Hall of Fame inductee Chris Webber is finally ready to talk about the Fab Five, the timeout, and his Michigan ban
Chris Webber has been banned from Michigan, banned from TV, banned from the NBA, banned from the Internet. His career is over, but he still has a message to share. Chris Webber has decided to speak out about his famous Michigan tape to finally put the controversy to rest. But in this case, there is no controversy; there is only one side to the story.
This week we can expect to see two main topics: Chris Webber’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame and the so-called “Fab Five.” Webber has always been a controversial figure in college basketball, and for good reason: he played his final three seasons at Michigan, and was a member of the Fab Five that captured the hearts of the nation. On the other hand, Webber’s apparently never been a favorite of Michigan’s fans. In fact, he was banned from the school by the administration in the fall of 1997, apparently for his involvement in a brawl during a timeout at a football game.
If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve probably heard of Chris Webber. But if you’re not, let me go over the basics. Webber, who played for Michigan throughout the 1990’s, is one of the most talented players to ever come out of Ann Arbor, but is also one of the most controversial. After graduating from Michigan he had the opportunity to play in the NBA, but after attempting to join the NBA draft, he was banned from the league for one year. While he was banned, ESPN ran a 30-minute special about Webber, titled “Chris Webber: A Lottery Pick Reborn.” This documentary showed viewers how Webber was banned by the NBA,
Chris Webber has seldom let anybody outside his inner group know who the real Chris Webber is throughout his 30 years in the limelight.
It’s understandable. Despite a decorated career — first as a high school All-American, then as a member of the Fab Five at Michigan, a five-time NBA All-Star with 10 total playoff appearances, including a Western Conference finals march with the Sacramento Kings — and his stature as one of the game’s great power forwards, the 2021 Hall of Fame inductee has largely been defined, by others, by his most difficult moments.
In 1991, Webber came to Michigan as the reigning Gatorade National High School Player of the Year, joining the Fab Five of Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, and Juwan Howard. They were the rock stars of college basketball, leading the Wolverines to national titles in 1992 and 1993. Webber famously called a timeout that Michigan didn’t have in the 1993 championship game, enabling the Tar Heels to win.
After that heartbreaking defeat, he chose to pursue a career in basketball and was selected first overall in the 1993 NBA draft. That season, he was also awarded NBA Rookie of the Year.
Chris Webber called a timeout that Michigan didn’t have 28 years ago today.
The Fab Five were defeated by UNC for the NCAA championship.
pic.twitter.com/0ZFYd2yq5p (via @30for30)
5 April 2021 — ESPN (@espn)
After almost a decade with the Golden State Warriors, Washington Bullets/Wizards, and Sacramento Kings, Webber’s history came back to haunt him. He was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury about receiving money from former Michigan booster Ed Martin and was indicted in 2002. He pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal contempt in the end.
As a consequence, Webber’s numbers and accomplishments were removed from the school’s records, as were his Final Four appearances in 1992 and 1993. The NCAA also ordered Michigan to distance itself from Webber, imposing a ten-year ban that will last until May 2013.
Webber kept his distance from the institution and his college career throughout that period of his life, seldom addressing either in interviews. He also declined to take part in ESPN’s 30 for 30 program on the Beatles. Despite signs that he and the other Fab Five members are still in touch, Webber said a genuine reunion won’t happen until he and Rose, the former NBA star, ESPN personality, and popular curator of the Fab Five’s history, resolve their disagreements privately.
Webber says he’s at peace and ready to put the record right about his career — the highs and lows, the Fab Five, and life beyond basketball — with his approaching Hall of Fame induction after an eight-year wait (he was initially eligible in 2013).
The length and clarity of this transcript have been modified.
With the other members of the Michigan Fab Five: Chris Webber (center) with the other members of the Michigan Fab Five: (from left) Ray Jackson, Jimmy King, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose Photo courtesy of AP
ESPN: How did you feel when you learned you’d be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and how tough was the eight-year wait?
Webber: I’ve always believed that I’d be fortunate enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I believed my résumé demonstrated this, but no one has that right. So it stung every year when I didn’t get in, and the primary thing I concentrated on was [not] focusing on who was inducted into the Hall of Fame that year. It was keeping blinders on for a time. Don’t even consider it; remain focused on your job.
But many Hall of Famers phoned to express their support, and many teammates said, ‘Wait, you know, we support you, we can’t believe this occurred,’ so it was difficult. I’d been trying to have a kid for eight years when I initially received the call [four years ago]. And then you get that ‘No,’ and you have a newborn kid with you, so it’s like, ‘God, I can’t be angry.’ And I appreciate your blessings. I’d been hoping for this, but, c’mon, you know, I’d been murdering guys out there.’ That was my perspective.
But it was hilarious when I received the call [this year]. It was all a little weird. Because I was still dazed, I phoned my Pops, who savored the occasion for me. I had no idea what that meant. He only spoke for around 20 minutes. I had no idea what he said. ‘Boy, you happy?’ he exclaims. What’s the matter with you? ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘It hasn’t sunk in yet,’ I said. So it was simply a wonderful time to spend with family, to spend time with my wife, my mother, and my brothers, who were all pleased, so it was thrilling. ‘You’re not displaying it in your face,’ my father says. I’m not sure how to express it yet. And I’m afraid it’ll all come out that night, but wow, it’s a hell of a sensation. That is a gift from God, and I am grateful for it.
ESPN: What would Chris Webber have responded if I had told him when he was eight or nine years old that he would be in the Hall of Fame one day?
‘You’re insane,’ I would have replied, ‘because I’m going to be Drew Pearson and Lynn Swann.’ I used to do that and catch touchdowns on the block. Football was my first passion, my first sport, and I used to play street football and tackle on the side.
I wouldn’t have known what the Hall of Fame was if you had informed 12-year-old Chris, who was a huge basketball fan. I would have liked to know more, such as, ‘Is Bill Laimbeer present?’ Is it Isiah Thomas? ‘What exactly are they up to?’ It was the home team, after all. So it’s hilarious, because you always want to be the greatest, to win a championship. I’ve never seen myself in the Hall of Fame. You want to put in the effort every night, knowing you’re murdering guys and getting paid, but I never considered or said that I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame.
So I believe that’s something I’m trying to register in and of itself. It’s also the fact that everything is coming to an end. I mean, after I retire, I should be done, but this allows you to travel back in time. It clarifies a number of things for me in a variety of ways. I would have said, “I’m either going to be Lynn Swann or Big Daddy Kane,” if you had told me. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
ESPN: Why have we heard so much about you but not from you during your career?
Webber: I think I’m fortunate in that people notice me. That’s great. But, at the same time, I’ve never been the kind to clear up rumors, word on the street, urban legends, and the like. I realized at an early age, perhaps about 14, that if I worried about it, I would have died long before. So I try to focus on today and tomorrow. I make an effort to focus on being a good parent, spouse, friend, and employer.
From ESPN’s award-winning 30 for 30 documentary series, watch “The Fab Five.” ESPN+ is the place to be.
I mean, I’ve come to speak. You requested that I talk. I’ve arrived. So I’m guessing it’s because people don’t believe I’ll speak or, honestly, I’m not sure what it is. However, it’s amusing to sit back and listen to some of the things people say about you and what they believe you’re up to.
I’ve always been an introvert who enjoys hanging out with individuals [with whom] I get along. So, yes, I’m typically at home, resting and relaxing. Business and everything else keeps me so busy that I want peace of mind and… silence.
ESPN: How do you believe you influenced the next generation of dynamic big men on the floor, guys that can shoot, dribble, and create plays?
Webber: I believe Magic Johnson is the best example of a versatile big man. That was the first thing that sprang to mind. Connie Hawkins, of course. Mr. Finger Roll, Mr. Ice [George Gervin], of course. When you appeared like a 6-9 man, though… They wouldn’t allow the large man be in the center for 3-on-2 drills while I was in high school. And I remember arguing with the guards and asking if I could be in 3-on-2 drills or play 21 with them, where I had to shoot outside and they had to shoot inside. When I first watched Steve Smith and Derrick Coleman, I thought of Steve as having the [hesitation move] and Derrick as being arguably [in the] top four most versatile and strong forwards to this day. Man, I simply researched the game. I just wanted to be one of the greats.
As a result, I believe I performed my job when it came to my time. That’s why, you know, I’m content with my current situation. And I’m overjoyed to be a member of the Hall of Fame. But I was pleased with my game a long time ago since I was studying it at the time. Grant Hill and other good guards taught me how to play. I also have several shooting instructors here who can show you some film. Special thanks to the shooting coaches. So I believe I had a part in the development.
At the NBA level, Chris Webber established his status as one of the game’s greats. NBAE/Getty Images/Rocky Winder
I wish we had had the same freedom as they have now, but we didn’t. And we took advantage of it. So, yes, I like being the center of attention. When Don Nelson selected me back then, he saw it, and the game was completely different. You must inspect centers and other items. But I like the job I performed, which was to improve players and demonstrate that a power forward who could shoot, score, and pass could help the offense.
ESPN: Speaking of innovation, before the Fab Five, there had never been a group quite like them. Do you realize how influential the Beatles were? What was it like to be in that situation?
Webber: I’m not sure any of us realizes the gravity of the situation. We’ve seen it, but there are still a lot of tales we haven’t heard. But it’s the fact that I was recently at a meeting for 100 Black Men and then a meeting for one of my friends who is a member of a Jewish business coalition that makes me the most proud. And both individuals stated the same thing, about how they were excited in the dormitories, about how we gave them confidence, about how it led to their being in the classroom, or hanging out with pals, and so on.
It means a lot to me because I promise to you, all I was doing was watching TV for Mama. These individuals dislike us. They’re mentioning us. We are from the city of Detroit. Juwan, you’re from Chicago. You don’t have anything. They despise you.
It was that kind of accepting the suffering. It was as if you approached your fear and said, “I’m still afraid, but we have to do something today.” What are our options? And once we accepted that fear, that fraternity, the Fab Five became something unique. As we get older, it becomes more precious. Oh, yes.
I know what I believe the impact was, but every day I’m humbled and honored because I hear a fresh tale and say to myself, ‘Come on dog, your 80-year-old grandmother got some black socks and she’s talking about the Fab Five?’ ‘I mean, that’s real, and they’re showing me on FaceTime.’ Man, I’m a sucker for love. And I value and appreciate that love.
ESPN: Did you all go into it believing you’d play for four years, or were you already thinking about the NBA?
Webber: People must keep the context in mind, since… no, we weren’t planning on going to the professionals. In 1993, I became pro as a sophomore. Magic Johnson was the last sophomore to reach No. 1 in 1979. And I recall — Magic is one of my favorite players — you don’t want to follow in their footsteps on the spur of the moment. And back then, you’d hear a variety of stuff. It’s kind of amusing how the story has evolved. I also like how the reporting and characters changed, as well as hearing quotations today and recalling what they said before. ‘College players, college players, college players, college players, college players, college players, college players What’s the matter with you? College is something I’d give my right arm to go to!’
‘Wait a minute, no I wouldn’t because I’m going to come out with debts,’ they say now. ‘I’m going to say something.’ As a result, I love the fact that the game has evolved, and I adore the fact that we were a part of it. When we first began playing the Fab Five, it was like, “Indiana couldn’t have the name on the back of the jerseys,” and they probably still don’t, because that’s tradition. I understand. We, on the other hand, were meant to be the evil guys. We shaved our heads completely bald, and that was the end of it… The rest of the world despised us. Do you get what I’m saying? We seemed to be threatening, but I believe that was just part of the tale.
Webber and Jalen Rose got to back-to-back championship games before having a public spat. Paul Sancya/AP Photo
That’s why, when Allen Iverson showed out with braids, and I know I’m going off on a tangent here, but I saw what the Fab Five did. And I’m looking forward to seeing who comes next. I believe that if it hadn’t been for us, AI would not have been able to alter the things that he did. I see the gamers come to me all the time, talking about the freedom or how we inspired them, if it wasn’t us. As a result, we didn’t consider turning pro.
After I called the timeout, I knew I’d be back for another year, despite my sons’ best efforts to persuade me otherwise. ‘What are you doing?’ for example. Get your mind out of the gutter. You’re fine. That has been done.’ At the time, the professionals were not like that. At the very least, you assumed you had to be a junior. Shaq was No. 1 the year before I graduated as a junior. So I never considered heading in that direction.
ESPN: Obviously, you’ve accomplished a lot in basketball. I’m also curious if you know what it was like when the Fab Five didn’t seem to be together. Then [in 2013], you didn’t say much. As others tried to find out where you were, what were you thinking?
Webber: I just felt that was poor reporting since you would be aware that I had been expelled from the school for ten years. Yeah.
ESPN: How did you feel missing out on the 2013 Final Four since the other members of the Fab Five were there to support Michigan?
Webber: It didn’t bother me in the least that they were recognized. At the game, I was on the phone with Ray [Jackson] and Jimmy [King], so it wasn’t an issue. The problem was that I couldn’t go to the game and sit with them because I was prohibited, even if it hadn’t been 10 years.
No. 2, it seemed like people were constantly searching for something to do with me rather than paying attention to the narrative. So, if someone had just seen and asked, ‘What year was this?’ It would have been as easy as saying, “Oh, he can’t come.”
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But the worst part is that we’ve been trying to have kids for eight years, and two days before that [game], we were as sad as you can be after a [failed] pregnancy. As a result, I became very irritated. The infant had died the day before the Final Four. ‘Hey, come to the game,’ one of my teammates says on [TV], as if he isn’t aware of the situation. Then I have to enter the game with my wife, who will be cheering me on.
So, dude, life is a huge deal. Do you understand what I’m saying? I’ve known Tim Hardaway [Jr.] since he was probably a toddler, so I was excited to see him play. I wanted to assist them. However, I was sitting in a suite with a stomach ache, watching the game. That’s all there is to it.
I couldn’t make it to the game, and everyone knew it, even Michigan, so they should’ve stated something like, ‘Chris can’t make it to the game, folks.’ That is why he is not seated.’ So it’s not a major issue. It’s simply that no one explained what it was…. Nobody desired it, and no one looked hard enough to see it. ‘Why isn’t Chris here?’ should have been the first question. When did he get his ban? OK. When did it start and how long did it last? ‘Hmm, that’s fascinating.’
But if you don’t believe I’m a person and say things like, ‘Oh, Chris probably didn’t want to come,’ maybe you don’t see it that way. So, dude, I can’t pass judgment on anybody. That was the last thing on my mind at the time. Those are the times I’ve preserved and prepared for my kid, so he can learn how to deal with them. But it was a challenge.
ESPN: Do you think someone has to come out and say, ‘Hey guy, we didn’t manage this as well as we could have?’ Isn’t it true that we owe you an apology’?
Webber: That’s how it went down. The University of Michigan informed me of this. The athletic director at the University of Michigan [Warde Manuel] expressed regret to me. And he wasn’t even in the room while I was playing. He said that he had done his homework and that he needed to apologize. He has to ‘apologize to the 18-year-old Chris Webber because we didn’t protect him,’ in his exact words.
The lowest-hanging fruit was myself. I was the most well-known. I knew it at the time, so maybe some of the details in [my forthcoming book] will explain what occurred and how things transpired, allowing life to continue or return to normal in that manner. Hopefully, after we’ve taken care of all of this important things, we’ll be able to return to it.
ESPN: You and Jalen spoke on ESPN in May after you were inducted into the Hall of Fame. What did that particular instance signify to you?
Webber: I had no idea [Jalen] was going to interview me since ESPN didn’t inform me. ‘Here comes [host Maria Taylor], Maria… 5, 4, 3…,’ they continued repeating, and suddenly I heard, ‘What up?’ And [Jalen] was the one. As a result, it was a memorable experience. I mean, I speak to his family all the time, especially his sister. I still need to speak with him. Things don’t get fixed without communication, for example. So, interviewing me on video without going into a room isn’t the way to go.
Man, I’m a man. Do you understand what I’m saying? My father was the one who raised me. So my father would be upset if I spoke to you in front of everyone right now without first going into a room. That’s something we didn’t do. And we’ll do it in the hopes that he’ll show up and we’ll be able to get together. But I apologize for continuing to burst the world’s bubble; we haven’t talked yet. And once we do, everything should be OK. But, for me, that moment was an honor because my son was on TV performing this. It was a privilege to be present.
Maria, ESPN — they’re fantastic, but for me, it was all about figuring out what was going on.
ESPN: What do you think it would take to mend your relationship with Jalen Rose and reunite the Fab Five?
Webber: We’ve already returned. We’ve already started messaging and hanging out. We want the rest of the world to know we’ve returned. For actuality, I have three brothers and one sister. And in that family, you may be angry with someone while still loving them as much as you did before, but it needs to be discussed. That’s simply the way things are. That’s the way things are.
And I’d want to share this wonderful news with the rest of the globe. I’d want to… But I’ll be at Michigan’s practice. I’ve been on the phone with Juwan…. But there’s a schism because Jalen has chosen to speak out, and I’ve told him that we should manage things behind the scenes. It’s simply that there’s an honor system in place. It’s a code, after all. And he knows what it is because that is the foundation upon which the Fab Five was formed, and he has repeatedly broken that code. That is what occurred, as his family informed him many times. I still adore him. That’s my youngster… A 30-second chat is all it takes.
ESPN: What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to deal with in terms of what others have said about you that you feel you need to correct?
Webber: You know, if there’s one game that I play that I want everyone to see, it’s the timeout game. ‘If your kid could see any basketball games you participated in…,’ someone inquired regarding my son. ‘The timeout game,’ I explained. ‘Why?’ he asked. I told him to get up after the game and keep doing what he was doing because he knew Daddy was chilly. In other words, we’re confident in your abilities. We all know you’re going to do it, but what happens after that? And that’s something I’m really proud of.
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The fact that I needed to return home after I made the call. I needed to take a break. It was necessary for me to weep. I have to get it right. I was in desperate need of my mother’s food. Mama’s affection. Mama is looking after me. And she walked into the home one day with a license plate that said ‘timeout,’ which my mother is quite silent and stoic about. ‘Baby, what the devil intended for ill, God meant for good,’ she said.
I established a charitable organization. So it was like, ‘OK, we’re going to assist people with this,’ by the time it struck me. I can show you so much feedback from inspirational individuals from the break from speaking and all the things I’ve done. I’d want for everyone to know that the timeout didn’t kill me. It crushed me just as much as it can and is intended to smash you. But I was very fortunate to have relatives. The [NBA draft] was three months away in my hometown, and two months away in my hometown. I was the first choice.
So the entire idea for me was that we were going to stand up and never look back once you rested and cried. That was my driving force. And it’s almost as if when the worst thing that could happen does happen and you survive it, you see yourself as a little bit more capable. Let’s face our fears front on.
So I believe it was just one tale for a long time, the timeout. When other people began talking about it around four years ago, it became “Chris shies away because of the timeout.” That’s not the case; it’s just you. I converse with everyone else.
So, since I had more money or more of this, how motivating was that pause for me to assist other people?… I can’t say no because I’ve been in your shoes, and I’m assuring you that you’ll be OK. You’ll be able to get through it. Do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not Don’t make a fool of yourself. Don’t let your mind wander and go off course right now.
And so, via that narrative, I’ve been able to hold everyone in my life responsible, including family, friends, and particularly young guys. I am grateful to God for that period of my life. And I need others to understand it because it provides me with a sense of substance that I don’t think I would have had otherwise.
Webber’s No. 4 jersey is one of Michigan basketball’s most recognizable, but his relationship with the institution is fraught. Getty Images/Mitchell Layton
ESPN: Let’s return to that game, which clearly influenced who you are now. What was it like at that moment, and how did you recover?
Webber: Everything you saw took place. With approximately 20 seconds remaining, I grabbed the rebound. [I] attempted to get it to [Jalen Rose], my guy. There was someone there, I noticed. ‘Will they take it if I toss it?’ I’m wondering… I’m dribbling my way down the court. I’m confident in my ability to score and perform in any situation. I know that anybody on our squad, no matter where they are on the court, can shoot and make a basket. But I requested a timeout, and now everything was on me. I completed the task.
Is it true that the bench said [call a timeout]? Yeah. It was stated. It was shown in the documentary to everyone. Was it anything I heard? I’m not sure. And even if I did, it’s a phony excuse. I was the team’s leader. Man, that was my team. Do you get what I’m saying? That was the composition of my team. The greatest player is meant to be the one who takes charge…. Being on the platform and without blaming anybody is one of the proudest moments of my life.
We were the pioneers of reality television. This isn’t scripted, and being 20 [years old] and being from Detroit, I want your community to be proud of what they’re doing and what you’re accomplishing, and I want them to know that we take our hard hat from you. I betrayed them all.
We wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for me, and dah, dah, dah. All of this is well known to me. However, I disappointed everyone. Do you get what I’m saying? I couldn’t call it since I wasn’t supposed to. Would we have been able to make the shot? I’m not sure. We were two points down. Sure, I was the leading scorer and rebounder, but it doesn’t mean anything. That’s simply the reality you have to deal with, dude.
But I’ve always said that athletics is the most equitable venue ever since it is unjust to everyone. You know, everyone gets your licks. That day, I got my licks, dude. It was utter despondency. I’m not sure I could have walked if my father hadn’t been in the back with me. So the only thing you can do in life is confront it. It’s going to be painful. It’s going to be a wild ride. You have no idea what you’re up against. But I had no choice but to confront it.
Chris Webber requests a timeout that Michigan did not have, losing Michigan the NCAA title in 1993 against North Carolina. Bill Haber/AP Photo
ESPN: How much of a stamp of approval does the Hall of Fame bestow on you?
Webber: So I have to be honest and say if… and I’m not talking about the great Kevin Durants. However, if you win a championship and were once a terrific player, and then go sit on someone’s bench and sneak one in, that does not count in my book.
Isiah Thomas has a phrase in the league that there are bus drivers and bus riders. I used to work as a bus driver. I didn’t do a very good job, and I didn’t win a championship. Alternatively, I performed an excellent job but did not win a championship. And I’d rather be a bus driver than have joined up with Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward of all time, to win a championship. I’d rather be sitting here than having one with him right now.
‘How was it with you and Tim?’ my kid might ask at the end of the day. We could look at the numbers. I’d say he was chilly. ‘Dad, he defeated you,’ he’d say. ‘Yes,’ I’d say.
The Fab Five were a group of five freshmen who became a juggernaut in the early 90’s. They were the first freshman to ever win a National Championship, and at least one member of the group went on to have a successful NBA career—in fact, four of them did. The Fab Five famously won the National Championship in the 1992-93 season. In the later half of the season, the talented Michigan Wolverines turned to a timeout to stop an upset from the favored Final Four team from the University of Connecticut. The timeout was called by John Beilein, a young coach at the time. Beilein pulled a trigger on a controversial move at the time: he called a timeout in the final minute to talk to his players after. Read more about chris webber highlights and let us know what you think.
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