After almost fifteen years of being Michigan’s star-crossed lover, Chris Webber is finally coming home. On June 23rd, Webber was making an appearance on talk radio show The M Zone when Jim Harbaugh called in and asked Webber if he would be an honorary captain for a Michigan football game this fall.
“Coach, you know, that’s no problem. I’m definitely honored,” Webber replied. “You know, I would do anything for you. The No. 4’s at Michigan need to stick together.”
My mom says that Webber should apologize before coming back to campus in an official capacity. Jalen Rose says that the phone call was staged and that Webber is only doing it to reactivate his Hall of Fame candidacy. John Beilein wants to build bridges with the Fab Five.
Me? All I hear is wedding bells. Put on your tuxes Wolverines, because our Juliet is coming home.
Before I go any further, I’m not #TeamChris, meaning I don’t support Chris Webber over Jalen Rose. I think the way Webber handled the Ed Martin scandal was stupid, and I believe that he should apologize. But I’m also not #TeamJalen. I’m not buying into this nonsense; I refuse to pick a side. I wish Webber would let go of his pride, and I wish Rose would stop using this feud for media attention.
But know what I want more than any of those things? I want the five freshmen who just arrived in Ann Arbor, Beilein’s best recruiting class yet, to walk into Crisler and see banners from 1992 and 1993. We take so much pride in the history of our football program. How many times a season do we remind ourselves that we’re still the winningest football program of all time? We need that kind of pride in our basketball history. Right now, people love to say that Michigan isn’t a basketball school. They don’t realize that without the University of Michigan, college basketball is not the sport that it is today.
Recognition of this fact begins with reconciliation with Chris Webber.
Michigan’s relationship with Webber has resembled a star-crossed love story from the very beginning. You can always tell when the love story is going to be a tragedy — right from the get-go, there’s too much passion, too much desire. Trust me, I took a literature class last semester.
Look at it this way: When the Wolverines won the National Championship in 1989, it was incredible, but it was a fluke. This was the Bo Schembechler era, and Michigan was a football school. It had almost no basketball history. The year after the Wolverines won the championship, they didn’t even make it past the second round of the NCAA tournament.
When Coach Fisher was able to snag Jimmy King, Juwan Howard and Ray Jackson during the early signing period in the fall of 1990, giving Michigan one of the top five recruiting classes in the country, it was something of a miracle. Wolverine fans should’ve been squealing with delight that they could get any top recruits, let alone three. But, no, three wasn’t enough to satisfy Michigan fans. They had eyes for one man only, and that was Chris Webber.
In February 1991, when Webber was a senior in high school, Daily writer Phil Green opened his column by sharing this story: “It wasn’t a Demetrius Calip dunk. It wasn’t an Eric Riley blocked shot. And it wasn’t a 12-0 Michigan run. None of these caused the first eruption at Crisler Arena last night. It was super-recruit Chris Webber, and it was only halftime.
“‘WEB-BER, WEB-BER,’ the students screamed as the 6-foot-9 superstar from Detroit Country Day High School crossed the hard-wood and Dick Vitale anxiously awaited an interview. As Webber returned to his seat next to fellow high school superstar Jalen Rose, the crowd erupted once again. The entire arena: fans, press, and television crew cared more about one high school player than an apparently boring ESPN Big Monday package.”
Can you imagine a school more in love with a player?
The only way to describe the Fab Five’s two-year run is that the Fab Five was the most hyped recruiting class in the history of college basketball, and when the time came to actually play, it well exceeded expectations. And if there was one standout player, it was, beyond question, Chris Webber.
We often let the timeout call against UNC in the National Championship game define Webber’s collegiate career, but I don’t even think that’s worth talking about anymore. That was a small glitch in one of the most successful college basketball careers of all time, and it wouldn’t hurt Webber’s legacy at Michigan if he didn’t let it.
Remember, this is the early 1990s. Freshmen barely played; they certainly didn’t start. In the college basketball world, the juniors and seniors started, and the freshmen knew to wait their turn, because it was generally expected that they would stay all four years. The term “one-and-done” wasn’t even invented yet.
Yet, Chris Webber started as a freshman, led the team to two national championship games and was drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic after his sophomore year. The whole country was talking about him. He wasn’t just a basketball player, he was a celebrity.
After the draft, and despite the timeout, Michigan was as in love with Chris Webber as ever. He was the poster child for Michigan basketball, which was now nationally recognized as the basketball school, even though North Carolina had won the championship. Imagine if the story had ended like that. Imagine if the Fab Five boys had gone down as Michigan legends, if they attended Michigan basketball games as a group, if the basketball program used their game footage in its hype videos, and the current players gazed up at the banners during timeouts. Imagine if the love story had gotten its happily ever after.
But, of course, we all know how “Romeo and Juliet” goes — or at least how our version goes. The NCAA sanctions. The dissociation period. Chris Webber lies to a Grand Jury and, 15 years later, he’s still too prideful to talk about the situation. The banners come down from Crisler Center. And just like that, Michigan is an academic institution, and maybe a football school but not a basketball school.
Michigan basketball had an incredible tournament run this past year, but if we really want to reignite the basketball program, I want to get the Fab Five back. That means that everyone involved needs to get off their high horses and do what it takes to make amends. For Webber, that most likely means apologizing—not necessarily for taking money, but for lying about it and damaging the University’s reputation. Maybe that means Rose needs to stop running his mouth the same way he did back in 1992. I mean, I get it that you’re an outspoken guy, but why did you need to break down Chris Webber’s timeout in April of 2018? Maybe the University needs own up to some of its mistakes. I don’t know what the answers are, but the people involved probably do.
Chris Webber played for the Wolverines in the 1991-1992 season and the 1992-1993 season. Right now, most undergraduate seniors were born in 1997. When Webber returns this fall, it will be the current student section’s first time seeing him at Michigan. I can’t wait to give him as warm of a welcome as the student section at Crisler Center did back in February of 1991.
“WEB-BER, WEB-BER, WEB-BER!”
The University is more than ready to fall back in love with Chris Webber.
The question is whether he’s ready to be a Wolverine again.