Oh, what could have been.
They were supposed to make history, do something no one had ever done. Those five b-balling freshmen would have cemented their place on the hardwood forever.
And no matter how glowing you talk about Michigan’s Fab Five – Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson – it’s still hard to give them their right due because they never could seal the deal in March Madness.
Those five – considered by many in the hoops world as the greatest class ever recruited – were supposed to have shocked the world and been the last team standing when the dust settled on the 64 teams in their first NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament.
It never happened.
It’s the reason that it’s actually hard to celebrate what they accomplished. Truth be told, this wonder team never won a single championship of any kind – not even a Big Ten title.
It’s not that they didn’t leave their footprint in the world. Indeed, they did.
The long shorts, the black sneakers, black sox and all that swag was so cool. In the process, they were rock stars. Fans yelled for them, followed their team bus and wanted a piece of them unlike any college basketball team ever assembled.
Still, there’s nothing like winning the hardware. Substance always trumps style.
Twenty-five years ago today, those five freshmen played their first tourney game against coach John Chaney and his Temple University team.
It was the start of a magical ride that got the attention of many. College basketball was, indeed, put on notice.
In today’s world, where people are celebrated and considered great without winning anything, the Fab Five would be the end all, be all.
Fans nowadays make excuses why the players and teams they love haven’t won. Winning just doesn’t seem to matter as much.
But back in 1992 and 1993, peeps didn’t get down like that. Getting there was cool, but winning was the reward that carried weight.
But the Fab Five didn’t win in ’92 or ’93. They were runners-up in the title game two years in a row. Twenty-five years ago, they were a good story, not a great one. It’s the reason the Fab Five are more like a fade than a fable.
You have to win.
It’s the reason former Buffalo Bills’ coach Marv Levy was never considered the greatest NFL coach ever. He got to four straight Super Bowls. Sadly, he lost all four. That’s more dubious than amazing.
It’s why, despite his prolific stats, Dan Marino wasn’t considered the greatest quarterback ever. He never won a Super Bowl. Whether it was his fault or not, it stopped any G.O.A.T. talk.
The list goes on of great players, managers, coaches and teams who just couldn’t win the big one. And the Fab Five are front and center, especially this time of the year when people think of Marchs gone by.
In 1992, they weren’t ready come championship time. Despite what they did to get themselves there, they were blown out by Duke, 71-51.
And as disappointing as that was, their dreams didn’t die with that defeat.
The Fab Five came back in 1993, making another bid for the title as sophomores. It was a close game, a championship was within reach. But North Carolina beat the Wolverines, 77-71.
That game is infamously known by most for Webber’s costly “timeout,” which resulted in a technical foul as Michigan didn’t have any timeouts left.
And that was the Fab Five story. They were an almost, not a champion.
Still, people love their story despite the lack of a happy ending. The TV documentary about their ride in college basketball was the highest rated that ESPN Films ever produced.
Their appeal and reach was so huge that the Fab Five sold more merchandise than the national champion 1988-89 Michigan Wolverine basketball team.
Still, as March Madness begins, people have to wonder why it never happened for those five talented young basketball players with so much to prove to the world.
Imagine what their legend would be like had they won that first championship run 25 years ago.