First Take: Jalen Rose’s Fab Five

Dylan Burkhardt

I had the chance to watch a promotional copy of Jalen Rose’s Fab Five documentary, which will debut on ESPN this Sunday at 9 p.m., and figured it would be worthwhile to share a couple thoughts. We also posted a handful of quotes from Jalen, who produced the film, earlier this week.

As you would expect from a film produced by Jalen Rose, the documentary does a tremendous job of capturing the attitude and social impact of the Fab Five. The film focuses on their impact culturally and ability to connect hip-hop and basketball. The brash exuberance of the Fab Five is not just captured through the clips on the court, which are obviously entertaining. A majority of the interviews do a great job of portraying the same energy. Whether it’s listening to the Fab Five describe their feelings on Duke and Christian Laettner – using words like “Uncle Toms” and “soft bitch” – or one of the many hip hop icons of the time explaining their cultural influence.

The Fab Five’s Final Four banners hang over the entire film like a dark cloud. Shots of the banners, tucked neatly away in the Bentley Library basement, bookend the film. It’s clear that the four of the five that participated in the film badly want those banners back in the rafters. The NCAA violations are addressed in the film’s final chapter but only to the extent possible without Chris Webber’s participation. Webber’s absence makes the entire film a bit hollow, not only in regards to the NCAA-talk but also in the discussion of almost every major issue. Webber was the star of the group and without his opinions on every event from the first game to the final time out, the project feels incomplete.

It’s clear that the ball is in Webber’s court in regards to reconciliation. David Brandon is interviewed near the end of the film and makes it very clear that Michigan is looking for an apology from Webber before any action is taken at the end of the 10-year ban. The fact that Webber won’t even participate in a film produced by Jalen Rose is probably a bad sign in regards to an apology coming anytime soon.

One of the most common questions I’ve seen is whether the film addresses the ugly issues as well as the positive. I would say yes, to an extent. The range of topics discussed spans just about everything that you would expect to see. There are pictures of Jalen chugging beer out of a 40 and he discusses his drug house incident. There are also other ugly sides, such as shots of all of the racial hate mail from Michigan alumni and the inevitable discussion of the NCAA sanctions.

For those that know the Fab Five, the documentary won’t necessarily be groundbreaking. I’m not sure that’s the purpose of the film. Instead, it’s Jalen Rose’s best attempt to condense a revolutionary two year stretch of basketball into 120 minutes. The result is an interesting and compelling film that does a tremendous job of illustrating the legacy that the Fab Five had on the basketball world. Even more importantly, it’s a chance for younger generations to get a taste of history. Looking at the game today, it’s almost impossible for these younger generations not to see the influence of the Fab Five.

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  • Andy

    Should be an interesting film. I was 13 and 14 those two yearsand to say that they were influential would be a huge understatement. Basically the only rap I know came out in those years and I still wear black shoes and socks in rec basketball as a 32 year old.

    One question I’d like to have answered is whether or not Ed Martin was giving them money to go to UM, or just giving them money because he liked UM and wanted in on these guys. I know it’s a subtle difference, but I think it matters.

    I’m a little conflicted on what to think of their aftermath, but those two years were unforgettable. Obviously this didn’t help with the dark years that followed, but I think keeping Ellerbe was a bigger mistake than anything cloud over the program. When Dick Bennett retired, Soderburg put together a nice year as interim coach at Wisconsin, but they didn’t rush to hire him. They did their diligence and hired Bo Ryan, and that obviously worked out. I wish we would have done the same thing.

    • Polisci

      Yes, the dark times that UM bball has had are not the result of NCAA sanctions, they are the result of the worst hiring in the history of college basketball (in my opinion), Brian Ellerbe.

      • Brick

        I’m with you on this. I truly believe his hire was much more damaging to the program than the NCAA sanctions.

        • jmblue

          Compare us with OSU. They went on probation, and were banned from the postseason for a year, after the Jim O’Brien scandal. But they hired Matta and hardly broke a sweat.

    • Beilein’s Bricks

      Looking forward to checking out the film as well. I was a Freshman at U of M their second year, and remember camping out for tickets all night for tickets. Those guys were true rockstars, and Crisler was pretty wild when they played the big games. Juwan was always my favorite as he would always walk around campus with a smile and he would say hi to everyone.

      Frankly, the downfall of the program came from the Other Five (Traylor, Taylor, etc.). Those guys were disliked on campus and were constantly getting in trouble, and ultimately were the reason it all came apart (you would see Taylor’s pimped out SUV parked in front of Angel Hall on occasion).

      I agree with you, in the end the program could’ve been salvaged, if not for Goss’s stupidity in hiring Ellerbe. Had we gotten someone that was actually competent, we could’ve ridden the storm and these ten years of purgatory would not have likely happened.

    • jmblue

      Martin had no connection to U-M before the Fab Five arrived. He actually was a booster of Southwestern HS for a long time, and steered some kids (possibly Rose) to attend there. He started to hang around our program after we hired Perry Watson, the Southwestern coach, the same time as the Fab Five arrived. He officially was declared a U-M booster at the 1992 Final Four, after the coaches gave him special access to the program. No evidence was found of him actually paying guys to come here, and he seems to given money to some players who didn’t go here, too. But he loaned money to people he thought would make it big in basketball, so that was a violation of the “extra benefits” rule.

      • Beilein’s Bricks

        As you mentioned, Ed Martin was more of a High School basketball hanger-on. He gave money to multiple kids in the High School scene. People forget this little detail that he gave money to kids that went to lots of other universities. I think MSU’s Steve Smith was reportedly one of them, if my recollection is right. However, as he was a big part of the Detroit High School scene, he was around when Frieder was recruiting heavily in the PSL, so our coaches (along with other school coaches) came into contact with him before the Fab Five.

    • Erik

      Ed Martin paid several kids. The general consensus was that he would give them some scratch, they’d make it big and then they’d pay him back later. I don’t remember exact names, but he did pay players who did not attend UofM. In fact, the SUV rollover that started the whole investigation was carrying Mateen Cleaves. He was a UofM recruit, on his visit and they had visited Mr. Martin that night. I don’t remember if the report actually specified Mateen took cash, but it’s highly suspicious. Anyway, when the rollover happened, I’m sure Mateen knew what was about to hit the fan and he committed to MSU who had also been recruiting him.

      The reason Ed Martin was trouble for UofM was because he was classified as a booster. He received free tickets and was around the program. You cannot have boosters giving money to athletes, regardless of where they went. My personal thought is that Martin probably liked to keep the kids close to Detroit so he could get his money back (remember he was running a gambling ring too). But I don’t remember ever reading anything about him actually steering kids to UofM.

      As far as the dark times, Ellerbe was bad but he was clearly a fall guy. They hired knew the NCAA was going to drop the hammer, and no good coach is going to try and compete with that cloud over their head. I always felt like they hired Ellerbe to weather the storm until a better coach could come in.

      I remember reading articles when Amaker came in, the kids didn’t even know how to properly run layup drills in practice. The AD wouldn’t even give Amaker money for a VCR to watch game tape. He had to go buy his own VCR, and have other teams send him VHS tapes for scouting.

      Compare that to where we are now with Beilein’s dedicated video guy, ipads, video rooms, rennovations, etc. It’s amazing the difference that these coaches have operated under.

      So in short, I agree that Ellerbe was a bad coach, but I think it was somewhat expected. I feel the AD pretty much gave up on the hoops program until the sanctions were finally appealed during the end of Amaker’s tenure. That’s when the talk about rennovations started and lighting and sound was improved…and unfortunately for Amaker he didn’t win enough games.

      I’m glad where we are now, but it surprises me how many younger kids don’t remember the bad times. It really makes me appreciate these good times even more.

  • alan

    I was at the FAB FIVE premiere last night in New York at Tribecca Cinemas, which the director and Jalen Rose attended. Jalen was asked why Webber didn’t give interviews on the film, and he said Webber didn’t think it was right until the 2013 ban is lifted. Being a die hard Michigan fan and a fan of the Fab Five, i would say the film did a tremendous job capturing the swagger of the 5 kids. And when Steve Fisher shared the racist hate mail they got from Michigan Alum it really was an eye opener. I would also say if i was Webber, i wouldn’t have wanted to interview either lol being that the majority of the second half of the documentary was about he screwed up on the timeout, then turned his back on the supposed booster and the media swarm that surrounded that. Jalen Rose is a really genuwine person, and in the Q & A after the film he really answered all questions no holds barred. Have alot of respect for jalen rose.

    Also i loved how the film talked about Duke and the comments from the Fab Five were hilarious lol

    All in all a must watch for MIchigan fans

  • AG2

    Michigan’s problems stemmed largely from:
    1. Hiring Brian Ellerbe
    2. Ellerbe’s players off the court issues.
    3. Michigan’s continuing inability to recruit Flint and Saginaw.

  • alan

    i had forgotten that Luis Bullock and Robert Traylor were given money by the same guy that helped Webber and Rose. But the film did a great job of pointing out how the media did what the media does best, and portrayed things in the wrong light. Like Roses incident at a supposed Crack House, which was false. and about the supposed booster “ed” i forget his last name wasnt a michigan booster at all, he helped all michigan kids in the neighborhood. He wasnt some agent or associated with anyone. Just a guy who wanted to help out the kids do something recreational

    • Wes D.

      Rose always stated he was never involved in the Ed Martin scandal.

      • jmblue

        No, he actually acknowledged receiving some money from him – just not large enough amounts for the NCAA to be concerned.

  • alan

    Well in his Q&A after the documentary Rose said that he did take money from Ed Martin, but not how people thought. Rose had to testify on his involvement with Ed Martin in front of a grand jury, and he aknowledged that Ed gave him loose change. And by loose he meant movie money, money for food now and then, for gas, for new sneakers. Not big sums of money. In fact one reporter who followed Webber and Rose from late highschool thru the whole ordeal commented how in his opinion there was no way Webber or Rose was getting huge lumpsums of money like was reported, at least for Webber. Webber always complained about being broke and asking for gas money, drove a modest car, etc etc. Ed Martin was the guy in the neighborhood who gave all the kids sneakers, and not just the “stars” all kids. Ed Martin was far from a booster in Roses words, and the main reason Rose and Webbers friendship was strained for many years was bc Webber lied about his connection to Martin, to cover his own back. Stating that Martin had nothing to do with Webber etc etc. In his Q&A Rose laughed bc being that Jalen and Chris were friends since they were kids, he remembered they both decided to go to Michigan at Ed Martins house, which is why he was upset with Webber for making Ed Martin out to seem like a bad guy when he wasnt.

  • Chris Lorenz

    I look forward to seeing this film as well. I too like Beilein’s Bricks was a freshman when the Fab 5 were sophomores and really enjoyed their time on campus. I have a couple great Fab 5 related stories from my time on campus and while at the time I didn’t realize how large an impact they were having on College Basketball as a whole and MIchigan basketball as well, looking back it is awesome to know that I got to experience it. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for what happened with those kids.

    For those who want to hear more about the film and then what I think is a great interview with Jalen, check out Bill Simmon’s latest BS Report podcast ( I think it is very good, and Jalen is very candid about what role Ed Martin played in the inner city Detroit community, why CWebb didn’t participate and much, much more. Not to mention what happened with CWebb’s career and Jalen’s career from the p.o.v. of Jalen. Good Stuff! Go Blue!

  • JD

    I saw at the end during the credits it said something like “dedicated to” or “in memory of” (among others) Sam Mitchell. Did the Sam Mitchell that played for Michigan before transferring to Cleveland State die?

    • Syp0871

      Yes, he passed away in 1995. He was playing professional basketball in Italy and died accidentally of carbon monoxide poisioning. RIP Samuel Arnaz Mitchell.

  • Junderground

    Give Jalen Rose a lot of credit: he produced a film about himself and his close buddies that didn’t sugar-coat things and that didn’t serve as mere promotion. He’s an honest, self-aware guy.
    Now, on some of the Martin scandal, Chris Webber may feel the handling was biased, since his 2002 statement that Martin was a predator was summarily squashed in the film; yet, Webber had his chance to be in it.

    I’m also glad that Rose didn’t give into the temptation to indulge in a highlight fest of dunks and fancy passes. I was surprised at how little game footage there actually was.

    But I think basketball, the techniques and skills the players brought, could’ve been discussed a bit more than socks. People debate whether or not the Fab 5 changed the game substantively or just in terms of length of shorts (who really CARES how long the damn shorts are?). Some say they helped pave the way for Garnett and others to go straight to the NBA (since they showed that guys straight out of high school can be the best in the college game) and some say they changed the way we think about freshman. I think the latter is true, but neither point was hit very hard in the video itself–the former wasn’t mentioned at all. The members of the Fab 5 remain focused on the socks and the shorts.
    I was a high school senior when they were freshman, which means I’d grown up watching the guys in the panties Ice Cube refers to–the shorts, at the time, didn’t faze me a bit, and neither did the socks. If not for Jim Nantz, Billy Packer, Dick Vitale, etc., I would never have known I was supposed to be so shocked.