Twenty years ago, the Fab Five was at its finest. With Michigan rising to No. 1 again — 20 years later — we decided to take a look back at that trend-setting quintet, as well as lost-in-the-shuffle memory makers from the other 11 Big Ten schools. Some were players. Some were coaches. We even looked back at an arena that Big Ten fans can relate to. The first installment:
Whatever happened to ... Michigan’s Fab Five
Then: Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson created a sensation at Michigan in the early 1990s that went beyond the court. They were fashion trend-setters (long, baggy shorts, black shoes and socks) and cultural heroes. And they won. A lot. They reached the NCAA final in consecutive years. Never mind that they lost to Duke and North Carolina, they got there. With the same five players leading the way.
Now: The school can’t actually acknowledge them, but the 10-year probation is about to end. King hopes the school will soon be able to re-raise the Final Four banners. Four of the five went on to play in the NBA, with Howard becoming the first to win a pro title with the Miami Heat in 2012. Howard had the longest NBA career, lasting 16 seasons with eight teams. He hopes to get a call late this year. Webber, who left school after his sophomore season, was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and played 15 seasons. He was a five-time All-Star and is currently an analyst with TNT. Rose left Michigan after his junior year and was a first-round pick by Denver. A top player with the Pacers in the late 1990s, Rose ended his career in 2007 with Phoenix. He is currently an analyst with ESPN. King played two seasons in the NBA with Toronto and Denver. Since his playing days, King has worked as a broadcaster, calling Michigan games and being a part of the Detroit media. His day job is as a financial consultant for Schechter Wealth Strategies in Birmingham, Mich. Jackson is the only one of the five not to play in the NBA. The Texan is back in Austin, working as an educator. He runs a non-profit company that helps students with college entrance preparation.
What they’re saying: “We know that we benefited from the people who came before us and thought it was a better game because of that. We wanted to do the same when we left our legacy. That was important to us.” — Jimmy King, Fab Five member
The Michigan players didn’t exactly embrace the nickname: “Fab Five.” Too corny, they thought as a group. Which was always their M.O.
“There was a Fab Five in the ’60s and a Fab Five in the ’90s,” Jimmy King said. “I don’t think either one of those teams had an impact as much as we did.”
They came up with another nickname, one you don’t hear as often: “5 X 1.”
“We wanted to make sure that the moniker we had on ourselves was for everyone,” King said. “Everything that we did was collaborative. We all sat around and bounced our thoughts off each other. It was a great thing that we all had the same thought-processing mentality. That’s why we were so good. Our off-court personas translated to our on-court personas and how we thought and how we operated. We always talked, and we always communicated.”
As they were living it, the Wolverines didn’t know what a big deal they had become.
“It was a gradual thing,” King said. “When you grow up, you have a vision of something. But when it’s actually happening, you really don’t realize it, especially with what we went through. We had visions of being great, but I don’t think we could have imagined the impact we actually had on the basketball culture itself. As players, we wanted to be champions. In the course of that, if you achieve something special, you don’t know that until after the fact.”
They had fun. Always. Laughing, Joking. Smiling. Some considered it disrespectful. That’s one of the great misconceptions about the team, King said.
“People saw the hard work we had put in mixed with the love we had for the game,” King said. “We were talking, laughing and smiling with each other. And occasionally with the other team. Everybody talks. For us, it was magnified because we were young. We were all freshmen. We came in straight out of high school, no redshirts.”
Coach Steve Fisher didn’t put them in the starting lineup together until a February 1992 game against Notre Dame. The freshmen scored every point in the victory against the Fighting Irish. And stayed in the lineup the rest of the season.
The Fab Five/5 X 1 might never have happened without the recruiting work of Howard. The Chicago native was the first of the five to commit to the Wolverines and made it his mission to land the remaining four.
“He started it all,” King said. “He’s always been a leader.”
The fun didn’t last forever. And the accomplishments of the Fab Five were taken out of the Michigan record books because of payments made by booster Ed Martin to Wolverines, including Chris Webber. Michigan was told to disassociate from Webber for 10 years.
“It does hurt,” King said. “We put so much blood, sweat, tears and time into it. With that being said, the sanctions are up this month. It’s done. It’s over. At this point, myself, Jalen and the rest of us are advocating for putting the banners back up. I think it was a smart stance for the university. We want to rectify that relationship.”
King said the players feel welcomed at Michigan. He has been part of the program’s broadcast team.
“There are no ill feelings,” King said. “It’s just a matter of getting the discussions open and celebrating the history that we made.”
King said he expects Webber to return to Michigan. His former teammate respected the 10-year ban and didn’t want to cause the school any more trouble.
“Now, it’s about moving forward,” King said. “We want to continue to build that legacy. We never wanted to hurt the program or hurt the university.”