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2007, Feb: DIME Magazine – The Fab 5 By Jalen Rose

June 24, 2008

This
season marks the 15th Anniversary of the debut of the Fab 5. As a
tribute to everything they meant to the game and to basketball culture,
we asked Jalen Rose to pen his memories of a group of teenagers that
truly changed the game.

HOW DID THE FAB 5 START? YOU’D HAVE TO GO WAY BACK; BACK TO WHEN WE WERE KIDS.
Me and Chris are both from the D and I’ve been knowing him since we
were 12 years old back on the "Superfriends" AAU squad. The first time
we met Juwan was at the Nike All-America Camp the summer after 9th
grade, so the three of us were friends before anything ever happened
with Michigan.
Me and Chris had always talked about playing together on the same
college team because we couldn’t go to the same high school – he was at
Sacred Heart Country Day and I was at Southwestern in the city. Juwan
was the first to sign with Michigan. He signed early on and then after
Steve Fisher, Juwan immediately became the chief Fab 5 recruiter.
So one by one, we all made our commitments to Michigan – me, Chris, Ray
and Jimmy – but we had to wait until after our senior season to be on
the court together for the first time. And even then, it was only four
of the five. It was the 1991 McDonald’s All-American Game in
Springfield, Mass., and me, Chris, Juwan and Jimmy were all in the
game. We decided from the first second we were there that we’d create a
sign of solidarity. Me and Chris made sure that we had adjoining rooms
and then we went to work on all the other players in order to move
around room assignments so that the four of us could be right next to
each other. It was then that we started talking about how we were gonna
do this thing and how we were gonna sacrifice personal agendas to win a
national championship. We knew we were about to be a part of something
big – we were an incoming class of four McDonald’s All-Americans, five
All-Americans total. Who had ever done that before? We were young, but
we knew that was something that could change the game.
It ended up being bigger than we ever thought. You have to remember,
this was the early ’90s. Not only were five freshmen starting, but all
five freshmen were also black. How many college programs in the entire
country back then had five starting black kids, let alone five
freshmen? We were making a statement on so many levels. Social,
cultural, hip-hop – we repped the street, flavor, fashion and the love
of the game. We were coming after teams like the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
squad of the previous few years and John Thompson’s classic G’Town
teams that were right in the thick of Prop 48 debates – he had to walk
off the court a few times with his teams because the environment was so
bad. So it was important to us, maybe above all, for the Fab 5 to be
strong black men.
We were extremely aware of what was going on. Yes, we were brash and
talking trash and we created a distinct style and played with flair,
but we also went to class. We never got credit for that. We should have.
We didn’t get to meet Ray until we go to campus, but we traveled
together as the Fab 5 from Day 1. If you saw one of us, you saw all
five. We’d go to class together and hang out together. Always.
For us, being on campus was like being an NBA player on the road – it
was that good. We were like the cool kids at the school, we were
approachable and we were theirs. We were cool with everybody and
whatever party we went to, that instantly became the place to be. Girls
would all be smiling and like, "What up Chris? What up Jalen?" and then
turning to their friends like, "See? I told you they was cool." And we
were all doing the same things that any other college guys in our
position would.
Once basketball season started, lots of people don’t remember this, but
we didn’t all start from Day 1. It wasn’t until we played Notre Dame
partway through that first season that we all started. I remember that
we were struggling a bit and right before the game, Coach Fisher’s dad
passed away. We wanted to win so bad for him. He was real emotional and
I remember him being like, "It’s time to start the Fab 5."
Now we all know how Notre Dame athletes are portrayed – let’s just say
that we were being looked at like the total opposite. This was a
national TV game and it didn’t take people long to choose sides. You
know, people love us now, but any time you’re a pioneer in anything and
you knock down doors, you’re gonna get bumps and bruises. I remember
what they said about us, "They’re undisciplined," "they’re not smart,"
"they don’t play the right way," – all of the clichés you can think of.
You know exactly what I am talking about; exactly what perceptions come
with certain programs. Like if you play at Duke, you’re automatically
smart, disciplined and you come from a good family. But if you play for
Michigan or UNLV, it was like, "Oh my God, who’s going to jail next?"
Those portrayals followed us everywhere, and to this day, it’s
obviously something that the school tried to shake.
If felt like we were the villains. We definitely weren’t loved. Coach
Fisher would show us the hate mail that would come in. He’d pin it on
the wall – stuff saying that we were had for the game, that Coach
Fisher should be fired, telling us point-blank to "go back to the
‘hood."
It’s funny because the first time I felt like we really had arrived, it
wasn’t even on the basketball court; it was through hip-hop. After my
freshman year I was at the famous KMEL Summer Jam in Oakland, which was
huge at the time. I was there as a fan like everyone else; I was like,
"Man, I want to go talk to Too $hort." And then I saw Hammer and his
crew coming through. One of his guys spotted me and was like, "You know
who that is? Let him through right now." By the end of the day I was
sitting on-stage and was hanging out with ‘Pac, Redman and Latifah. The
next year, reporters would come through and I’d be wearing a Naughty by
Nature t-shirt or a Hit Squad hoodie and the treated me like I was a
hoodlum. Me, Chris and Juwan al had tattoos and people were like,
"Wow." In 1991, that was something.
I’ll never forget the first time we played Duke. It was during the
season at Michigan and I got into a real heated verbal thing with
Christian Laettner. It was just something in the heat of the moment,
but I got crucified for that. No one said anything about him but I just
got crucified.
That perception stayed with us and in many ways cost us. None of us
were named Player of the Year when we should’ve been. It cost me on
draft night, too. I was a 6-9 point guard, a proven winner, a member of
the Fab 5 and I go 13? Come on now. It’s like Jay-Z said, "I felt like
Randy Moss on draft night." I couldn’t believe it. Being one of the Fab
5 was like the gift and the curse. But while everyone was playing their
games, they were more than happy to make money off us. Our sophomore
year we came back and there was a new arena being built that cost
millions and millions of dollars. Everyone was calling it the "Fab 5
Building." Does that get built without us? I don’t know. And I really
like Mitch Albom, but I went back and looked at the game tapes – there
were commercials running during our games for his "Fab 5" book.
Everyone was making money off us. Everyone.
But when we got to the League, there was nothing but love from every
single player. You forget, NBA players are fans just like everybody
else. We’d be seeing guys in summer leagues and they’d be like, "We
love you, my wife loves you, we named our kid after you." Everyone
wants to leave a mark – and we did just that. No offense to the kids at
Ohio State this year, but I had one of their games on the other night
and I heard their announcer refer to their freshman as the "Fab 5." I
was like, OK, but they don’t all start and I don’t know anyone rushing
home to watch Greg Oden. He may be Bill Russell down the line, and he
may look like Bill Russell right now, but no one’s re-arranging their
schedules to be in front of the TV to watch him.
Things would have been so different if we had come along 10 years
later. You know when you’re Lebron James coming out in the 2000s, you
know how corporate America works. You want to own your own website
name, you want to copyright this and copyright that. We were just
living. Imagine if we had trademarked black socks? Or the term "Fab 5"?
Man, I turned on the TV once and saw five gay guys calling themselves
the "Fab 5" and it blew my mind. We were just basketball players, you
know? Instead of worrying about owning URL’s, we were like, "What time
is practice, Coach? What time is the game?" When I got to the NBA,
somebody owned Jalenrose.com and I had to hire lawyers and all of this
nonsense because the guy wanted $10,000 for the name, I was like,
"$10,000? You can have that forever." Four years went by and he
eventually gave it to me for $2,500.
Now that we’re all in a different phase of our careers, I realized that
the true mark of greatness is longevity. It’s been 13 years in the NBA
for me and Juwan and 14 for Chris. We’ve all made a lot of money and
we’ve all carried ourselves like upstanding men. Now we’re in a phase
where we’re in the 31-34 year-old bracket and we really have to decide
if we want to keep playing because they’re just looking for excuses to
give a young guy your minutes.
I saw Juwan wasn’t playing, but then he came through with a few monster
games. The Sixers just bought out Chris, but he’s still 20 and 10 every
night. I’m in Phoenix now, not playing. I love these guys, but it’s
still hard. You have to learn to suck it up, but it’s not easy. Some
days I think like Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and MC Ren and say to myself, "I
started this gangsta shit and this is the thanks I get?"
When I look back now, the great thing about us was that everything was
on a public stage for everyone to see, the good and the bad. It
humanized us. Knowing that we were normal dudes allowed people to live
and die with us.
There have been a lot of All-Americans over the years. There have been
a lot of NCAA champions over the years. But you know what? They’re all
waiting in line outside the club, not us. And there will never be
another "Us".
To quote my man Tom Brady on a text message he sent me while Georgetown
was killing Michigan on TV a few weeks back, "Where’s the Fab 5 when u
need them?"