Before the football team’s last two games (I’m not counting Indiana as a game), I thought about which four players in Michigan history I would want. Usually, I ended up with Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard, Tom Brady and some defensive player.
Well, with tonight’s huge Michigan State basketball game coming up, this question resurfaces – but with a twist. Which five Michigan basketball players would I want? But that was too easy. It has to be the Fab Five, a group of guys whose games and accomplishments now never officially “happened.” I know the athletic department doesn’t like these guys, and I’m sure that a lot of students don’t either, but let us not forget what the Fab Five provided – other than missing banners. They made Ann Arbor a place people wanted to come to more than ever.
C-Webb, Jalen, Juwan, Jimmy and Ray converted countless Michigan fans, including me, just by playing basketball. I can still remember dragging my dad to Foot Locker to buy me what I thought to be the most necessary hoops accessory in the world – black low-cut Nike socks. What kid didn’t have those? You could look at every basketball team in the early ’90s, and we were all rocking them. I had two pairs: one with a standard white swoosh and another with “Nike” outlined in blue. Sure, I was a chubby white kid from suburban Minneapolis, but I thought I was Chris Webber in those.
But my friend had me beat. He had the maize Michigan shorts. The yellowest things I had ever seen, but at the time I remember thinking, “Damn, I need a pair of those.” And, at one point, I got them. Sort of. I got a pair of blue Michigan shorts that I wore every day.
One day at the mall my confidence in them almost came crashing down. My friend – cruising in his shorts – and I browsed Southdale Mall as only 9-year-olds could when an old lady approached us. We were almost as tall as the woman, but that didn’t stop her from uttering something that was, at that moment, as blasphemous as burning an American flag, the Bible and a Pearl Jam CD.
“Those are the ugliest shorts I have ever seen in my life.”
Each syllable was like a wrecking ball to the groin – what’d she know? Nothing, ’cause she was old. Our basketball idols provided us with the stuff to wear, not a woman who made the Golden Girls look hot.
I know that this makes me look like I cared more about the fashion trends that the Fab Five started, but it was the hoops that got everyone hooked – me included. Instead of making basketball look like a job, they made it seem fun, like it was on the playground. Jalen trash-talked; we trash talked. He may have been light years ahead of us, but we tried.
And the dunks, oh, the dunks. Webber made us want to throw them down like he did. This was how I used a wrench on my own: I loosened the bolts on my basketball hoop and lowered it so even white boys could get above the rim. As my friends and I perfected alley-oops and swinging from the rim, my dad came outside to yell at us. Michigan paid for the rims our idols hung on, and unless it would buy me a new one, we had to stop.
That’s the thing about the Fab Five – it influenced a nation. The fact that some of them got paid – whatever, that’s not all that surprising. I mean, what are the chances that so many great players would go to the same school all at once? Their flair and arrogance carried them when some thought the worst of them. Being called drug dealers, thugs and everything else under the sun didn’t matter; they stuck together and accomplished almost everything, sans that elusive national championship.
They had what this current Michigan squad needs – swagger. After Saturday night’s win over Minnesota, coach Tommy Amaker noted that guard Daniel Horton’s swagger was the difference. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever loved something Amaker said. The Wolverines need a swagger, an arrogance that makes them really believe they can dominate teams – and not just doormats like the Gophers. The Fab Five had it from the day they stepped on campus. If the current Wolverines – and most importantly Horton and softie Courtney Sims – bring that, maybe they can reclaim their spot as the state’s best team tonight. If that happens, I’ll slip on the old black socks and pretend I’m Webber again.
Matt used to ball for Our Lady of Grace school, but unfortunately he was more Tractor Traylor than Webber. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.