‘Oh shit, that was it.’

An infamous timeout called by Chris Webber kept the Wolverines from a national championship.

An infamous timeout called by Chris Webber kept the Wolverines from a national championship. Buy this photo
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - 8:19pm

Few, if any, University of Michigan undergraduate students were alive to see the last time Michigan played North Carolina in basketball. But those who watched the 1993 national championship game will never forget it.

When Chris Webber, the face of the Fab Five, called a timeout that the Wolverines didn’t have, legacies changed forever. College basketball tilted on its axis. A group that had captivated the hearts and minds of basketball fans for two seasons ended its final run with a whimper.

Over the following 25 seasons, North Carolina persisted as one of the premier programs in college basketball, adding three more national titles. Michigan endured a scandal and NCAA sanctions, coaching turmoil, losing seasons and has only clawed back to national relevance in the last decade.

On Wednesday, the two programs who ruled the 1993 season will meet in Chapel Hill for the first time since. The Daily interviewed former players, coaches, writers, staff and fans, all of whom offered their perspectives on a game that, for many, defined college basketball.

This story is about more than a timeout. It’s about the consequences of that historical game in April of 1993. It’s about a recruiting class and a culture. It’s about what they didn’t achieve as much as what they did. It’s about what is remembered and what is still trying to be forgotten 25 years later.

This is a story about the most infamous moment in Michigan athletic history.

The Michigan men's basketball team fell to North Carolina, 77-71, in the 1993 national championship.

The Michigan men's basketball team fell to North Carolina, 77-71, in the 1993 national championship. Buy this photo
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‘Oh man, they were college basketball at the time’

The 1992-93 Michigan men’s basketball team came into the season with only one goal: win a national title. Coming off a loss to Duke in the championship game the year before, the Wolverines wanted a chance to avenge that loss and cement the legacy of the Fab Five. For all they had done to transform the sport culturally, the group — Ray Jackson, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard and Chris Webber — had yet to win the ultimate prize.

Jalen Rose, Michigan guard, 1991-1994: All I know is, when the biggest artist in the world, MC Hammer, and Deion Sanders and all of my favorite rappers and entertainers knew who I was, then I knew it was real.

Bruce Madej, Michigan sports information director in 1993: You’ve got to realize these guys were rockstars. I mean, once we went to Wisconsin, and I think this was during their freshman year...we literally, I mean we literally, had to put our arms together and have a flying wedge to get our guys out, because people wanted their autographs.

Jimmy King, Michigan guard, 1991-95: We were definitely aware of the impact and the attention we were getting because of our outspokenness and because of what we wore.

… The basketball was the easy part. That’s what we loved to do, that’s what we were recruited for, that’s what we’re known for. So, for us, putting in the work to get to that level was the number one priority — outworking our opponents, listening to our coaches, buying into the system, believing in one another, sacrificing to make sure that we all are on one accord. And it’s interesting to see how much influence we’ve had in the game.

Rose: The one thing about being trailblazers which we were fortunate enough to be at that point in time is that we didn’t need to validate because we weren’t following anyone, it wasn’t forced. … For me, personally, what the Fab Five was doing was just a continuation of the mission that all the teams prior to us, that I personally looked up to, and I’m pretty sure a lot of my teammates did as well. We just tried to put our own flavor with it.

Steve Kirschner, UNC assistant sports information director: You take five freshmen — especially at that time — that just wasn’t done. Certainly we had freshmen, Michael Jordan was a freshman when he hit the game-winning shot in ’82. Freshmen certainly made an impact in college basketball, but to have five of them play and start and be such good players, and obviously with Webber and Howard you knew they were gonna be two great pros.

James Voskuil, Michigan forward, 1989-1993: I think none of us really thought they’d all come in at the same time. Twenty-five years later, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh,’ because that really was a rare quantity, right? That much talent coming in one year.

 

‘The sum definitely was greater than the parts’

On the flip side, North Carolina lacked the same attention-grabbing talent. Michigan’s 1992-93 roster combined to play 3,148 games in the NBA. The Tar Heels’ roster? Just 1,292 games. Chris Webber would be the top pick in the NBA Draft and average over 20 points and close to 10 rebounds per game in his career. Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard both had highly successful, lengthy NBA careers, too. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, were not laden with superstars Eric Montross and George Lynch went on to have modest NBA careers but they may have been deeper than the Wolverines, and they used a more team-oriented style to push their way to the Final Four. Michigan had the Fab Five, Kentucky had Jamal Mashburn and Kansas had a star-studded senior class. They all had some flash, but beyond the star power, North Carolina had a team.

Phil Ford, North Carolina assistant coach, 1988-2000: Our team was very close. I can’t say it’s the closest team that we’ve ever had at North Carolina, because I don’t know. But I know the ‘93 championship team — those guys really believed in each other and really trusted each other and everybody got along super. They were a fun bunch of guys to coach.

... As a team, I think we were as good as we ever had. You know, defensively, offensively, believing in guys. You had guys giving up themselves to make the team better. It was one of the best teams we had as far as chemistry and camaraderie is concerned.

Adam Lucas, then a fan, now a columnist for GoHeels.com: (They were) not overwhelmingly talented, and on paper if you write down the ’93 Carolina lineup and the Michigan lineup, I think most neutral people are gonna say, ‘Well, Michigan’s gonna win that game,’ because they had some really great players. From a Carolina perspective, that’s more of a classic example of just (a) team rather than individual talent. The sum definitely was greater than the parts that season.

Kirschner: Carolina had a five-person class — they were freshmen in 90-91. So they were juniors the year we won it. … It had a player at each position and got a ton of attention. Eric Montross could have gone to Michigan, could have gone to Indiana, chose North Carolina out of Indiana. Derrick Phelps, the point guard. Brian Reese, the two-guard. Pat Sullivan, small forward. And then Clifford Rozier was the power forward. We had one kid in each class, and they were all highly rated. … Even though they were highly rated, as they went through their college and their pro (careers), they didn’t become huge names like Webber and Howard. We were sort of blue collar, not a lot of stars.

Rose: Hindsight, it’s unique to look back at that matchup, because, being coached by Larry Brown, who went to Carolina, we got a chance when I was with the Pacers to actually practice in our season in North Carolina. And I’ll never forget going on campus and Rasheed Wallace, and he was decked head-to-toe in Michigan gear, and he talked about how much their team loved our team, and he showed me a picture that Dean Smith had of me in his office, because he said that Dean Smith loved me as a player.

Voskuil: One of the reasons why I think we were all pretty confident going into that final Carolina game — I don’t know if a lot of people recall this — but we had played Carolina in Hawaii… and it was pretty much the same roster on both sides. And we beat them.

… I think when we got to that final game, we were all looking at it pretty positively, like, ‘Hey, we can definitely beat these guys.’

King: We felt like winning that game (in Honolulu) and winning it in the fashion that we did  it was a last-second shot or tip-in by Jalen  we knew that we could play with them. We thought that we were better than them. We beat them already, and the championship should be ours. That was the feeling  at least that’s how I felt going into the Final Four and then going into that championship game.

Eric Montross, North Carolina center, 1990-1994: I think that really what we knew was that both teams were going to be vastly different from Thanksgiving until April 1st or 2nd. Although the components were going to be the same, players on both teams would have gotten significantly better in that time period between those two games. I think that more than any one key component, I would tell you that what we thought was most important was the improvement we had made as a team.

 

‘I was worried we were going to get run out of the gym’

After dispatching a red-hot Kentucky team in the Final Four, Michigan was one win away from a coveted title. Only North Carolina stood in the way. Sparked by two early three-pointers from guard Rob Pelinka, Michigan grabbed a 23-13 lead, and looked poised to pull away.

Kirschner: A lot of people forget that Michigan went ahead. Pelinka’s hitting threes and (North Carolina) just did not look very good early.

King: What Coach Smith did, which was genius, is that he took all his starters out, and he put in guys off the bench that, at that time, with running a 35-second clock, that tired us out. So I think that was a good strategy for Coach Smith to have guys just to run the offense while we sat down and tried to play defense for 30-35 seconds. He tired us out. That gave them just enough of a window to (mount) a comeback.

Led by guard Donald Williams and forward George Lynch, the Tar Heels crawled back into the game and grabbed a six-point lead at halftime. North Carolina came into the game 26-0 when leading at halftime.

Lucas: One of the things that made you feel best as a Carolina fan was that Donald Williams was really hot that weekend — made 5-of-7 three pointers in the Final Four and then made 5-of-7 in the championship game. … I think as Carolina fans, we’ve all seen Carolina come back from deficits just like that.

King: I don’t, personally, ever feel, regardless of if we’re up eight or 18, that the game is over. I played enough, even in that time in my young career, I’d seen enough to know better. I’ve been up 20 and lose and I’ve been down 20 and won. So, at that level, with great players, great shooters, great coaches, no, you really don’t feel totally secure.

The second half was back and forth, with neither team establishing a big enough lead to relax. North Carolina nursed its modest lead until midway through the second half, when the game tightened. In the last 10 minutes of the game alone, there were five different lead changes.

 

I remember clapping right after he did it, looking at Chris like, ‘Oh shit.’

Pat Sullivan misses the second of two free throws and Webber rebounds the ball with 19 seconds left, down 72-70.

Rose: We went to the huddle, and Coach (Steve Fisher) specifically said, ‘He’s gonna miss this free throw, when he misses it, outlet it to Jalen and we gonna do our secondary break.’

King: It’s what we did all year: Grab the rebound, we out. Chris, Juwan, Jalen, Ray, myself, whoever grabs the rebound, we’re out. There is no grabbing the rebound, kicking it to the point guard, although, in that moment, Jalen was open.

Webber looks up and, nearly passing the ball to Rose, noticeably drags his pivot foot. No call.

Color commentator, Billy Packer, interjects with a high-pitched intonation: “‘Oh, he walked! He walked and the referee missed it!’”

Madej: He dribbles and walks, and I’m looking at the ref — seriously — and nobody called it. And then it’s like, ‘Yes.’… I mean, it wasn’t a little walk, my friend. It was a travel.

Kirschner: I mean, he drags his foot about three feet. And it was right directly across from where I was sitting. My first reaction was ‘They blew the call! They missed it!’

Montross: Certainly, when you look at the travel in the backcourt, I mean, that’s on film. It simply was. There’s not any speculation as to whether it was or it wasn’t.

Rose: And I think what made (Webber) lose his bearings or his train of thought is, he got the rebound, and he hesitated. When you hesitate in sports, now you’re thinking instead of reacting. So he hesitates and looks down at the bench, doesn’t react. Then he tries to look to me and pass, and it’s too late. So at that point whatever he had going on in his head for the moment, I think he kinda lost his bearings, for a player that obviously has been going coast-to-coast dunking on people since 7th grade. We’ve seen him do that play a million times.

With the North Carolina bench uproarious at the no-call, Webber continues to dribble down the court. Frantically, he dribbles straight into the corner by his bench, into a trap set by the North Carolina defenders.

Jim Nantz, calling the game for CBS: “Webber brings it into the front court, they have no timeouts remaini—”

Lucas: Once they didn’t call travel — and all of us in the Carolina section regained our pulse, saw him dribble down the court, saw him go over to the sideline next to the sideline by the Michigan bench, there were a lot of people in that building screaming ‘Timeout.’

Before Nantz could finish his sentence, Webber turns toward the referee and signals for a timeout.

Madej: I remember the time from the travel to when he made the call almost like a surreal time for me, like, ‘We’re gonna get away with this?’ And I don’t know. If that didn’t happen, I don’t know if the timeout would have happened.

Montross: We’re in a full-court trap, we have fouls to give. He gets trapped in that corner, and part of what you want to do as an opponent is create an atmosphere of duress, where you force actions that are not thought about. And those reactions that you don’t have time to think about can become those when you are most prone to mistakes…  And so when I think about that game, I don’t ever think about it as, ‘That’s the timeout game,’ or ‘That’s where Chris Webber cost his team a national championship.’

Kirschner: And that’s a drill that Coach Smith and now Coach Williams do every single day in practice.

Voskuil: Remembering what I remember, I was like, ‘Oh shit, that was it.’ I remember clapping right after he did it, looking at Chris like, ‘Oh shit.’

Packer, stunned by the turn of events, explains the implications:“He got by with a walk, and Jim, he calls timeout, he doesn’t realize that Michigan (has) too many. And so it’ll be a technical foul, North Carolina shooting and the ball. Huge mental mistake!”

Rose: I definitely knew we didn’t have any timeouts, the coaching staff stressed in the huddle we didn’t have any timeouts, and out of respect to anybody that wasn’t in the game, sometimes when you’re not in the game  watch any collegiate game, watch any professional game  sometimes there’s a reason why the other eight or nine guys aren’t in the game. And the five guys are actually in the game. Because they’re in during the game and they’re paying attention  they’re supposed to know the assignments, they’re supposed to know what everyone’s running, they’re supposed to know details of the game. It’s not foreign for the players on the bench not to know everything that’s happening in the game. Now, it is foreign when the players on the floor don’t know what’s happening in the game.

King: My immediate thought was to run the opposite wing in case there was a double team, and there was a swing-out, I was gonna pop the three. Or, if Chris, or whoever has the ball, goes to the basket, then I’m on the weak side for the rebound. And if you watch that clip, that’s exactly what I’m doing. And when the ball comes down and I hear the whistle, because I’m fighting under the basket trying to grab a rebound, I heard the whistle, but I don’t know what was called. So I’m walking over to the sideline, and I’m asking Jalen what the call was, and then he told me that Chris called the timeout.

Ford: I thought our guys had done a pretty good job of a double team on Chris on the baseline in the corner down there, so even if he hadn’t called timeout, I’m not sure if they would have won.

Chris Webber, after the game, via the Daily article the next day: There were 20 seconds left, I started to dribble the ball, we were down by two, the ball was on our side of the court, I picked up my dribble, I called timeout. And I cost our team the game.

The Michigan Daily's front page on April 6, 1993, after the Wolverines lost the national championship.

The Michigan Daily's front page on April 6, 1993, after the Wolverines lost the national championship. Buy this photo
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In the huddle, with reality beginning to set in for the Wolverines, Jimmy King approached a hunched over Chris Webber. King draped his arm around a clearly despondent Webber. Rose was the voice in the huddle.

Rose: If you look back at the film, everybody had their role.

King: My role was always to support. To support and help my teammates, emotionally, schematically, physically, whatever. And at that moment, Chris probably felt like he was the only one — that everybody was just, kind of, staring at him in that moment. And I think that’s why he was bending over, because first of all, I don’t think he believed that he did it, and then, I think the gravity of the moment pulled him over. So, the biggest thing that I brought to the team was, regardless of whether we’re defeated or not, you can’t look defeated. So bending over and putting your hands on your knees, that’s even if you’re tired and you’re at the free throw line, you can’t put your hands on your knees. That’s a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of fatigue. In the same moment, even though you may have made a mistake, you still got to stand up. Stand up and hold your head up, and that’s what I told him as I was hitting him in his chest while he was bending over. I kept hitting him in his chest until he stood up. So, because this moment, regardless of what you think is going on, this moment is not going to define you.

Rose: And then if you look at me I’m barking in the huddle, letting everybody know there’s still time on the clock, anything can happen, let’s try to find a way figure this out and get this win.

But the Tar Heels made their free throws to put the game away. The seconds dwindled down, and Jim Nantz coronated the national champion:‘Dean Smith, eight seconds away from a second national championship. The Fab Five comes up short again. … There ya have it, North Carolina is the 1993 National Champion!’

With a 77-71 victory, the Tar Heels sealed their crown. Dean Smith, once maligned for his inability to win big games, earned his second national title and cemented himself as one of the greatest coaches of all-time.

Montross: People will not love this concept because it was a bunch of people just running around and hugging each other, but I think that we were so committed to each other’s success, and so far from a focus on the individual, that we celebrated so hard for each other, that all of the hard work and dedication to team had paid off.

Ford: It was just great joy. I think sometimes you’re happy for other people sometimes more than you’re happy for yourself. One thing about Carolina, is it’s a big family. And all those guys out there were like little brothers to me. Even though I was their coach, I had gone through a lot of the same things that those guys had gone through. And when you see guys that you care about achieve something that many people in the world have never achieved … I was extremely happy and proud of them.

Dean Smith, after the game, via the Daily article the next day: I wanted it for this team and this staff… We might not be the best but we’re the champions.

 

‘You just got to face the fact that you called the timeout’

On the other side of the court, the hopes of a national title for the Fab Five vanished in just a few seconds. Some claim that a player on the bench implored Webber to call the timeout, others deny that happening. For the fans in attendance, some immediately understood the implications of the timeout. Others waited for the PA announcement to echo through the arena like a death pronouncement. Gradually, though, the reality began to seep in for the Wolverines and their fans: This was over.

But for Chris Webber, the nightmare was just getting started.

Madej: Chris made a comment to me one time – maybe it was a couple years (before) that (he’d seen) one player come down with cameras in his face and the guy was real upset and almost crying  Chris made the comment one time that, ‘I’d never want to have that for me.’ That was the first thing that went through my mind. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, I know what’s going to happen here. Cameras are gonna be there, so we made sure that, as soon as the game was over, that we got Chris to the locker room.

And we got Chris to the locker room, and what was interesting to note is you have to put the two players on the list of who is going to talk after the game. Chris was one of those players. So, what I basically did was I had to sit there with Chris, and Chris did not want to go. I mean he didn’t want to go. Would you want to go? Could you imagine a 5-foot-9 guy sitting with what, a 6-foot-10 Chris Webber? And he’s on a bench near his locker, and he had tears running down his eyes. I’m looking at him, and I’m saying, ‘Hey, Chris. You gotta face it. You might as well face it right off the bat. Just go in there, answer the questions honestly. And you go up there, and we’ll do our best to make sure after that, there’s not going to be a lot of camera in your face and all that stuff.’ Well, he sure as heck didn’t want to go.

I asked Perry Watson and Steve Fisher both — Perry Watson specifically — and he said, ‘Bruce is right. It’s very important for you to go up there and face it. Because if you don’t, what’s going to happen to you after that is people are still going to be asking questions. They’re going to be after you on and on and on.’ That’s what we kept telling him  you just gotta face it. You just go to face the fact that you called the timeout.

King: (At) the press conference immediately after that, it was Coach Fisher, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber and a sign that said ‘Jimmy King.’ And the reason why I wasn’t up on the podium, is because I was going to say what I had to say regardless of what they told me to say. That’s the reason why I wasn’t up there.

I don’t know (what I would have said). But they knew not to put me in that room.

Kirschner: I always remember seeing Chris sitting on a golf cart coming back from the press conference with Bruce Madej just looking so down and dejected. … I’ve never blamed Chris Webber. Clearly a player on the bench yelled at him to call timeout.

Voskuil: Reporters, they love victory, but they also love showing defeat and emotional distress, and Chris was that at that point.

Madej: I said, ‘Jalen can you do me a favor? I need you to literally take the media and literally talk to them and keep them.’ I needed him to talk for an hour. And I need him, when Chris got back in, to keep talking. Anyway, he went back in, and Jalen did an amazing job of making sure that all the media stayed with him.

Ken Davidoff, then Daily reporter, now at the New York Post: Chris Webber manned up to it. That was the most impressive thing to me.

Rose: As the game ended, I remember thinking more about Coach Fisher, and that’s why I walked off with my arm around him. Because a lot of times, people blame the coach for what happens in that situation, and I knew real time that it wasn’t the coach’s fault, I didn’t need the benefit of hindsight.

This past September, the members of that 1992-93 North Carolina basketball team gathered in Chapel Hill for a reunion 25 seasons after their national title. They shared pleasantries, recounted the good ol’ days and took some photos.

Montross: I will tell you that in the compilation of photos and remarks, not once was Chris Webber’s timeout mentioned. And I just think that that shows you how far removed that is from the front of our minds when we think about that game.

Ford: I just remember it being a hard-fought game. And I know a lot of people made a big deal about the timeout, but I don’t see how anybody could ever criticize Chris Webber. He’s one of the greatest basketball players to ever play, and he was a great player at Michigan. We were just happy that we won the game. It doesn’t matter how you won it. You know, in a championship game, in the NCAA championship, not many players have one of those rings.

The Wolverines had no such reunion. The game marked an inevitable ending to an era unlike any other. Chris Webber soon turned pro and became the second Michigan basketball player to be selected with the top pick in the NBA Draft, while the other four stayed put for another year. Life goes on, and the 1993-94 team, still ripe with talent, made the Elite Eight. Yet for a group that defined an era of college basketball, a title fell tantalizingly out of reach. A preseason title in Hawaii is the extent of the team's hardware.

Time passed. The loss never will.

King: We won in many hearts of people and fans, because, to this day, I can’t go anywhere without somebody recognizing me as part of the Fab Five. So the legacy is much bigger than the game.

Rose: I always think about what I could personally have done better. That’s what you hope everybody does in the team dynamic. What I personally take from the Carolina game, is I personally played terrible. I think I had my worst game of the year. … But I can’t lie, did I wake up this morning in my steamed shower, like, ‘Man, that game in 1993?’ No, I didn’t do that.

Voskuil: Hey, you know, what sparks memories a lot are photos, and I haven’t looked at — it’s such a painful deal that you almost avoid looking at the photos. But I do have a photo of us winning the Hawaii Tournament, so that’s one that I have hanging on my wall. That’s fun to remember versus the timeout final.

It’s funny, because people remember the Fab Five, although we didn’t win either the ‘92 or the ‘93 finals game. But they’re still talking about that team.

Daily Sports Writer Mark Calcagno also contributed to the reporting and writing of this story.