ESPN’s “Fab Five” documentary was about more than just hoops, it decoded a revolution!

March 14, 2011

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

It was a story of brotherhood, sacrifice, motivation, determination, and perseverance. On Sunday night, ESPN aired a classic documentary!

The profile on the University of Michigan’s “Fab Five” was one of the greatest documentaries that I have ever watched. I’m not saying this because I hail from the Great Lakes State, I’m strictly speaking from a basketball purist’s point-of-view.

It’s not a doubt in anyone’s mind that from 1991-1993, hoops fans around the country got to witness one of the best college teams to ever step foot on the hardwood but people wanted something more tangible. The streets feined for the behind-the-scenes story of the team. The exclusive. People wanted it raw and uncut and the film delivered big-time with a five-star performance.

Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Jimmy King, Juwan Howard, and Ray Jackson were often described as “rockstars” who were “bigger than the score at the end of the game.”

They were right!

If not, we wouldn’t be talking about the team nearly 20 years later since they failed to bring home a national championship for two straight seasons.

Hip-hop legend, Ice Cube, summed up the squad better than anyone else in the film.

“They brought like our attitude to the court,” he said of the Fab 5 and his generation. “The Fab Five let people know it’s not how old you are as long as you can play.”

In today’s game, a college program may get lucky enough to have a couple of freshman who are able to make a great impact in one season(ie Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, John Wall). But five? That still baffles me.

It’s also crazy that a group of teenagers became cultural icons for being themselves. They rocked the black socks under the freshest Nike sneakers, banged the dopest hip-hop at the time, and had fun doing it.

The journalists of that era should now feel stupid for not covering them in the proper manner. The team was clearly ahead of its time and experts like Dick Vitale and Bill Walton were exposed for the ignorant comments they made back then.

“The black shoes. The ugly black socks. It’s the shaven head. I mean my head’s shaven because I have no choice,” Vitale said. “But all of that really has come back to haunt them in the eyes of a lot of people.”

“I think this is one of the most overrated and most underachieving teams of all-time,” Walton went on the record to say. “These are guys who come in and epitomize what is wrong with a lot of basketball players. They think they’re better than they are.”

This ticked the guys off.

“Media members would judge us by more than just how we played. They would judge us by how we dressed,” Rose said of their bad coverage. “You know ‘he’s listening to NWA, he’s listening to Ice Cube.’ You know. ‘Who is Big Daddy Kane? Who is EPMD? What is Naughty by Nature?”

Rose was the clear-cut star of the movie. With Webber deciding not to participate in the project, Rose shined.

I truly felt like Rose spoke to all the young black males across the world that may be going through a comparable struggle.

Maybe it’s because he grew up in the D but Rose immediately gained credibility with me early in the film. He said he knew about the mayonnaise sandwiches and the sugar water.

His biological father, Jimmy Walker, wasn’t in his life —although he was a former NBA player who averaged 16.7 points per game in nine seasons. Rose said he despised his father in high school at Detroit Southwestern and wore the No. 42 instead of the No. 24 for motivation since Walker wore that number during his prep years. He also talked trash to opponents, even going so far as to do his homework on each one of them.

In some ways I can relate to Rose. It’s pretty much the same growing up in Flint.

Although I didn’t have it to his extent, I felt his pain and have similar experiences. My biological father was not a part of my life but I was blessed enough to have a dad step in my life to fill the void at a very young age. Even though I was fortunate enough to be blessed with a great father figure, I’m still bitter in some ways towards the man that gave me life.

I have friends who sold drugs.

I could have easily been put in the same situation that Rose was put in at the alleged “crack house” in his hometown.

“When they come in the house we’re laughing like ‘I don’t know what kind of tips you guys got’ like ‘y’all wasting y’all time,'” Rose recalled in the film. “I remember it like it was yesterday, the cops said ‘we got rocks! Who’s house is this? Let’s go!’

Rose was given a ticket for loitering in a place where drugs were stored. He clarified that it wasn’t a “dope house” but that wasn’t how it was unveiled to the public. They went so far as to stir rumors that he may have been a drug dealer himself.

“I know what a dope house is. I know what a crack house it…trust me! I’ve walked past a few,” Rose added. “I know people that have been inflicted by a lot of that. Drug infusion came in the mid-80’s. I know about the drug game but I never been a drug dealer and that was not a crack house.”

Comments like this were powerful. Rose kept it real about everything all in the film. Not saying that King, Jackson, or Howard didn’t but I just felt like his words were a little more powerful than the rest of the cast. The lefty had a great way of touching the audience with his personable attitude.

It was inspirational that Rose channeled the negative media coverage he received from that situation into a positive one. In the next game after the ordeal, Rose arguably played his best game as a Wolverine.

On March 10. 1993, he dropped 23 points and grabbed 8 rebounds against Illinois on the road and silenced a rowdy crowd. They all yelled hurtful comments from the stands but Rose responded in the typical Fab Five fashion: not giving a f***!

This film also taught me a lot. Since I was only three-years-old when the five freshmen relocated to Ann Arbor to enroll at the University of Michigan, I didn’t know everything about them. I learned that Juwan Howard was the mastermind behind getting all the players to become Wolverines. I was also informed about how they protested from wearing all Michigan apparel since they weren’t reaping any of the financial benefits that the university gained on their behalf.

The Fab Five’s story was about more than the game of basketball. It was heartfelt and is still relevant to today’s youth. We needed to hear this story in Michigan and all over the world for that matter.

After watching the special, I’m happy to say that I got the chance to meet the great Jalen Rose.

I was covering the University of Michigan’s game against the Michigan State Spartans on Jan. 26, 2010 in Chrisler Arena and ran into him. (By the way—MSU won, 57-56, after a clutch jumper from Spartans guard Kalin Lucas)

Rose was in rare form as he sported a pair of crispy Red/White Nike Air Force 1’s, a red-corduroy suit and a light blue shirt underneath —unbuttoned at the top—with no tie. At 37-years-old, he continued to express himself, just like he did in his U-M days when he ran the point guard. That will forever be appreciated.

Chrisler Arena may be stripped of the Fab Five’s banners but the legacy will live forever.

In the words of Jay-Z: “If you can’t respect that, you’re whole perspective is wack!”


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