“What happened was not good, and I don’t think they’ll ever go back up. I don’t. Some day, I won’t be president anymore, and maybe someone else will have a different view. But I think you have to reflect on the larger meaning and that we want to hold ourselves to a higher standard. […] We’re the University of Michigan — that shouldn’t happen.”
University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, on raising the Fab Five banners
It is a team that only needs three words to capture its aura, its significance to the arena that is men’s college basketball: the Fab Five. It is a team that contested preconceptions and competed for two colors: maize and blue. It is a team that started a cultural revolution with one clothing choice: black socks. It is a team that changed the game forever. Touted as one of the most heralded recruiting classes in intercollegiate history, the 1991 Michigan class included Chicago native Juwan Howard, state of Texas stars Ray Jackson and Jimmy King, and local Detroit boys Jalen Rose and Chris Webber. The fresh faces found success immediately in their freshman year at the University of Michigan, proving to head coach John Fisher that they were the best players to wear the Block M in the early 1990s.
Yet, with success also comes scrutiny. Howard, Jackson, King, Rose, and Webber were elevated to celebrity status, social icons on top of their student-athlete statuses on campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This platform was equipped with a magnifying glass, focused on the actions of teenagers representing a Big Ten university in front of a national audience.
Scandal. NCAA sanctions. University shame. A domino flurry of investigation surrounding Michigan’s Fab Five began with an automobile accident in 1996, years after the players shook the scene of college basketball with their elite trash-talking and chip-on-the-shoulder demeanor. A longstanding relationship between the Wolverine program and basketball booster Ed Martin was uncovered, prompting inquiry by the NCAA, Big Ten Conference, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, and the United States Department of Justice. It is often thought of as the largest incidence of illegal payment of student-athletes in American intercollegiate athletics. A question remains: what will be the legacy of the Fab Five? But maybe a simple answer is enough: that they were bigger than the score of the game.