C-Webb, Double Standards, and Teenage Millionaires

Submitted by BeantownBlue on January 27th, 2010 at 4:59 PM
This started as a reply to that MGoBoard post on Jalen Rose.  You know the one that got everyone debating whether or not we should ever allow Chris Webber back into the Crisler Building?  After writing a few paragraphs, I realized my diatribe might be more appropriate in Diary form.  So here goes...

I understand why everyone gets so emotional when the discussion of Chris Webber comes up. He was the central figure in an investigation that set our basketball program back more than a decade.  He lied to the authorities and has refused to apologize to Michigan fans. Our feelings are hurt and the banners are down.

I understand.

But I'd like to kindly ask you to forget about the RESULT of his actions for a moment. Rather, I would like you to consider his motivation at the time of his actions.

Chris Webber was a kid with a skill.  

He played basketball really well.

There are 14 and 15-year-old tennis players getting paid millions of dollars in endorsements for similar skills. There are teenagers who sign lucrative deals out of high school as top draft picks in the MLB. To a lesser extent, there are teenage kids making big cash as young hockey prospects. Shaun White, the olympic snowboarder, was making millions in endorsements by age 13, when he went pro.  

Why do we not vilify these kids for aspiring to cash in on their athletic success at such a young age? Why do we read about these kids in KidzWorld and Forbes magazine? Shouldn't we discuss their behavior with wagging fingers in the editorial section of the New York Times?  

The answer is simple. Those kids play sports that have systematic ways of providing monetary reward for aspiring talent. The MLB and NHL have spent millions investing in legitimate farm systems that develop talent and pay players modest sums. Tennis and snowboarding allow players to go pro whenever they like, freeing athletes to be sponsored by major corporations.

The NBA, on the other hand, continues to use the NCAA as a free minor league, sorting the best talent from the worst at the expense of universities--and the aspiring athletes.

Chris Webber elected to get paid under the table because the NBA didn't provide (and still doesn't provide) a viable minor league that pays well and invests in star athlete's futures. 

Sure, Webber could have used better judgement. He could've been more honest with federal investigators. And he sure could apologize to UM fans for letting them down.

But I hope we can acknowledge his wrong doings within the context of his circumstances. While other teen athletes were cashing in on their success to the tune of millions, we wanted Webber to simply smile and be thankful for a college scholarship. It was, and is, an unfair expectation, and we have the NBA to thank for it.

To those outraged by Webber's behavior--who don't want to see him back in Crisler under any circumstances-- I hope you hold similar contempt for Sidney Crosby, Maria Sharapova, and Michelle Wie. They were just a bunch of silly, greedy kids, who couldn't wait to cash in on their athletic success.


EDIT/ADDENDUM:  To clear things up, I do not wish to absolve C-Webb for all wrongdoings.  I think he should apologize and acknowledge that he was a stupid kid who got caught up in something bigger than he could've fathomed as a kid.

I bring up the "NBA has no viable minor leauge" thing because I think it makes his actions more understandable given the context.  Teenage MLB draftees don't face the decision C-Webb faced.  They sign with agents and develop while they get paid.  

Lastly-- to those who say he could've gone pro out of high school-- there was NO precedent for this.  NONE.  Shawn Kemp went to UK and was kicked out for stealing.  He went pro because he had no other options (and faced the consequences of entering that world too soon).  Moses Malone was drafted in 1974 by the ABA.  Not an option for C-Webb.  Darryl Dawkins was the poster child for why going pro out of high school is a BAD idea.  C-Webb did what everyone did before Kevin Garnett (who went pro ONLY because he failed to get a 17 on the ACT).



January 27th, 2010 at 5:18 PM ^

please explain how Sidney Crosby took money in college or how Maria Sharapova and Michelle Wie choices to go pro affected a team. thanks.

also what rules did they violate that led to sanctions that haunted their former organizations while they went on to make millions? that point seemed to get muddied during your 'feel sorry for webber' debate. as someone on the board said, nobody was more understandable to accept money than howard and he didn't. why should a kid like webber than get understanding?


January 28th, 2010 at 8:11 PM ^

"please explain how Sidney Crosby took money in college or how Maria Sharapova and Michelle Wie choices to go pro affected a team. thanks."

I don't know how many different ways I can answer this question. Crosby, Sharapova, and Wie all play sports that allow players to go pro earlier and develop as athletes while getting paid. Chris Webber didn't have this opportunity because the NBA uses the NCAA as a free minor league. Thus, talented young basketball players get surrounded by sketchy AAU coaches and other hanger-ons (Martin) rather than lawyers, agents, and publicists (like the ones Wie I'm sure was surrounded by her 11th birthday).


January 29th, 2010 at 12:58 AM ^

The point is that Wie, Crosby, and Sharapova harmed nobody else by going pro and making money. By making money as an amateur, Chris Webber did harm others. Also, I don't think that the lack of a minor league system for the NBA does not constitute a huge injustice. All it means is that if a player doesn't develop in college so that they rank among the top basketball players in the world, they don't get to play in the NBA. In that case, they can still get their degree and make a decent living.

The problem that I have with your assertion that the lack of a legitimate NBA minor league system is an injustice is that you assume that basketball players should be entitled to make large sums of money off of their potential, rather than producing at a higher level of competition. As they are being compensated in the form of a scholarship, I really don't see a problem here. The MLB and NHL have minor league systems because they are substantially better systems than college for separating out talent. In golf and tennis meanwhile, players at younger ages are able to successfully compete with the pros, meaning that there is no reason for tours to deny them admission. No league has an obligation to have a minor league system, some just find that it is ultimately better (and to an extent more profitable) to have one.


January 27th, 2010 at 5:22 PM ^

If Chris Webber wanted the money, than he should have went straight to the NBA. Granted he would have been the first do it in a long time (this would have been before KG), but the opportunity was still there. And if he really wanted the money, than he could have left after his freshmen year. Again, he decided to stay in school. The reason people aren't wagging their fingers at Shaun White is because Shaun wasn't participating as an amateur for some University while getting endorsements and prize money at the same time. He got the money because as you said, he went pro.

You could make the argument that kids use the NCAA as a try out for the NBA just as much as the NBA uses the NCAA as a minor league. Chris knew damn well he wasn't going to stay that long in Ann Arbor and one could say he was using Michigan to up his draft status. And he did this all while getting a free education and free room and board.

So no, I don't feel bad for him. He knew it was wrong to take the money and did it anyways. The bottomline is the system is flawed and needs to be fixed. The one and done rule has only increases the chances of something like this happening someplace else (see OJ Mayo).

You can't compare Chris Webber to a teenage Tennis/Hockey star because they aren't playing for a University while getting paid. They gave up college for the opportunity to earn money. Chris in essance gave up the opportunity to earn money when he enrolled in school. You can't have both and he should have know that.


January 27th, 2010 at 5:40 PM ^

You're burying the lead in inviting finger wagging at Sharapova, etc.

As you wrote, "Sure, Webber could have used better judgement. He could've been more honest with federal investigators. And he sure could apologize to UM fans for letting them down."

Tempering that statement with "Sure" doesn't change the fact that, yes, that's exactly what makes me sad about C-Webb. He didn't use better judgment. He could have been more honest. And he could apologize but chooses not to.

I'm completely open to the argument that the NBA and NCAA's strangehold on amateur basketball exploits kids. It tempers my anger, but it doesn't absolve C-Webb completely.


January 27th, 2010 at 5:48 PM ^

While I'm open to the argument that the NBA/NCAA's strangehold on amateur basketball forces these kids into unfair choices, I'm far less open to that argument as applied to the early 90s.

Chris Webber could have gone to the NBA. He likely would not have been a #1 or even top 10 pick, but he could have done so. He chose to attend UM and use the college to both train/prepare him for the NBA AND increase his profile.

Its indisputable that Chris Webber benefitted financially (NBA wise, not under the table wise) by attending UM - one needs to compare the contracts of #1 pick to a #20 pick (even after removing 2 years as the opportunity cost).

In other words, C-Webb chose to go to UM for a couple of years for similar reasons one chooses to go to Law School rather than make money in an entry level job - sure, I could make $X for 3 years rather than pay $160K for a degree, but the belief is that its an investment that'll pay you back. C-Webb's investment paid him back in spades, but he left the institution in shambles.

Again - he was young. And, um, sure, there are different amateur rules for tennis players. But as to the first point - he ain't so young anymore, an apology or acknowledgement shouldn't be too much for a grown man. As to the second, it's sort of irrelevant, but sure, I agree - the amateur bball system blows balls.


January 28th, 2010 at 3:31 PM ^

"He chose to attend UM and use the college to both train/prepare him for the NBA AND increase his profile."

Exactly my point. His only way to prepare for a professional career was to go to college. As you pointed out, he wouldn't have been a top ten pick on his own. The NBA banks on students taking advantage of this opportunity to they don't have to invest in a viable minor league. MLB players don't have to make this choice. First round draft picks are chosen, invested in, and developed based on potential. C-Webb wasn't afforded such a logical choice.

"he ain't so young anymore, an apology or acknowledgement shouldn't be too much for a grown man."

I agree (as I did in the OP). An apology would go a long way. I think he should apologize (as I think Steve Fisher should) and allow fans to start the healing process.

Mr. Robot

January 27th, 2010 at 5:41 PM ^

I do expect a scholarship to be enough. Just ask anybody who's parents were too rich for the government to give them financial aid but too poor to actually pay their way what its like NOT to get free college.

As it was said above, if the money meant that much to him, he could have just gone pro. This isn't a matter of his wanting money anyways, its a matter of his intentionally taking money he knew he was forbidden to do, and as a result, shafting the university and the program.

Fact is, a lot of guys who do this don't have their careers greatly damaged. If Reggie Bush turns out to have gotten all that he did, what does that matter to him now? He's still a starting running back for an NFL team headed for the Super Bowl and making more money than all the USC boosters combined could have offered him. If USC ends up getting owned by the NCAA, it doesn't change much about Reggie Bush's future. It does, however, royally screw USC and shut him out of LA for good unless he wants to risk bodily harm.


January 27th, 2010 at 6:00 PM ^

for a college athlete who made the choice to go to college instead of going pro.

Webber did that twice, so I definitely don't have any sympathy for him. And basketball players in general have a ton of different options. It is not true of football and there are probably plenty of athletes for whom the value of an education at that point in their lives doesn't have a tremendous amount of value.

If the player feels he has no particular need for an education at that time, then the point when the likelihood of getting drafted times the minimum salary exceeds the remaining value of the scholarship years (40K times however many years left) would be when he would go if he could. The very best players, like the ones at USC for instance, will be forfeiting possible income because of the system while risking attrition that affects their actual ability to be drafted. It's lose-lose for those players. I assume at least a few have made this conclusion, too.

So the OP isn't completely off point, is what I'm saying.

Zone Left

January 27th, 2010 at 6:14 PM ^

Is that a Scooby Doo pic?

Currently, neither college basketball or football players really have an option to go directly to the pros. Webber could have gone, and probably would have been drafted--but the era hadn't yet come where it was really possible for him to go pro and be the #1 pick.


January 28th, 2010 at 1:38 AM ^

let's not bring football into this. Very, very few football players can go from high school into a pro starter, unlike basketball. Most players actually need the 3-4 years of coaching, weight training, and experience that college gives them. Even if the NFL opened up its draft, how many kids would have been able to get drafted in the first 3 rounds or so to make money? Maybe Mike Williams (sophomore version) and Maurice Clarett (after his freshman season).

College football is probably dirty to an extent (see: Ogreon, Ed and Neuheisel, Rick) but not nearly as bad as basketball. How much do you think Kentucky's current freshman class is being paid?


January 28th, 2010 at 10:24 AM ^

and the real superiority of 5 star types, i don't think it's that outrageous. reggie bush knew he was going to get a pretty sweet draft spot provided he avoided injury. and it's not like he can buy insurance on himself. get enough in your soph/junior years, you're not doing so bad for yourself.

Zone Left

January 27th, 2010 at 5:56 PM ^

I made this comment in a forum earlier today. We place 19 year old kids on a pedestal and expect them not only to excel at sports, but also to be virtuous.

Bottom line, Webber probably doesn't feel like he owes anyone anything. Michigan went to two Final Fours in two years. Michigan won a bunch of games, had iconic teams, and produced lots of extra revenue. In exchange, he was able to prepare himself for the pro game. Things worked out pretty well for everyone, and if there hadn't been a rollover, no one may have ever known.

To a 19 year old kid, extra spending money isn't something you turn down. We act high and mighty, but how many of us would have turned down two hundred bucks at 19? Remember the scene from Fab Five when Webber can't buy a sandwich, but the University is selling his jersey for $80 next door?

Big time college sports are a quid pro quo. Bottom line.


January 27th, 2010 at 5:59 PM ^

the point. I GLADLY admit that 19 yos can't be expected to have perfect judgment. For that reason alone, my anger is tempered (I wouldn't even say "anger").

Chris Webber is not a 19 year old kid anymore. Men admit mistakes - even ones that they made as kids, or ones they made where there are extenuating circumstances.

I'm not mad at 19 year old Chris Webber ...

Zone Left

January 27th, 2010 at 6:08 PM ^

Okay, so what does 30 something Chris Webber owe us or the University of Michigan? I still say he owes nothing. He didn't throw games and played excellently for two years. In exchange, he was prepped for pro ball. The fact that someone who was giving him money (probably to score on the pro payday) kept giving him money doesn't mean he owes an explanation to you, me, or anyone else.

A better question is this: what do you owe your alma mater, Michigan or otherwise? I paid tuition for four years, and in exchange I got an education. Afterwards, I've been pretty successful, and none of my breaks came from my affiliation with the University (I'm in the military and school name doesn't matter in the application process). Do I owe something to the school, or does my tuition equal services rendered by the University to me? As an econ major, I tend towards the latter.

Zone Left

January 27th, 2010 at 6:27 PM ^

But what should he be sorry for? I'm playing the contrarian here, but he probably feels a little put out by being disassociated from the University--at least I would. Has the University publicly apologized for disassociating themselves from a wildly successful former student? I'd be pissed off and wouldn't apologize for shit.


January 27th, 2010 at 8:35 PM ^

Arguments can be made on either side of paying college athletes, but the point is that a big time college athlete likely doesn't have a free second to hold down a job. Without such a job, how is a student (without assistance from someone, parent or otherwise) to obtain spending cash for things like...a sandwich, a movie, etc?


January 27th, 2010 at 10:29 PM ^

He went on Nightline and bitched about just that...they were selling his jersey, while he couldn't afford a sandwich or such. Beyond the fact that he liked to play ghetto kid, coming from a prestigious private school with parents who had well paying jobs the fact that he received a 6 figure sum of money says he could afford sandwiches for a whole lot of people...a lot more than any of the college students I knew at the same time. It's one thing to cry injustice...it's another to do so when you're a big cheat. Let's not think he was taking some pizza money from family friend. He was taking more money than anyone else in college history has been proven to take, from a numbers runner.


January 28th, 2010 at 12:34 PM ^

...and I KNEW about it? I'd care. And think it was wrong. Morals are what you do when no one is looking. If I didn't know, well then, there's really no way I could care, could I? I defended him from all the then "old blues" who didn't like that the Fab Five did this or did that, and you know what? He proved them all right. That's why I'm a "hater". He took down Michigan Basketball, and hasn't so much as given us a reach around.


January 29th, 2010 at 12:34 AM ^

I mean, you could probably find 40 year olds who come from backgrounds that need to be told things like that (I've worked with some of them). But a guy who was 20 while he was still here taking money? He's old enough to know right from wrong. Do kids sometimes make bad decisions? Sure. But I never would have done that or bought it as an excuse when I was that age. And you and I would probably been insulted if someone thought they had to tell us that.

In any regard, he hasn't been 20 for a LONG time. And no apology. How hard is it to even back up what you say, but later realize -"Hey, I was a dumb kid, and wow'd by all that free cash. I didn't realize how many people it hurt. I'm sorry."


January 27th, 2010 at 6:02 PM ^

It's worth noting that Webber's father, Mayce, appears to have accepted as much money as (if not even moreso than) his son did - and he doesn't have the "youth" excuse.


January 27th, 2010 at 8:30 PM ^

I understand your frustration, but what about a little rant on current basketball recruits? It's common practice for the nation's top recruits' friends and family members (just like Chris's dad) to receive payments all along the recruiting path. Want the kid to read your letter? $1000. Want the kid to return a phone call? $2000. Campus visit...even more. The coaches ALL know about this going on; just like Fish likely did.

That is the way it works. Not all kids and their families operate that way, but it's an everyday occurrence with top recruits. Let's not pretend that the Fab 5 days were so rare. They're still here...ok, not here as in A2...but across the country. We just got caught.

The FannMan

January 27th, 2010 at 6:05 PM ^

I was an undergrad during the Fab Five era. I have come to just accept it for what it was. Good and bad, but mostly the past.

I had a ton of fun watching those guys play, storming South University, etc. No one can take those memories away.

There are also the negatives - Weber's actions hurt the team and prevented similar good memories for those who came after me. It should be noted that the violations were not just limited to Weber. Traylor, Bullock, etc. were also involved. The lack of control by Fischer cannot be excused. The fact that the NCAA investigation became tied to, and delayed by, a federal case which lasted for years made it worse. The damage just went on and on, and still does.

The good memories are still there and are part of my college years. For that I'll always be thankful to the guy. I'll also always blame him for his role in severly damaging the program.

Most of all, I think the whole era, good and bad, is just the past. It is what it is. It is now time to focus on the coaches and team we have.


January 27th, 2010 at 6:10 PM ^

As with anything scandal-related like this, I think it comes down to being contrite. The problem most fans had with Webber wasn't that he broke the rules and took the money, it is that he could have cared less about the university, the fans, his teammates, his coaches, and everyone else.

I understand his soap box position about how schools exploit their athletes, especially in basketball. I get that he can't afford to go out to Applebee's but the university makes millions on his likeness. But that doesn't excuse the way he handled things.

I can't stand Webber and what he helped do to the university I love. At the same time, however, I think had he expressed even the slightest bit of remorse and owned up to his actions we probably would have forgiven him for the most part. Much like the steroid issue in baseball, the best course of action is to be honest and apologetic - we'll forgive you.

If Webber ever wants to come back he should pony up the money to help fund the practice facility. Chip in a few million dollars, tell us how sorry he is for the ramifications his actions had on the university (even if he believed he was in the right), help out at Mott's, and then we'll probably forgive him. I honestly think that most people would welcome him back if he did something like that - especially with a large financial contribution.


January 27th, 2010 at 8:22 PM ^

You do realize that Webb isn't allowed to be any part of the program, right? So how is he supposed to "pony up money" when he isn't even allowed to have his photo on the wall?

The only thing this anti-Webber nonsense does is harm the program. Why not show recruits that a big man from Michigan can succeed in the pros? It's been a long time to continue to hold such a grudge against a good guy.


January 27th, 2010 at 11:13 PM ^

He's "still the petulant spoiled child" but you don't even know him. You just like to hate on him from afar. Knowing Chris, I know he's a good guy. Not knowing Chris, you don't know what the hell you're talking about. You don't know his charity work, donations to the arts, etc.

I also know that haters (much like you) are the first ones to run up to him, stand a few feet away and stargaze (if not autograph hound).