First Take: Jalen Rose’s Fab Five


I had the chance to watch a promotional copy of Jalen Rose’s Fab Five documentary, which will debut on ESPN this Sunday at 9 p.m., and figured it would be worthwhile to share a couple thoughts. We also posted a handful of quotes from Jalen, who produced the film, earlier this week.

As you would expect from a film produced by Jalen Rose, the documentary does a tremendous job of capturing the attitude and social impact of the Fab Five. The film focuses on their impact culturally and ability to connect hip-hop and basketball. The brash exuberance of the Fab Five is not just captured through the clips on the court, which are obviously entertaining. A majority of the interviews do a great job of portraying the same energy. Whether it’s listening to the Fab Five describe their feelings on Duke and Christian Laettner – using words like “Uncle Toms” and “soft bitch” – or one of the many hip hop icons of the time explaining their cultural influence.

The Fab Five’s Final Four banners hang over the entire film like a dark cloud. Shots of the banners, tucked neatly away in the Bentley Library basement, bookend the film. It’s clear that the four of the five that participated in the film badly want those banners back in the rafters. The NCAA violations are addressed in the film’s final chapter but only to the extent possible without Chris Webber’s participation. Webber’s absence makes the entire film a bit hollow, not only in regards to the NCAA-talk but also in the discussion of almost every major issue. Webber was the star of the group and without his opinions on every event from the first game to the final time out, the project feels incomplete.

It’s clear that the ball is in Webber’s court in regards to reconciliation. David Brandon is interviewed near the end of the film and makes it very clear that Michigan is looking for an apology from Webber before any action is taken at the end of the 10-year ban. The fact that Webber won’t even participate in a film produced by Jalen Rose is probably a bad sign in regards to an apology coming anytime soon.

One of the most common questions I’ve seen is whether the film addresses the ugly issues as well as the positive. I would say yes, to an extent. The range of topics discussed spans just about everything that you would expect to see. There are pictures of Jalen chugging beer out of a 40 and he discusses his drug house incident. There are also other ugly sides, such as shots of all of the racial hate mail from Michigan alumni and the inevitable discussion of the NCAA sanctions.

For those that know the Fab Five, the documentary won’t necessarily be groundbreaking. I’m not sure that’s the purpose of the film. Instead, it’s Jalen Rose’s best attempt to condense a revolutionary two year stretch of basketball into 120 minutes. The result is an interesting and compelling film that does a tremendous job of illustrating the legacy that the Fab Five had on the basketball world. Even more importantly, it’s a chance for younger generations to get a taste of history. Looking at the game today, it’s almost impossible for these younger generations not to see the influence of the Fab Five.

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