Detroit — It’s a Michigan reunion that’s been almost 20 years in the making.
Now, it appears to be as close as it’s been since the Fab Five made their mark with the Wolverines in the 1990s.
It's the back-and-forth saga between the university and the famed Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — which began after the scandal linking U-M booster Ed Martin to improper payments to several players in the program.
After a 10-year hiatus that ended in 2013, Webber has maintained his distance from UM, which had to remove the Final Four banners from appearances in the Final Four in 1992 and ’93.
Webber is expected to be an honorary captain for Michigan’s football showdown against Penn State on Nov. 3 at Michigan Stadium. That could be a significant bridge to Webber reconnecting with U-M and building a better relationship between the sides.
Rose has been the main catalyst among the players, trying to get some resolution to the issues from both sides. He sees Webber’s return to UM as a move in the right direction.
“Nov. 3 is a huge date as an icebreaker once he goes to campus and he’s celebrated by the fans and he gets a chance to be welcomed by Jim Harbaugh,” Rose said Monday at a fundraiser at the Detroit Golf Club for his Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. “That’s going to be a catalyst for what could happen going forward.”
In recent years, Rose and Webber have gone back and forth about how the situation could be resolved, with Rose ingratiating himself with UM, while Webber has continued with his broadcast career as an NBA analyst and for the most part, hasn't acknowledged his affiliation with the Fab Five extensively.
Rose, who also produced a popular documentary about the Fab Five, has maintained that it’s been long enough and the impasse should be ended, for others involved — not just the Fab Five.
“For those who were cloudy on the topic, what gets lost is everybody else became collateral damage," he said. "For (Coach) Steve Fisher, you don’t see where his legacy is celebrated, for someone who’s been to three finals games and won a national championship at the university and the fans who didn’t get a chance to celebrate the legacy and the other members of the Fab Five and of the team.
“It’s like the University of Michigan and Chris Webber got a divorce and we were like the kids trying to figure out which parents we were going to visit. For a long time, none of us spoke on the topic.”
Webber has been inclined to mend fences with UM recently, as he said in June on “The Dan Patrick Show” that he “never really felt any type of way” about working to make things amicable with the university.
Harbaugh, with whom Webber says he has a good relationship, could be the connector to pull things together. Webber says the two have been in contact frequently and when Harbaugh extended the invitation in the past, it just hasn’t been right. Things look to be changing now.
“He’s asked me three years in a row and I said I didn’t think it was the right time,” Webber told Patrick in June. “I definitely want to show up and have some fun with it.”
Rose is looking forward to a time when all five members can be back together and give the proper due to one of the most celebrated teams in recent history in college basketball. There’s still work to do, but Webber’s return to campus looks to be a huge stride in that direction.
The sticking point previously was the thought that Webber needed to apologize for his role in the probation and sanctions that UM endured as a result of the scandal. Rose, though, thinks that the apologies go both ways.
“As the kids who saw the parents divorced. I think there are going to be apologies eventually on both sides,” Rose said. “Each entity is going to truly identify things they could have done differently in that scenario as well. Based on that, I think those things start when he goes back to campus.”
Furthering the cause
Rose's school opened in 2011 but in recent weeks LeBron James has gotten considerable notoriety for his involvement in opening a charter school in his hometown of Akron.
It's not a slight to the others who preceded James' efforts; rather, it's shining a spotlight on education as a social issue that needs overdue attention and involvement from many more people to address some of the myriad issues.
"For LeBron James to put a face and voice that he’s not only passionate about his community but about education, it takes it to a mainstream level, where the conversation is had by a lot more people than it would have," Rose said. "Because of that level of popularity, it’s going to embolden other athletes and celebrities to want to give back to their communities and have a lot of people who didn’t know I was the founder of a charter high school in 2011 now know because he got involved with our Promise schools."