to trash talk and alley-oops, and who can't understand how painful it is that Webber can't visit his old school. Who thinks that maybe instead of crying on Chris Webber's behalf, it would be nice to see a reporter take him to task for his actions. Who would like to meet a Michigan fan, any Michigan fan, who is disappointed in Webber and his teammates and who is actually angry at the unfulfilled promise of a team that had five freshman good enough to start in a national championship game and then watched them all leave school with nothing to show for it. That person might actually be glad he's not allowed on campus.

And maybe in a couple a years, if Larry Lage isn't too busy, he can find time to write a few words about another team that won four Big Ten championships in four years, went to three consecutive Final Fours instead of just two, and actually won one of them! Imagine that! And they didn't even have to cheat to do it. I know, I know ... pretty boring, right?

41 Comments:

Helen the Felon said...

I thought you were talking about the impending cancellation of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Silly me.

2/12/2007 11:11 AM  
Anonymous said...

I think your are a faggoot....that is all

2/12/2007 1:21 PM  
Deke said...

Great post. I couldn't agree with you more.

2/12/2007 1:21 PM  
Anonymous said...

Don't know if you went to MSU, but I did during that time. It was absolutely fabulous, and seeing that fatty Lage running around Breslin at the time made me puke because of this type of crap.

2/12/2007 1:27 PM  
Anonymous said...

"And maybe in a couple a years, if Larry Lage isn't too busy, he can find time to write a few words about another team that won four Big Ten championships in four years, went to three consecutive Final Fours instead of just two, and actually won one of them! Imagine that! And they didn't even have to cheat to do it. I know, I know ... pretty boring, right?"

Yes, I'm sure none of those players took money or cars or had someone else doing their homework. Yet another college sports fan who is fooling themselves into thinking their program is the only clean program in the country.

2/12/2007 1:34 PM  
Anonymous said...

You sound bitter. And white.

2/12/2007 1:40 PM  
Dashiell said...

Geez, can't any of you bothered to type in a fake name?

2/12/2007 1:42 PM  
Anonymous said...

thank you. UNLV gets no respect. Best team of all time.

2/12/2007 1:43 PM  
Dashiell said...

#1: That's the kind of insightful, informed debate I was hoping to get from Wolverine fans. Your misspelling of "faggot" was a particularly biting slice of satire.

#Deke: Thanks.

#2: I did, but I have no real beef with Lage or his waistline.

#3: My cousin used to tutor Mateen Cleaves, and trust me, no one was doing his homework.

A "clean" program is relative of course, but I prefer to subscribe to the "innocent until proven guilty" theory. MSU was busted in the past, when they stunk, so to think that a school with their current profile could cheat and NOT get caught would be the real surprise.

Plus, if everyone's dirty that makes Michigan's screwup look even worse.

2/12/2007 1:54 PM  
Dashiell said...

#4: Why would I be bitter? My school is the one with trophies. I just want people to recognize the Fab Five for what they really were. But your fine dissection of racial politics was spot on. Dr. King would be proud.

#5: Whoa, whoa. Let's not lose our head here. No one said they were the best of all time. But they certainly would have walked all over those Michigan teams.

2/12/2007 1:59 PM  
Anonymous said...

Drives me nuts the way Rose comments the removed banners 'enhance' their legacy. The moron has missed the point completely.

For Lage to ignore and gloss over a comment like that is irresponsible reporting...and just fellating a fallen program.

2/12/2007 2:06 PM  
Pinball Pete said...

Wait a sec - if "no one was doing [Mateen Cleave's] homework" than shouldn't he have failed all his classes? ZING!

Seriously though, you're right about those wholesome Flinters getting the publicity shaft. Maybe Rip Hamilton should claim to be Anna Nicole's babydaddy or something.

2/12/2007 2:10 PM  
Mike Barton said...

Yeah, and no one from MSU ever spent the last minute of a national title game trying desperately to give it away like a bookie had something on him ala Chris Webber with his three walks and phantom timeout.

2/12/2007 2:20 PM  
Anonymous said...

I graduated from Michigan and my Junior and Senior years were "highlighted" by the Fab Five. Two things to note:
1) If Tractor Traylor's truck does not turn over (launching the investigation that implicated Webber and the University) Mateen Cleaves goes to Michigan (and not MSU) possibly bringing all of the Flintstones with him and the Michigan program is not doing so badly

2) No alum is happy with the violations committed by the program but I think we are all even more upset with the talent Chris Webber has wasted.

2/12/2007 2:23 PM  
Andrew said...

Is it really that tough a task to find Michigan fans who are disappointed in Webber and his teammates, etc? I'm a Michigan grad and lifelong fan, and I was under the impression that those people are the majority. Have you really encountered that many people who are willing to defend Webber's actions and subsequent gutlessness that crippled the program to the point that it still hasn't recovered?

I loved watching the Fab Five, for their talent and the rebellion against convention that, of course, seems less cool now that it has long been done to death. At the time, they were the main attraction and I loved the attention they garnered for Michigan. But that doesn't make their legacy any more palatable.

2/12/2007 2:37 PM  
Anonymous said...

Dashiell,
Very good post and very well stated. As a fan of all things Buckeye I loathed the Fab Five because of the school they played for. In retrospect their legacy is a lot of unreached potential and, especially in Webber's case, a wake of damage.

2/12/2007 2:40 PM  
Flash Sports Tonight said...

Unfortunately, the Fab Five putting style over substance was a precursor of what was to come in the sports world. But you're right, they never won shit and are one of the most overrated groups of athletes ever.

http://www.flashsportstonight.com

2/12/2007 3:00 PM  
Dashiell said...

#6: Unfortch, Rose is right (it's better to be infamous than famous) which is why I wrote this post.

#Pete: You got me. P.S. I love your arcade.

#Mike: Are you sure you're not talking our quarterback this year? (Ba-dum-bum!)

2/12/2007 3:04 PM  
matt said...

My question for you is, why criticize an article, although probably a little misguided and most certainly missing the point, when it has newsworthiness in the fact that it is timely? People care about Webber and the Fab Five, at least in the context of Lage’s article, because he is playing for the Pistons. So I’m not sure what your problem is with Lage’s article? Would you prefer he did a meaningless article on a Michigan State team that nobody outside of East Lansing has cared about for several years? I understand you are frustrated because you feel like Michigan basketball is getting attention despite the fact that the Fab Five got busted and never won a championship. All I can say is get over it.

2/12/2007 3:05 PM  
Anonymous said...

Couldn't disagree with you more. They were an outstanding basketball team that along with Duke, UNC, Indiana, and a few others, played at a level you don't see in the current college game. ESPN Classic reran the 1993 IU-Michigan game (IU wins by one point on a Henderson Block of Webber at the buzzer), and there was a sequence in the second half where both teams scored on every possession for like 10 minutes despite the presence of solid defense. It was hoops at its absolute essence. Watching that game made me appreciate this team more - they would beat any current college team by 10-15 points no problem. It's in vogue to say they were underachievers, but believe me, what they accompished will never be matched in college sports again. Ever.

2/12/2007 3:05 PM  
Dashiell said...

#7: And if our Trustee hadn't called the NCAA cops on Webber's visit to Minnesota, he would have gone to MSU instead of UM. I don't care about couldas. (Plus, you would have been stuck with Steve Fisher.)

#Andrew: I confess, I don't spend that much time talking to Michigan fans. I mostly going by the media stories, which if they don't defend Webber, certainly gloss over the probation (or romanticize it like Lage did.)

In retrospect, I shouldn't even have brought up the probation because that's not the point. They get more attention (almost all positive) than any actual champion of the last 20 years, including the two champions that beat them. Based solely on their on-court performance, it's not deserved.

2/12/2007 3:18 PM  
Dashiell said...

#8: Don't get me started on the Buckeyes!

2/12/2007 3:20 PM  
Tom said...

It's not as if they completely sucked donkey balls. They did make it to two Final Fours as frosh and sophs. And had they stayed together they would have won at least one title. Come on. I personally never cared about the "swagger" and "attitude" they had. They were phenoms and played that way. And I had forgotten they brought the program down for blah blah years. So there. That's UM basketball for you. Leslie Rockymore, anyone?

2/12/2007 3:21 PM  
Dashiell said...

#Matt: That was my whole point. People shouldn't care about the Fab Five, because they never won a thing. That a non-champion is more highly regarded than dozens of actual champions (yes, including one in their own state) is a sad indictment of college basketball.

Get over it? When is the rest of the world going to get over them?

2/12/2007 3:31 PM  
Dashiell said...

#9: Oh boy ...

a) Which Duke, UNC, or Indiana team are you referring to? The team that beat them by 20 points in final? Or the Indiana team that won two conference titles while Fab Five players were at UM?

b) Could it be, because they helped bring that level down?

c) I find it highly improbable that two teams could play "solid defense" yet be unable to force a stop for 10 straight minutes.

d) Any college team? Doubtful. But since most are as undisciplined as they were, I'd might give them the points.

e) It's in vogue to say they were underachievers, because they were.

f) "what they accompished will never be matched in college sports again. Ever."

I agree. It's very unlikely that a team would lose two championship games in a row. I mean Kentucky could have lost three straight title games in the '90s, but they stupidly won of two of them. Now, that's underachieving.

2/12/2007 3:50 PM  
Dashiell said...

#Tom: A lot of teams don't completely suck donkey balls. That doesn't mean they should get fawning profiles written about them 15 years after they broke up. (And they didn't stay together and they didn't win a title. We shouldn't reward people for potential.) In 1992, it's perfectly acceptable to write about how talented they are. In 2007, maybe find someone more deserving.

2/12/2007 4:00 PM  
Anonymous said...

Perhaps part of the reason the Fab 5 is remembered moreso than that great MSU team is that the Fab 5 produced one great and 2 very good NBA players. A lot of great college players get forgotten by the media if they stop playing well once they get to the pro's.

2/12/2007 4:08 PM  
David A. said...

"People shouldn't care about the Fab Five, because they never won a thing. That a non-champion is more highly regarded than dozens of actual champions (yes, including one in their own state) is a sad indictment of college basketball. "

That's a little nuts, don't you think? Not winning a Big10 title in two years is one thing, but arguing that they don't deserve recognition AT ALL just because they lost two national championship games? That's kind of like saying the Yankees weren't actually one of the best teams in baseball each year after 2000 because they haven't won the World Series. Come on.

2/12/2007 4:16 PM  
Dashiell said...

You're right. That is part of it, but ...

a) They've also underachieved in the pros, which should be part of the story.

b) The story is always about the team, so Jackson and King are always included.

c) There were a lot teams, that produced a lot of NBA players, who were much better than those guys. Even the Michigan team that won the title just a couple years earlier has to take a back seat to them.

In other words, it's not just about respect for MSU, although as a (former) Michigan resident I'm particularly tuned into these kind of stories, and note the lack of stories about other, better teams.

2/12/2007 4:20 PM  
Anonymous said...

I'm guessing it's mostly about respect for MSU vis a vis their in-state rival.

If the Fab Five (the signings, the games, and the scandal) had been at OSU and you had grown up in Ohio but gone to Bowling Green, I doubt you would have reacted this way to a 15-year retrospective. Your insistence on responding to almost every comment lends credence to that interpretation.

As for Michigan fans, of course we're embarrassed by them, just look at the comments on the U-M related message boards when the Pistons signed Webber.

2/12/2007 4:32 PM  
Dashiell said...

#david: "they don't deserve recognition AT ALL just because they lost two national championship games?"

15 years later? Not really. They certainly shouldn't be as well known as that Duke team that beat them (and truly was one of the best teams of all time.) But I'll rephrase:

People shouldn't care more about the Fab Five than they do about actual champions, including the two that beat them.

Just like the Yankees shouldn't get more attention than teams that have beaten them since 2000, even though they do. In 2020, they better not be writing stories about how great that Yankee team was that got mowed down by Kenny Rogers.

But I'm getting away from the point of the post. It's not they shouldn't be talked about, because they should. It's the way they should be talked about. There's no doubt that they left their mark on college basketball. I'm saying that the mark was a bad one, and anything written about them should acknowledge that.

2/12/2007 4:36 PM  
Pinball Pete said...

Arguing about sports while sober is as boring as working while sober. Since I'm at work, this then qualifies as twice as boring.

The reasons we're still talking about the Fab Five are because:

a.) They had a clever nickname
b.) They were pretty talented and put together an impressive two-year run.
c.) They changed, however insignificantly, the way players looked on court
d.) The NCAA tournament is held every year without fail, meaning writers have to continuously come up with new angles and stories to fill their endless column inches.
d.) Those writers are lazy and tend to move in droves.
e.) a+b+c+d = national phenomenon

They're part of the public conciousness now, for better or worse. And if there's anything to be learned from living in a world dominated by celebrity and tabloid news, it's that merit/worth/substance/etc have little if nothing to do with who winds up in the public discourse.

Why do we talk about the Fab Five and not the Flintstones? For the same reason we're innundated with coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith while the passing of a woman like Harriett Woods goes largely unsung.

Or to put it another way, we're still talking about the Fab Five because we're still talking about the Fab Five. I vote we stop right now.

2/12/2007 4:50 PM  
Anonymous said...

I'm guessing it's mostly about respect for MSU vis a vis their in-state rival.

If the Fab Five (the signings, the games, and the scandal) had been at OSU and you had grown up in Ohio but gone to Bowling Green, I doubt you would have reacted this way to a 15-year retrospective. Your insistence on responding to almost every comment lends credence to that interpretation.

As for Michigan fans, of course we're embarrassed by them, just look at the comments on the U-M related message boards when the Pistons signed Webber.

2/12/2007 6:47 PM  
Dashiell said...

#last anon: I'm usually pretty honest with myself when it comes to my irrational hatred of UM, but in this case I'm confident that I would feel the same way no matter what school they went to. The difference is that being from Michigan, I'm more likely to see these kind of stories than say odes to Roy Williams tenure at Kansas.

And I always try to respond to every comment on my blog, no matter what the topic, because I enjoy spirited public discourse/arguing with people about pointless topics.

Finally, why would I ever read a UM message board? I'll just take your word for it and I stand corrected on that one point.

2/12/2007 6:54 PM  
the drizzle said...

"You see, the thing that never gets mentioned after the word "swagger" is that they never backed it up. Sure, they won quite a few games those first two years, and yes, they had two great runs to the national championship game ... but they lost them both."

I think it's dumb to say they never backed it up just because they didn't win a title. Just because they didn't win a big game doesn't take away from all the great games they did play in. But of course that is a typical simplistic thought prevelant today: if you didn't win you didn't accomplish anything. So all but one team every year is a loser.

But while all that is sort of beside the point, it sort of is the point. We remember the hype, the unprecedented freshman year run, the bald heads, the outstanding post play, the dramatic games...it's not like this is all forgotten or erased just because they didn't win a title. (And it's probably enhanced because they didn't). Yeah, Duke and Michigan State and others had teams that won titles, after all some team has to win it every year. but face it, they're boring by comparison to the non-hardcore fan. and that's the bottom line, people just enjoyed the fab five, both their accomplishments and failures, more than other teams.

2/12/2007 10:49 PM  
The Rover said...

I think part of the reason why they have such a high profile - besides the social implications - is because they DID go to the title game back-to-back years (and had a real shot at beating Arkansas in '94 in the Elite Eight).

But, when people think of the great basketball teams of the early '90s, two names come up before the Fab 5: UNLV, and Duke. Why? Because they won.

And, rightly or wrongly, I think the legacy of a team is enhanced by NBA success (except for the obvious exception of Duke...and we don't need to get into those reasons). Webber has been so star-crossed during his mostly successful career, and people see the time-out as the beginning of that. Which brings everything back to the team.

2/12/2007 10:57 PM  
Dashiell said...

#drizzle: "But of course that is a typical simplistic thought prevelant today:"

That thought is not at all prevalent to today; that was the whole point of my post.

Again, I understand why they're famous. I just think college basketball would be better off if they weren't (or if they were at least remembered properly.)

2/13/2007 12:37 AM  
Anonymous said...

I think that to some degree they are remembered properly, or at least people do put their achievments in perspective. When do you hear about the Fab 5 without hearing about 'the timeout'? To me the two go hand in hand, and the view of the Fab-5 as highly talented tragic figures, with CWebb of course personifying it, is why and how they are remembered today.

2/13/2007 6:27 AM  
Anonymous said...

You're right on target here. It's like the line from White Men Can't Jump: "You'd rather look good and lose"

2/13/2007 12:46 PM  
Anonymous said...

You're a cock, Dash.

These are just the irrational ramblings of a bitter tool from a school with a lousy football team. Everyone knows that football is where it's at. No one ever fills a 100,000+ seat basketball arena, but UM does it at the Big House with every home football game.

Ms. Dub

3/23/2007 11:51 AM  
Dashiell said...

And you think I'm bitter? Jesus.

Oh, and thanks once again for your timely comments. You're a credit to the university you didn't go to.

3/23/2007 12:06 PM  

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