Rose thinks Webber, Michigan will reunite one day

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Jalen Rose speaks to reporters at the conclusion of the Fab Five forum on Saturday.

Ann Arbor -- Few know Chris Webber better than Jalen Rose. Or, at least, few knew Webber like Rose.

The two of them grew up owning the Detroit playgrounds before heading to Michigan in the fall of 1991, two key members of a famed Fab Five that would rock the college-basketball world -- before eventually rocking the university with scandal.

Webber was the lone member of the Fab Five who didn't have a presence at Saturday's 25th-anniversary public forum. Three attended, and Juwan Howard appeared via taped message because he's busy coaching with the Miami Heat.

Webber didn't respond to his invitation, which is no surprise, given he's shown no desire to have a relationship with the university since it was discovered in the mid-1990s that he took cash and gifts from late Michigan booster Ed Martin.

He declined to participate in ESPN's documentary on the Fab Five in 2011, and was nowhere to be seen Saturday at Hill Auditorium, where a crowd of hundreds showed up to hear the former basketball stars discuss their legacy, both on and off the court.

"I hope so, I think so," Rose said after the two-hour forum, when asked if he believes Webber will eventually participate in Fab Five get-togethers like Saturday's. "I'm not sure when. Only he can tell that. I would think so.

"I haven't talked to him in the last couple years," outside of some occasional hellos as their paths cross in the sports-media business.

UM’s Fab Five players want to break down barriers

Webber, of course, was the prized recruit out of a stable of them for Michigan in 1991.

He helped lead the Wolverines and their star-studded freshman class to a national-championship game appearance, losing to Duke in 1992. They made the title game again in 1993, losing to North Carolina.

It was in that title game as a sophomore that Webber infamously called the timeout Michigan didn't have. He went pro after that, and was the No. 1 overall draft pick, and went on to make a fortune in the NBA.

In the mid-1990s, meanwhile, it was revealed about the cash he took from Martin, a scandal that cost coach Steve Fisher his job.

"It's no 'Fab' without Chris," Ray Jackson said Saturday. "It's 'Fab Four,' and that's not the same group we came in with.

"I pray that Chris will be a part of this, and I know the university is willing to embrace it. You see the turnout here, nothing like it. I think everybody's made mistakes along the line. I think everybody's willing to correct it now.

"We're moving forward.”

Fisher, now the coach at San Diego State, also wasn't in attendance Saturday; he wasn't invited, but there's no ill will. It already was a crowded panel, and the former players praised him and are disappointed he doesn't get the acclaim deserving of a coach who won an NCAA championship with Michigan in 1989.

Jackson also made mention of former Michigan assistants whose legacies were tainted, including Brian Dutcher and Perry Watson.

But Webber, 43, remains the central figure -- not just in the scandal, but as the university and players look to heal all these years later.

Rose has said in the past all it might take is a Webber apology to mend fences once and for all.

Rose said Saturday while he's not close to Webber these days, he believes Webber still carries the pain around with him -- the pain of not just the scandal, but also the timeout-that-wasn't at the end of the North Carolina game.

"We lost as a team, though," Rose said. "I had one of the worst games I ever played that game. ... When you're part of the team, you're thinking of what you could've done better.

"In his head, he wanted to just erase that, that this ever happened, like when you break up with somebody: 'I'm done, I'm done.’

"Him removing himself from us and removing himself from Michigan takes him away from something that really represents pain in his heart."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tonypaul1984