BY IAN ROBINSON
Daily Sports Editor
Published April 1, 2008
We wanted to make sure that we had a legacy from when we played. That was one of our goals, talking about it amongst ourselves.
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The Bentley Historical Library on North Campus is the depository for everything related to the University's past. Simple registration and request forms will allow access to the annals of Michigan history, from Jonas Salk's research to James Angell's papers.
In the basement, though, are two classified, rolled-up pieces of felt a normal visitor can't view.
The banners, which read "1992 NCAA Finalist" and "1993 NCAA Finalist," were lowered from the Crisler Arena rafters after a self-imposed punishment in 2002 and remain confidential. Visitors must get permission from the Athletic Department to see them, and that permission has been granted just once - for an Associated Press reporter and accompanying photographer.
The banners were meant to celebrate Michigan athletic achievement. Fifteen years later, after scandal tainted those records, the University keeps their legacy completely out of sight.
That legacy, though, is inescapable.
The banners essentially represent the accomplishments of the Fab Five, Michigan's freshman class of 1991 that, in two seasons, reached two NCAA Championship games and forever changed college basketball.
Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson comprised the legendary class that was the first all-freshman starting lineup to reach the Final Four. The class also included a top NBA Draft pick, three All-Americans and four NBA Draft picks.
It might be the most talented class ever, but that barely tells the story.
The Fab Five transcended the game. Three of their games still rank among the five most-viewed college basketball games of all time.
"Never before in the history of the game had there been five freshmen who were able to create that much excitement," said Billy Packer, who has covered the last 34 Final Fours for CBS Sports.
But the NCAA banners represent much more than on-court achievements.
"I think for Michigan, overall, they have been an immensely positive image," Athletic Director Bill Martin said.
Packer and other sports commentators, though, have a darker view of the feats marked by those banners.
"Had they won (a championship) and what transpired thereafter, they would have been remembered as one of the black marks in NCAA history," Packer said. "They and Michigan are probably lucky they didn't win that game."
The banners represent the group's lasting impact on college basketball and how, 15 years later, it is still misunderstood.
A new attitude
Before they played a preseason contest, the Fab Five already brought a different attitude to the game.
In practices, they would play "freshman against y'all" scrimmages with their teammates. Even on a Michigan team that returned four starters, they clearly were the five most talented players in the gym.
And if their teammates didn't know it, the Fab Five would tell them about it - with trash talk, showboating and gamesmanship.
The rest of the world would soon learn about those exploits.
Rose and Webber, who were good friends in Detroit, were also recruited by straight-laced, traditional college basketball powers such as Duke, Kentucky and Indiana, where that kind of showmanship would have been unimaginable.
But because the duo came to Michigan together, their familiarity allowed their true personalities to shine through. The in-your-face persona the Fab Five's leader and point guard, Rose, played with it at Detroit Southwestern High School came to Ann Arbor with him.
And the other three quickly embraced that style.
During media day of their freshman season, Howard proclaimed, "We are on a mission."
College athletes rarely make those claims. For a freshman to do it is almost unheard of.
And with this "shock the world" mentality, they exploded onto the college basketball scene.
Their antics became famous: dancing on the scorer's table, stomping on the opposing team's center-court emblem after a road win, staring down opponents after dunking on them, talking to the television camera, exchanging words with an opposing team member about to shoot a free-throw.
"It's a style a lot of people don't agree with," Webber said in an interview with The Ann Arbor News his freshman season. "The criticism is something I'm going to have to live with because I decided to play this way."