As you probably know from the repeated forum posts, Beilein is in a close race with Ohio's coach Matta for the ESPN Inspiration is Contagious Award (vote now). I clicked over there today to vote for Beilein as much as I did to vote against Ohio. But then I saw that the winner recieves $100,000 for their charity, and Beilein's charity is the St. Louis Center... which brought back some powerful memories from the Fab Five era and my first job working at St. Louis. Please read my story (and first diary) below.
Back when I was an undergrad in the early 90's, I worked at St. Louis Center, a home for mentally/emotionally/physically disabled youth and adults. Probably around 1/2 of the kids had gone through some abuse and as wards of the state, were placed in St. Louis. Some of the stories that some of these kids went though would blow your mind. Two decades later, these boys and some of their stories are still prominent in my mind.
I took the upper youth home (middle school / high school) on field trips every weekend. We went to Crisler a few times for women's basketball games. We'd watch the game, and then afterwards, would help clean the arena and UM would pay St. Louis Center for our work. (our work was slow and low quality, but they would always hire us none-the-less).
One Saturday, as we finished our work and were walking back into the players tunnel, the men's team came out of the tunnel for their practice.
You have to understand what my boys looked like - some looked as disabled as you could imagine; some didn't know how to interact socially; many wore braces or helments, etc. For some people, for various reasons, it is hard to face people like this - even harder to connect with them in any real sense.
As you can imagine, as the players came out of the tunnel, my boys put up their hands to give them a high five sort of tunnel. They were so stoked! Back at the home, we would always watch UM basketball and the boys were well aware of the Fab Five. My boys called out their names as they passed...
Both Ray Jackson and Juwan said hello, politiely. Jimmy King looked terribly uncomfortable, but he smiled and said "Hi", and tried to act normally. I appreciated it becuase I could tell he was trying. But Jalen Rose and Chris Webber stopped and talked - for a long while.
I probably had at least 10 kids with me, and each asked them at least one question, often awkward and hard to decipher questions. Jalen and Chris laughed and talked with the boys. One kid asked Chris to dunk for him. Chris immediately ran onto the court and threw down one of his left-handed power dunks. Then he jogged back to our group and celebrated like they just won the game. He then promised that he'd dunk for real in the next game just for those kids.
Watching that next UMBB game back at St. Louis Center, you can probably imagine the excitement when Webber had his first dunk. All the boys really believed that dunk was for them. Why? Because Webber (and Jalen) were so real with the boys.
Weber and Rose saw through their disabilities; they saw through the wall that makes most people much more comfortable by just turning away. They treated the boys as real boys, as real people. It meant the world to my boys at the Center and was probably the highlight of their year.
Later, as Chris Webber went through all the scandals and problems for UM, I never could judge him harshly. I still won't. It might be illogical to give him a pass for those things simply b/c of that one day with my boys from St. Louis Center, but that's how I see it. I feel like I saw something in Webber that is hard to see from most people, let alone stars.
Webber was enjoying his time helping other people. He was doing it for the boys, yes, but he was doing it for himself also because he truly loved making people happy. That, I believe, says a lot about who he is. More than the money he took and the reasons why. In my mind, Webber will always be that guy could see the humanity in others and loved making them happy.
anyway, that's my story....
It's great to see UM basketball's connection with St. Louis Center is still active, and likely even stronger. Go Blue, Go Beilein, and you GO VOTE!
You might not know him yet but this is a guest post from a guy who isn't afraid to let it all hang out. Here it is.
I came from the internet, just like the rest of them. I came mostly because of the W’s, the kind of ephemeral letter that flickers like a scoreboard lightbulb in Crisler, the one that always seems to surge with a crackle of electricity as the clock reads zeroes and drives out the bleak emptiness of the losses. I came when I saw Mike Hart, but let’s not dwell on that. The haze of a malleable past where “what ifs” become certain realities lends itself to, if anything, an epically long-winded run-on of creative diarrhea, so that less than cohesive memories strung together like the diamond weave of a basketball net with collegiate adulations will seem to imply there’s deeper meaning.
There’s technically no more time but let’s call for more time.
It was years after the facts if facts even exist but nothing matters anyway. I never knew the Fab Five- nobody really knew them before Jalen Rose appeared on the ESPN scene. Jalen appeared amongst the legions of button-down, over-the-top talking heads and he belonged. The ease of appearing so at ease left me wondering when the background wall of noise, the crescendo of the unanswered allegations and shades of spectres would rise again.
But his self-serving documentary fought back, slashing and hacking as a Crusader against the perceptions of an infamous team that set into motion an avalanche on its alma mater, and stopping to pillage and have its way with the mindful rebuttals of nothing to show. It happened, and it always had.
The tattered remains of dishonorable seasons enchanted, enhanced, and crammed with the semblance of stylish fashionable vogue. Base race arguments whirl as a miasmic harbinger to change, blotting the past til the mutable message emerges at last- we did something great.
It’s like someone saying “So tell me who the Fab Five was” last year. The sun vanishes and I no longer feel the shame and dissatisfaction of achievements left unattained or see the tarnish to the program, and my eyes close and my mind calms, the laudations emerge. Jalen is still half-buzzed by the side of the road and laughing at how easy it was.
This isn’t what you expected. You expected a dextrous homage to a diminutive tailback, legs churning like pistons in a cyclone of mixed metaphor. It’s like being in a movie theater with your popcorn when you were a kid, eyes wide open with that tingling sensation as you sat too close to the screen in an impossibly dark world of possibilities, but leaving with the buttery aftertaste of reality.
They were, and always have been, regardless of origin they might be, if only for a nanosecond, aimlessly disjointed words and commas.
This guy used to write stuff like this before Uncle Tom shut him down. He met Steve Fisher once but Fisher denies it to this day.
ESPN just released an article based on Coach K's comments to a radio show this morning. Link. Quotes:
Obviously, that was a poor choice of words and very insulting to everyone here at Duke but especially, not just our African-American players, but any African-American students. When you judge within a race, you start judging, like you put categories as to who you are. I think that's just the wrong thing to do.
We were very successful against them and, to be quite frank with you, we recruited Chris Webber. I didn't recruit Jalen Rose because we had Grant Hill and I'm happy with that. We didn't look at the other, Juwan Howard [because] we knew he wasn't going to come to Duke. The other two kids we didn't think were the caliber that could play as well as Thomas Hill and Brian Davis and Billy McCaffery. They're good kids. They were good kids.
They had a heck of a run but, they didn't leave anything, they didn't establish anything there. The guys that I had established something that Jay Williams continued to do 10 years later -- the standards of what it meant to be a Duke basketball player.
I'm not going to make too strong of a comment about what I think, because, frankly, it doesn't matter much. I will say that I think Coach K is smarter than actually believing Jalen was talking about modern day as opposed to 1991. On the other hand, Jalen laid out some pretty serious allegations in Coach K's direction.
According to Jemele Hill of ESPN (page 2), the Fab Five Documentary is the highest rated documentary on ESPN ever.
I was there.
The almost-perfect long weekend in the middle of the last semester of our senior year. Yeah, it was a little too expensive (even though we drove). Yeah, it made finishing our classes a little tougher (but who works much in their last semester of undergrad anyhow?). And it was a chance to see something special, a potential national championship. I had watched the last one on TV (and will never forget how clutch Rumeal was, hitting those two free throws). I had celebrated on South U. (as a high schooler) with the masses, but desperately wanted to see this one in person.
They held a lottery to see who got tickets. Can you imagine, not enough tickets to go see the the Final Four down in Louisiana? We won. I don't remember how many people applied, and I sure was hoping that senior status counted for something extra. But we won. And so, we went.
Welcome to New Orleans!
I was only worried about one game: Kentucky. Everybody thought they were the team to beat. And they were. A beast of a team. Led by Jamal Mashburn, they finished the season ranked #2 in the country (behind #1 Indiana, whom #9 Kansas later bounced to sneak into the Final Four); Michigan was #3, North Carolina #4. The closest (at the time) to all four #1 teams making it. How I still wonder about what would have happened had Indiana beaten Kansas...
Bobby K: Too Angry To Win
But I was there.
The Kentucky game went to overtime, Webber was a monster throughout. Look at his stat sheet: 27 points, 13 rebounds, 39 minutes of playing time. Yes, others had great games too (Howard, Jackson, Rose), but without Webber, the run would have ended. I saw a lot of Kentucky fans crying after the game. One shook my hand and offered up a weak but heartfelt "good luck"; I'll always think fondly of that small, silly moment. What luck did I need? I was just watching. Kentucky fans, man, kentucky fans.
One Kentucky Fan We Can All Get Behind
So we celebrated. A great night out on the town, as only the town that hosts Mardi Gras can deliver. And the knowledge that we had one more game, a winnable game against a good (but not great) team.
Mardi Gras Girls: No, We Didn't Meet Them
And I was there.
The team didn't seem to have their legs that infamous Monday night against UNC. I think Kentucky took a lot out of them. Watching UNC breeze by a lousy Kansas team on Saturday, I was convinced we had the tougher road, and during the last game it showed.
Don't Worry Sir, We'll Lose Easily
But those five guys (and yes, the others, too) had something, a toughness, a resilience. We managed to pull ahead with five minutes left. Someone told me one of those stupid stats which make you feel good but only in a false-bravado kind of way: Michigan hadn't lost a game that year when they were up with five minutes left. My friends and I exchanged high fives. We're going to win!
We Exchanged High Fives
But somehow they couldn't keep a guy in Donald Williams' face, and he kept making shots. Why was Jalen on him? I thought King would have been a better choice, more athletic, if shorter. But there was Williams again, making twos, making threes, and suddenly we were down.
F---ing Donald Williams (Looking Old Now)
I was there, and I remember when Webber traveled.
The whole place screamed "walk!" but somehow they didn't call it. Later, I felt thankful for the refs: they didn't want to decide the game on a stupid play like that. They just wanted to see it play out. But Webber walked, and then started dribbling like crazy up the court.
Fisher: What I Would Have Looked Like, Had We Had One More TO
Most of us were screaming "Time out!" How many goddamned basketball games have you watched where there are about 100 timeouts at the end, play moving glacially forward, the last 30 seconds taking 20 minutes? How can a team actually run out of time outs? I bet you Fisher thought about that for a long time after. If they'd just had one more timeout ...
Pelinka: Open For A Three?
Pelinka was open. The UNC guys were running around, crazy, double-teaming (turned out to be a good decision, huh?), and if Webber had just swung the ball to someone, anyone, I bet it would have made its way to Pelinka in the corner. You know, the guy who makes threes. For years, I would wake up in the night, and think about "what if Pelinka had gotten it in the corner?" Thankfully, that went away. Sport fans, we're nuts.
I was there, when all the fans looked at one another, confused.
What happened? Then some guy two rows in front of me, in that f---ing monster of a building where there wasn't much of a scoreboard anywhere near the court for players to see, said simply: "They don't have any more timeouts. That's a technical foul. We're going to lose." Our section, crazy with noise moments ago, jumping with the certainty that our guys were going to pull it out, fell slowly quiet. The UNC fans started to figure it out too; they all started to go nuts, as did their players on the bench. I still can't figure out the Dean Smith voodoo, his two championships not remembered for his team's greatness, but for the other team's failure in the clutch. For this reason, I still harbor an irrational hatred of Dean Smith.
The Dean's Voo-doo Victim #1: Fred Brown
Watching the brilliant documentary on the Fab Five the other day brought this flood of memories back. And what memories they were, and are. I've enjoyed the current season immensely, as Beilein and Co. have built up a team that is easy and fun to root for. But for two seasons in what seems like another lifetime, we had something more than that, something so rare and special that it is hard to believe it was Michigan basketball. We had rock stars for a basketball team. We cheered them on when they won, and we wept with them when they lost. We loved them, and so we wept.
It was a long drive home.
A Long Drive Home
As for the memories I have, well, scandals, banner-removals, or any other "official" process can't touch them. A memory of my own youth, a memory of a time where five kids made national headlines simply by being who they were, a memory filled with many joyous headlines, and finished with an unforgettable exclamation point, perhaps an appropriately tragic ending.
I graduated, I moved out of the state, but I will always have those memories.
You see, I was there.
I could only catch part of the Fab Five documentary on ESPN on Sunday, and I was wondering if anybody knew if ESPN would be replaying it at all this week. Really wanted to see the whole thing, but haven't been able to find it yet. Tried to find something through google/ESPN searches but came up empty. Anybody know of a replay date?