Sunday, April 24, 2011

Film Recommendation of the Week...

The Fab Five
ESPN Films
Release Date March 13, 2011.
Running Time 1 hour 38 minutes.

"Deep within the archives of the University of Michigan lie the remnants of a revolution."
—Opening line of film

This documentary gives us an in-depth look into one of the most heralded and overrated recruiting classes in Division-I college basketball history. One could say the view is a bit one-sided, seeing as it's Jalen Rose who is the executive producer, but nothing in life is seen or heard within the context of pure impartiality, the great myth of our times.

Anyone who tells a story has either an axe to grind, an agenda to execute or a point of view to get across. That is human nature, and here Rose is no different. Though he did get the facts straight in terms of the goings on, he clearly has overstated, and this is putting it mildly, the importance of their accomplishments and their impact on college basketball and the prevailing culture of the times.

There are a few points made in the film that have been exaggerated or misunderstood. First of all, Jalen sees the team's collective style choices as "a revolution" that molded inner-city hip-hop culture and college basketball in a way the world had never seen before. Sorry, but this is patently untrue. Yes, they were the first team that started five freshmen and yes, they were exciting to watch. but revolutionary they were not.

what they did do was revel in a "style over substance" fog that ignores their true legacy-the fact that they never beat Duke University during their two years together, never won a Big Ten championship and their abject failures during both NCAA tournaments they participated in before Chris Webber headed for the NBA after his infamous time-out call against North Carolina.

Rose seems to be very impressed with a sense of having changed the sport, when the reality is he and his team did nothing of the sort. We get an in-depth view of how the recruiting process took place, and how coach Mike Fisher melded together these five freshman into a coherent team. But the brashness was nothing new. The swagger certainly wasn't, either, nor was the collective talent level of the team.

So Rose uses, to its' detriment, to relentlessly hammer home the point of inner-city strife between the team and the rest of America, again another point that was nothing new in college basketball and highly exaggerated on his part. I don't see how their on-court style musings had such a profound effect, or the fact that they listened to rap music. They certainly had a cult following and were oozing with charisma and talent, but let's not forget the predominantly white media that covered them, who always seem threatened by anything unfamiliar to their suburban sensibilities. No way can we adequately judge this team through the eyes of people who did not understand where they were coming from.

What they had was an exaggerated sense of importance and a severe chip on their shoulders over what they saw as exploitation due to the fact that the marketing of their team, their image and their attire was fueling a financial windfall for the university and their sponsors at Nike that they personally weren't cashing in on.

The other sticking point was their loathing of Duke University, the "Uncle Tom" statement by Rose-comments directed at Duke's black players, and how they considered Christian Laettner and Grant hill "bitches". Yes, until they got on the court with them and were patently outclassed by these so-called Uncle Tom "bitches".

In the end, these cats won nothing and left a legacy of shame and disgrace due to the rampant cheating and money changing hands between certain players and a University of Michigan booster and convicted gambler named "Big Money Ed" Martin. The player who allegedly got paid the most was Chris Webber, who received something in the neighborhood of 280,000 dollars yet complained all through his tenure at Michigan that he was broke. Don't we all wish we were that broke while attending college.

Chris Webber, Asshole Deluxe-
Herein lies their legacy-their banners were removed from Crisler Arena, coach Fisher was fired a few years after the last of the Fab Five left campus in a hail of accusations that the program was out of control, and Michigan never regained their vaunted status as a national basketball powerhouse. Their very existence has been stricken from the record books, and Webber is not allowed as an official on-campus guest until 2014. Jalen can look at his time as a Michigan Wolverine through Rose-colored glasses all he wants, but the reality of their legacy will never change.

Other than that, the one letdown of this film is the non-participation of Chris Webber himself in the telling of this story. Bombast, trash-talking and an inflated sense of legacy notwithstanding, this is an excellent documentary that is worth viewing for fans and non-fans alike. Yes, the long, baggy shorts, black socks, black sneakers and bald heads were cool for a hot minute, and they were a good team. But win they did not, and that is the mark they have left on college basketball, like it or not.

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