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© St. Petersburg Times, published November 17, 2002
They were gifted, entertaining trend-busters. Fab Five, we called them. One up on the Beatles. Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were lean, teen, University of Michigan models of baggy fashion, playing basketball in droopy shorts that became global style.
In the early '90s, the Fab Five packed arenas. Achieving two Final Fours, although never winning a national championship. Even so, a flashy generation of Wolverines that remolded the sport.
Shame was part of their game.
They promised to play for no pay other than tuition, room, board and books, but coach Steve Fisher's wonder kids became national celebrities. Magazine cover boys. Selling out cavernous arenas. Earning six-figure tournament fees for their school.
UM alumni pounded their chests with pride. Cash registers sang with unprecedented sales of maize-and-blue paraphernalia, including jerseys, pennants, caps, posters and those oversized britches.
But, out of sight, under the table, a shattering of NCAA rules was going on, with a sleazy sham of a UM booster, Ed Martin, passing large stacks of money to immature young men.
Now, fast-forward on the Fab Five and their successors to a new century when the wrongdoings of some of them are being bared. Payoffs from Martin are now exposed, disgracing one of America's great universities.
Martin went to jail, but for shenanigans not involving Wolverines basketball. Authorities asked Martin how an automotive worker had so much money and he said gambling enhanced his wealth. Uh huh, so should we now dig deeper into some of UM's struggling wins late in the season, when point spreads were not covered? Considering the cast of suspects, it seems a worthy project, even now.
Are even nastier revelations ahead?
Webber was interviewed by a grand jury. His words were deemed suspect. He was charged with lying to the grand jury. Jail time possible. A federal investigation said Martin gave Webber at least $280,000 during his collegiate experience. That report also charged that Martin dropped at least $300,000 on UM stars and their families in subsequent seasons, involving Robert Traylor, Louis Bullock and Maurice Taylor.
All became basketball wealthy.
Back in Ann Arbor, banners celebrating Final Four appearances in Fab seasons, after hanging in honor at Michigan's venerable Crisler Arena, have been taken down in disgrace. Fisher, who played dumb to knowing of Martin's cash feedings, was long ago fired as coach.
UM opted to put itself on two-year probation. Eschewing postseason tournaments in coming months. An admirable chap, Tommy Amaker, a former Duke star who is now Wolverines coach, gets flogged along with current Wolverines for past greed. They are not the ones who should pay.
DUNKS: NORML, a Texas group working for legalization of marijuana, has a new president, former Cowboys center Mark Stepnoski, who admits 20 years of weed use, including all his NFL time. ... Chad Hutchinson becomes the first to be an NFL starting quarterback (for Dallas) and pitch a major-league baseball game (St. Louis Cardinals, 2001).
READER'S RANT: E-mail from Keith Curran of Clearwater Beach says, "I'm with you on college football playoffs. Keep up the fire. There should be legal action against conference commissioners who hog money and glory for six leagues, many of which manage to shaft some of their own schools from having a January shot at No. 1.
"Your example of Iowa is perfect. Since a loss to Iowa State, the Hawkeyes have been sensational. Too bad they don't get a crack at Ohio State because Iowa is the Big Ten's best team. Imagine if we had national playoffs, how the Hawkeyes would now be saying, 'We can win it all.' Just like in the NCAA basketball tournament.
"If the threat of a women's group can cause Masters (golf) people to shake in their green jackets, why can't we the U.S. masses find ways to pressure ABC and ESPN into this silly and often bogus two-team BCS deal, as a dozen or so schools are left to stew without being given a chance to snare No. 1 in the postseason?
"No media commentators seem to really like or respect the BCS and a few, including you, are willing to say what self-serving jerks are involved. Without a doubt it helps established bowls far more than it hurts. Let's turn up the heat."
Whatever happened to Sean Farrell?
-- To contact Hubert Mizell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.