Opinion: Chris Webber, Michigan, And The NCAA

Tonight’s NCAA championship game has some history attached – Louisville will look to add a third national championship to their venerable program, while Michigan will be looking for a shot at true redemption.

Michigan basketball is synonymous with the “Fab Five,” the group of freshman who became national sensations as they led the Wolverines to the 1992 and 1993 national title games. Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson were the catalysts for a huge shift in college basketball. Baggy shorts and swagger became part of the zeitgeist, race became a national topic, and the group eventually lived in infamy after blowing the 1993 title in heartbreaking fashion – “The Timeout.”

Four of the Fab Five should be in the house for the Wolverines on Monday night – but likely not Chris Webber. Arguably the best of the group, and certainly the one who enjoyed the most success in the NBA, Webber has distanced himself from the university after a booster scandal led to NCAA sanctions and ultimately the vacating of both of those standout seasons. When ESPN premiered their “30 For 30″ documentary in 2011, The Fab Five, Webber was conspicuously absent from interviews.

Webber has a reason for avoiding all the hoopla and nostalgia: he faced serious legal ramifications after lying to a grand jury about receiving money from Michigan booster Ed Martin. Michigan cut ties with C-Webb, and he returned the favor. He was suspended for a few NBA games and was effectively wiped from the NCAA record books. College basketball tried to erase one of the most influential teams in history from our collective memory, and did so in the most heavy-handed way possible.

So yes, Webber has a reason to be angry. He may have lied, but the NCAA’s ridiculous historiography and devotion to “amateurism” is the whole reason he was in front of a jury in the first place. Pretending that superstar freshmen, baggy shorts, and untold millions in Michigan apparel just appeared out of thin air is borderline criminal. Would Jamal Crawford have attended Michigan if it weren’t for the Fab Five? How about Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr., or budding star Mitch McGary? The 2012-13 Wolverines owe as much to the Fab Five as they do to any other factor.

Webber won’t be in the crowd tonight, and it will be a shame. But don’t blame C-Webb, who has found a nice second career as an analyst and has kept his negative comments to himself, for the most part. Blame the school, blame the deceased Ed Martin, and most of all, blame the NCAA.