They were considered the greatest recruiting class ever assembled, trendsetters that changed the face of college basketball on and off the court and one of the most intriguing stories in sports in the early ’90s.
They were also called trash-talking, cocky and immature kids who were successful and weren’t afraid to let anyone know about it.
Now, the “Fab Five,” as they were known nearly one decade ago, is being labeled as a “disgrace” after the latest Ed Martin indictment – at least according to former Michigan athletic director Don Canham, who served in the position from 1968-88.
“We worked 100 years to do it the right way, but then you bring the “Fab Five” in and it ruins everything,” Canham said.
Instead of celebrating the 10-year reunion of the “Fab Five” making it to the national championship game as freshmen and sophomores, the Fab Five legacy has now been delivered a severe black eye.
The latest indictment states that Martin, a banned booster, gave four former Michigan players (including “Fab Five” star Chris Webber) a total of $616,000 during their high school and college careers.
Webber, who testified before the grand jury in Martin’s case in August of 2000, was alleged to have received money from 1988 to 1993, from his freshman year in high school through his final season at Michigan.
Now, with Michigan in danger of serious NCAA sanctions, there have been thoughts that the Wolverines should disown former players Webber, Robert Traylor, Louis Bullock and Maurice Taylor for taking dirty money. Michigan could again impose NCAA self-sanctions such as yanking down Final Four and Big Ten Tournament championship banners, stripping the accused players of records, etc.
From Corsica to cash
Dugan Fife, who played with Webber and the Fab Five, doesn’t know if the latest indictment is the end, but hopes it is. He feels that stripping banners down would hurt others who weren’t involved with the scandal.
“I wouldn’t,” Fife said. “That takes away from what guys like James Voskuil or Rob Pelinka and myself did for the program. Guys who worked hard and put in a lot. I think the sanctions have been made.”
Fife vividly remembers Webber driving around “an old, beat-up Corsica which you could see the pavement because of the rust stains that went through the floor.” Fife said that at the end of Webber’s sophomore year – his last one as a Wolverine before turning pro – he upgraded to an SUV.
But Fife said that members of the team don’t recollect the image of guys getting thousands of dollars from a booster.
“No one ever flashed money, no one ever picked up the bills at the restaurant,” Fife said. “If these guys were getting that much, I wish they would have picked up the bill a few times.
“Some of these guys had nice clothes, nice jewelry. But we were always joking if it was real or not.”
But Webber doesn’t take the recent indictment as a joke. An admittedly annoyed Webber refused to comment for two days, but then lashed out to a reporter from the Sacramento Bee this weekend.
“I’ve done everything I’ve had to do,” Webber told the paper. “I’ve gone to court and we talked about it and everything is done. So, why should I talk about it? To give y’all something to talk about? There’s nothing else to do.”
Jalen Rose, one of Webber’s best friends and now a member of the Chicago Bulls, also broke his silence on Thursday on Jim Rome’s “The Last Word.” The former Detroit Southwestern star said he knew Martin since he was a youngster, but didn’t feel like Martin was a booster for Michigan.
“Now, I don’t know if Chris was getting that kind of cake or not,” Rose said after Rome asked him whether the allegations were true. “I really don’t have anything negative to say about this scenario, and I really don’t know how much money that he was giving, if he was giving, to other players.”
Who is Ed Martin?
Martin described himself to his lawyer once as a basketball junkie. He was a fixture in the Detroit high school basketball scene and his exploits with former Wolverines may be costly to the basketball program that he knew and loved.
The 68-year-old Martin is charged with giving money to players as loans to hide profits he was making through an illegal numbers operation at auto plants.
Martin and his wife, Hilda, were arrested on Thursday on charges of running an illegal gambling business, conspiracy and money laundering. They pleaded innocent and were released on $10,000 bail.
Rose and others just say he was a friendly guy who helped younger kids out.
“Ed Martin was somebody that helped me have a winter coat on my back, so really he’s not necessarily a booster of Michigan,” Rose told Rome.
“He was actually a guy that was really friendly with the kids.”
Gabe Brown, a team manager during the Fab Five era, said he remembered seeing Martin around, but said he didn’t see a correlation between the banned booster and extra benefits.
“I thought he was great,” said Brown, a mechanical engineer who is a brother of Michigan recruit Graham Brown. “He was a really nice guy, very friendly, cordial and respectful. He was there rooting everybody – a big supporter of the Michigan Wolverines.”
Fame or shame?
With former players like Webber being implicated in what Canham calls “the largest financial violation in amateur sorts history and an illustrious calamity for Michigan” – action will most likely be taken by the University. Whether or not this involves Michigan disassociating itself with Webber, Traylor, Taylor and Bullock, remains to be seen.
Mark Mayemura, an editor of Recruiting USA and a recruiting analyst for ESPN.com, says that the Martin indictment “doesn’t impact Webber negatively.” And other than the fact that Webber may face future tax problems from the IRS for the cash given to him by Martin, Mayemura’s statement isn’t that far off the mark – legally speaking.
But will Michigan ever be able to welcome back Webber with open arms into the halls of Crisler Arena – where his picture is on the wall but his memory is as tainted as Shoeless Joe Jackson?
“It’s hard for me to say,” Fife said. “They say he took the money when he was 19, I think he can make up for his mistake. Maybe he should.
“I’d say come back, get your degree and make it up to the program.”
As long as Webber pays for the tuition himself.
– Daily Sports Writer Raphael Goodstein contributed to this story.