Detroit — It’s been a long time since Michigan’s Fab Five has been together.
Over the past six months, though, there have been promising signs that a long-awaited reunion of the famed group — Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — may be in the cards.
In November, Webber made his return to campus after years of maintaining his distance when he served as an honorary captain for the football team’s game against Penn State. Then in February, former coach Steve Fisher set foot in Crisler Center for the first time since 1997 for the 30-year anniversary celebration of Michigan’s 1989 national-title team. Both received a warm welcome with loud cheers.
While Rose saw both instances as a step in the right direction and remains optimistic an end to the back-and-forth saga is coming, he noted such a gathering isn’t entirely in the Fab Five’s control.
"Only the school can determine if and when they decide to have a Fab Five reunion, if they want to hang a Fab Five banner,” Rose said Monday at his Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, where he treated students with at least a 3.0 GPA to lunch from Wingstop. “I'm still an alum, I still support the school. I still go to games, football and basketball. I have students from JRLA there. I have a scholarship endowment there.
“It is something that I want to see happen. Fish going back, C-Webb going back, I think those are really nice dominoes in hopefully making it happen soon.”
Webber was the centerpiece of a Michigan team that reached the national title game in 1992 and 1993, but things turned sour when he was one of several players linked to receiving improper payments from former booster Ed Martin. The scandal led to the Final Four banners being removed from Crisler Center and a 10-year disassociation ban between Webber and the university, which ended in 2013.
Like Webber, Fisher's legacy took a complicated turn when he was abruptly fired due to fallout from the payment scandal and his role in arranging complimentary tickets for Martin. While Fisher was never punished by the NCAA, he was still found at fault for allowing Martin access to his players.
The scandal led to a strained relationship between Michigan and both Webber and Fisher, and one that coach John Beilein has worked for years to repair.
Beilein has made it known he wants all former players to be connected to the university and said last summer he has been trying to bridge the disconnect between Webber and the basketball program. Beilein also played a paramount role in bringing Fisher back to Crisler, which had been in the works since Fisher retired from coaching at San Diego State in 2017.
Rose said Beilein has been “a leader” in trying to get the Fab Five back together and the two regularly stay in contact. Rose added having Beilein's support has meant a lot to him and everyone else who played on the 1991-92 and 1992-93 teams.
But despite his help, Rose understands the “unique and tricky” situation Beilein is in because it’s not his call if and when a reunion will ever take place.
“We’ve just got to stop being fingers and start being a fist and take back over like we're supposed to. To me, that's what's missing,” Rose said. “I think when everybody sees that your family is functioning properly, I think that just helps the program. Look at all of the top programs. You see their former players on the coaching staff, calling the games on radio, calling the games on TV, sitting courtside at the games.
“That's what the best programs do, and I think we have that potential and I know we can. Now it's just a matter of buying in and everybody doing it.”
'Labor of love'
While the basketball season is the busiest time of the year for Rose, who serves as a NBA analyst for ABC and ESPN, that doesn't stop him from visiting the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy he co-founded in 2011 at least five times a month.
The tuition-free, open-enrollment high school has sent approximately 250 students to college, community college, trade school or the military and has approximately 415 students currently enrolled. The first batch of college graduates from the school will come this spring.
According to Rose, JRLA doesn't have a feeder school and receives no state funding for its facility, activities and athletics.
"It's like building a program," Rose said before he was surprised with a $10,000 grant from Wingstop Charities. "It's no different than what you see with the Patriots or no different than what you see with the Spurs. We're trying to do it in education.
"You create a culture, you set boundaries, you understand what everyone's strengths and weaknesses are and ultimately you don't quit. You continue to believe, you fight through turbulence and you do the best you can to be as successful as possible.”
Rose, who graduated from Michigan and made the dean’s list several times, said he has always been on a mission to fight the “dumb jock” stereotype and nothing he has accomplished in sports compares to what he has been able to do at JRLA.
“For me to grow up in this neighborhood one exit away from this school and be able to have the level of influence, for parents to trust me, for students to believe in my vision, for the board members to continue to sacrifice and for my co-founder Michael Carter to contribute his time, energy and money, it's been a terrific labor of love," Rose said. "I'm really proud of what we've accomplished and we're going to continue to create scholars that will become leaders for today and tomorrow."