April 8, 2013 at 1:00 am

Vincent Goodwill

Fab Five -- Chris Webber included -- and Michigan need each other

It's unlikely that Chris Webber will appear at the national championship game tonight in Atlanta. (Matt Sayles / Associated Press)

Chris Webber is the elephant in the room, as the "will he or won't he" has become an interesting subplot to tonight's championship festivities in Atlanta.

Webber, like it or not, is the face of the famed Fab Five, and the voice, childhood friend Jalen Rose, gave an impassioned plea on an ESPN podcast / video, asking Webber to support Michigan's basketball team in its return to the NCAA championship game, 20 years since Webber led them and infamously called a timeout Michigan didn't have against North Carolina.

The other members of the Fab Five — Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — will be there tonight. The missing link, of course, is Webber.

"I think he wants to disassociate himself from that moment and with that school," Rose said of the timeout and Michigan. "In theory, (do the same) with us, to rebuild his life mentally to say, 'My career really started my rookie year in the NBA.'"

Due to Webber's association with the late Michigan booster Ed Martin he can't have any association with U-M until May 8.

It's understandable why Webber has been hesitant to embrace Michigan; he's running from two tumultuous years of his life for things he'd done as a teenager. Though Martin had been around Webber's family since before he was in high school, it was Webber relationship with Martin that led to the Wolverine committing the biggest mistake in his basketball career.

After ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary on the Fab Five, which aired in 2012, Webber indicated he would tell his side of the story, telling Sports Illustrated he was writing an autobiography.

But so far there's been no book, and this past weekend at the Final Four in Atlanta, where the 40-year-old resides, no sign of Chris Webber. He looks like a person who can't reconcile what happened internally, so there's no way he can deal with it on a public stage.

Rose played the only card he had left, the Man Card.

"The world knows he'll be in Atlanta so it's like a flagrant omission," Rose said. "It would mean so much to the university, so much to the current players."

Iconic moments

While Rose is right and it would be unfortunate for Webber not to show up tonight, there's another side to this story, which has Michigan's treasured history in limbo.

The school's obsession with claiming it is so above the muck and backdoor dealings of college basketball led to its condemning of Webber and the group, with the arrogant move of erasing the Fab Five era from their history books.

When punishing itself so harshly, it made Webber a bigger scapegoat than he should've been — although make no mistake, Webber has responsibility.

"The 1989 team won the title and I hope the 2013 team wins this title, but we (the Fab Five) will always be the face of Michigan basketball," Rose said.

If you think some of that well-documented Michigan arrogance has rubbed off on Rose, perhaps you're not wrong, but it doesn't mean his statement isn't 100 percent true. The school can send the accomplishments of the Fab Five to the basement of an old library, but Michigan shouldn't insult our intelligence.

The Fab Five gave a buttoned-up school personality, style and nuance. In the span of 21 days in 1991, fans saw Michigan in two very distinct but iconic moments in its history.

On Nov. 23, Desmond Howard sprinted down the sidelines in front of the Ohio State bench for a 91-yard touchdown and captured the occasion by giving the Heisman pose in the end zone.

Three weeks later, the Fab Five made their national TV debut against Duke at Crisler Arena, introducing the world to the revolution that was upon us, and it gave Michigan life and texture that hadn't been there.

It wasn't that Michigan didn't have charismatic figures before. But now, the nameless, faceless college athlete, sent through the NCAA machine without so much as saying a word, was done. The Fab Five kicked the door in on that.

Five young, black men coming into their own on the big stage — brash and confident but vulnerable and impressionable teenagers at the same time — were smart enough to see what the system was and bold enough to challenge it.

The Fab Five didn't win a NCAA title, losing to Duke and North Carolina in consecutive years. But it doesn't mean they weren't great. They won more tournament games than any other school in those two years, and before you bag on that, ask NBA players Eddie Jones, Aaron McKie and Rick Brunson if Michigan was a great team.

Ask Jimmy Jackson and Lawrence Funderburke of Ohio State, who couldn't beat Michigan in the 1992 Southeast Regional final.

Ask current Louisville coach Rick Pitino about the Fab Five, whose Kentucky team, led by Jamal Mashburn, beat teams by an average of 31 points in the 1993 tourney before running into Michigan in the national semifinal and getting beat in overtime.

Resolution possible?

How can the Webber-Michigan situation be rectified, or will it be forever filed in the folder of irreconcilable differences?

Webber is a charismatic NBA analyst, the heir apparent to Charles Barkley. And to Michigan, Webber and Rose would be the school's biggest recruiters, its biggest ambassadors.

But both proud sides, Webber and Michigan, have to meet in the middle. Webber violated NCAA rules by accepting booster money while at Michigan.

Michigan wants Webber to apologize; Webber believes Michigan should send him a "thank you" note for enhancing the Block M.

Neither will happen.

Webber, Rose, Howard, King and Jackson should get together in a room with Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and hammer this out like men — men with character, feelings and most of all, a responsibility to each other.

vgoodwill@detroitnews.com

Twitter@vgoodwill