Monday, March 14, 2011

The Fab Five

A Panther Joe Bounce Pass

When ESPN first started to advertise this documentary last month about arguably the best recruiting class in college basketball history, I was psyched as a casual Michigan fan. I say casual, because while located in the Southeast United States, I consider them to be a Big 10 embassy, fighting off the everlasting douchebag parade known as The Ohio State University. The?!? Really, you pompous bigwigs? How about, hey, you guys never win the big game? Or football coach Jim Tressel sucks from the teet of the overlord cheating demi-God. We'll call him, Sampsonus. (Roman equivalent: Pete Carrollysus)

The Fab Five (2010)
Director: Jason Hehir
Starring: Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Steve Fisher
In the most recent addition to the critically acclaimed ESPN sports documentary series 30 for 30, The Fab Five examines the University of Michigan's mens basketball team shortly after capturing the national title in 1989. The Wolverines trudge through two mediocre seasons before coach Steve Fisher and his assistants take a different approach to recruiting by looking right in their backyard. In 1991, UM would make the score of a lifetime, landing future NBA standouts Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose from various public and private schools in or around the Detroit area. Still not done, Fisher also nabbed Texas high school sharp shooters Jimmy King and Mark Ray Jackson. All but Jackson were nationally recognized, top ten high school recruits, and when the quintet finally gelled in their first season the media gracefully dubbed them, The Fab Five.

The two hour documentary then shuffles us through two very successful seasons which saw the Freshmen led team advance to the National Championship game both years, ultimately coming up short in each tournament. Later, like all good rock star stories go, the filmmaker addresses the very turbulent incidents in the lives of these young men, including racially-motivated backlash from the groups alternative look and demeanor, Chris Webber's alleged illegal benefits and dealings with a bookkeeping booster, and Webber's infamous Phantom Timeout incident in the National Championship game against North Carolina in 1993.
Chris Webber
Throughout this movie, there was tons of insight from players, coaches, and media personnel alike, awakening you to new tidbits you may have missed as a fan or unraveling the tale beautifully for fans like myself who were too young to remember the entire story. Acclaimed author and sports journalist Mitch Albom probably provides the most interesting take, recounting how he closely shadowed the team during its run for the Detroit Free Press.

One of the more successful aspects of The Fab Five were the interviews with all the bit players on the team, including two holdovers that won the 1989 title and now were being relegated to bench players in light of all five freshmen hogging up the entire starting lineup. While you could tell the player minute situation was at times a volatile one (Rose even disclosed that he would jokingly tell the two white players on the team that their job was to keep afloat the team GPA), you could also reasonably believe that these bench players accepted their secondary positions, playing to their strengths of experience and maturity for the better of the team.

Beyond the near perfect, dramatic way things unfolded in the story that probably couldn't have been written better by a Hollywood type, this documentary was filled to the brim with past interviews and footage not usually seen by basketball fans. After the team's first championship game loss to Duke in 1992, coach Fisher took the entire squad and personnel over to Italy for a two week getaway, which ultimately shaped how many of the players felt about their role on the team, the expectations from the community, and the very business they were slaving away for with little to no compensation.
Other parts of the film were, to say the least, cathartic. For someone who only knows Chris Webber's indecision on the court from the stand alone play, I was shocked to see Webber's reactions and emotions minutes, hours, and days following the tragic mistake. The mood was lightened occasionally, whether it be the talks of how the group contributed to a fashion revolution among American basketball players or the overall disdain and hatred toward rival Ohio State and the white, prep factory known as Duke.

All in all, The Fab Five did a superb job transporting you back to the early 90's and letting you in on the world of five 18 year olds who quickly captivated the nation with outspoken players and a deep run at the NCAA title. I can see why these documentaries are polarizing though; if you were not a fan of the trash talking ways of the group or the Michigan Wolverines in general, this might not be the film for you. However, if you know how the saga ends and the ridiculous NCAA sanctions slapped on the school in the aftermath, you may want to relive this to reinforce your existing feelings.

Watch the documentary here via FratHouseSports

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