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2009, February 6: BOUNCE Magazine – The Playground Gave Us The Fab Five

March 10, 2009

 February 6, 2009 — The Playground Gave Us The Fab Five
By Ali

With March Madness only a month away, I’m already fiendin’ like Gator in Jungle Fever (”Look Mama, I made this dance up for you.”) So as the current college crop prepares their playground swag for the big dance, I needed to quench my thirst and take a look back, with some added video highlights for your viewing pleasure.

They hijacked the world, took it by storm and forever altered the landscape of the college game. The Fab Five signaled the merging of hip hop sensibilities and hoops, from fashion to swagger to attitude. They took the anti-establishment mystique much further than their Hoya Paranoia predecessors of Patrick Ewing and Big John Thompson in the early to mid ’80s. In addition, they did something that had never been done before: five 18-year-old freshman starters that led their school to the national championship game.

The greatest recruiting class ever – Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Jalen Rose – won 56 games in two years, appearing in the NCAA Finals as freshman and sophomores in ‘92 and ‘93.

Even to this day, their influence is profound. Yeah, MJ was the stylistic forefather who nudged the masses away from the John Stockton hotpants, but the boys from Michigan took it a step further. When they crashed the scene with the extra long, extra baggy shorts that are ubiquitous today, the conservative keepers of the John Wooden old school lost their ever-loving minds!

Remember that at the time, The Duke Blue Devils of Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner were the country’s model program with their refined, polished and squeaky clean image that had supposedly saved the game from the thuggery of Larry Johnson, Anderson Hunt, Mo Scurry, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.

The Fab Five soared higher, dunked harder and looked better than everybody else. They played with the unrestrained joy and hunger that is seen in the hood where real ball is played.

Jalen Rose and C-Webb grew up in the grittiest of circumstances in Detroit and honed their skills at the parks and neighborhood rec centers, as well as the legendary St. Cecilia’s Gym. Juwan was reared in several low income projects on Chicago’s South Side, where the outdoor courts provided his first classroom. Jimmy King (whose slam dunk game was bananas, filled with the soaring, windmilling, twisting acrobatics of playground royalty like The Goat, Jumpin’ Jackie and Hook Mitchell) and Ray Jackson did their thing as kids outside in the Texas heat.

Just like on the playground, they ran their mouths, laughed at and taunted their opponents regardless if they were on national TV. And they played a brand of ball that was as lovely as Alicia Keys and Keyshia Cole on the BET awards – an around the way game of five-on-five in its purest form!

Billy Packer and the other bigwigs who thought they owned college ball hated it, called it unsportsmanlike. But we all loved it because that’s how we gets down. Ain’t no hard feelings when I serve you and tell you all about it, or vice versa.

The Billy Packers’ didn’t have a problem when floppy haired Larry Bird from French Lick, Indiana talked trash, but when the five baldheaded African-American freshman did it, and smiled and danced and jumped for joy, you would have thought the end of the world was upon us.

Not only did they bring record numbers of TV viewers (21 million people watched the ‘92 Chip against Duke and 20.7 mil followed suit the next year against Carolina) and establish fashion trends that stretched across the globe, the Fab Five inaugurated a merchandising and licensing BOOM that lit the fuse of today’s marketing-centered business model.

Consider that in ‘89, when Glen Rice and Rumeal Robinson led the Wolverines to the national title, the school made $1.6 million in athletic royalties. The year before the Fab Five hit Ann Arbor, sales of Michigan gear notched $2 million. In ‘93, the cash registers were humming at $6.2 mil. Money talks, baby.

Simply put, the Fab Five, like the Jackson Five, were rock stars who not only fed a media machine, they fed thousands of others who couldn’t throw a basketball into the ocean. They not only changed the game, they changed the business of the game. And if it wasn’t for the playground, none of it ever would have happened.