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Chris Webber

Imagine if Fab Fiver hadn't called that timeout ...

Posted: Friday April 1, 2005 3:46PM; Updated: Friday April 1, 2005 3:51PM
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By Adam Duerson

Nominees for SI.com's Greatest College Basketball Player of All Time:
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Sports Illustrated asked its writers to weigh in with their picks for the greatest college basketball player of all time. Read through their selections and then tell us yours.

Imagine Chris Webber doesn't call for the "timeout that never was" and he's remembered as the all-smiles heart and soul of the most Fabulous Fivesome since Stuart Sutcliffe told the Beatles, "Peace out, mates."

Maybe Michigan still doesn't win the '93 championship game -- they were still down two, we're so quick to forget. But without the unbearable weight of blame, maybe Webber stays on for one, perhaps two more years of domination.

Maybe then we overlook the character-damning "illegal money" revelations that come years later. Maybe we realize he was -- all character aside -- the best college basketball player ever. (But he had Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard and Jimmy King, you say. Lennon had McCartney and Harrison and Starr, but did that ever stop anyone from calling him the greatest lyricist of a generation?)

Instead, he's Chris Webber, who, as he so humbly confessed in that post-mortem press conference, "cost our team the game." Chris Webber, whose lasting impression on college basketball is a broken soul, head buried deep in a towel as he kissed off the Superdome.

Instead, he's Chris Webber, whose name stands italicized (the NCAA's take on the scarlet letter) in all Michigan literature thanks to his involvement in a nasty booster scandal. Chris Webber, the only Fab Fiver who doesn't show up in the Michigan Media Guide's "Celebrating the Past" section. Try finding a picture of that high-flying freshman year flattop (15.5 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.5 bpg); the sophomoric Bic'ed dome (19.2, 10.1, 2.5)... It's not there. Not one.

It's silly to think Webber's omission from Wolverines lore would be any different had he not flashed the fingertip-to-palm signal. That's about bad choices and bureaucratic red tape. That's about the person, not the player.

But if it's the timeout that made us forget the player, then consider this irony: Without Webber, the Wolverines surely aren't in a position where an errant timeout costs them a national championship. If Webber doesn't drop 23 points and 11 rebounds that night, a timeout is only a Band-Aid on a bazooka blow to the chest. If Webber doesn't put back an errant Jalen Rose 3-point attempt with 46 ticks left and snag UNC's ensuing rebound, then a timeout does nothing but give Michigan 30 seconds to come to terms with defeat.

In '93 (and '92, for that matter) Michigan found itself within arm's length of a national title because Chris Webber put them there. It was Webber who carried the young Wolverines to 15-3 that year against some of the fiercest Big Ten competition to date (Robinson, Cheaney and Finley, oh my!) and Webber who parlayed regular season dominance into tournament head-turning: 19.2 ppg; 11.3 rpg.

It was Webber who showed maturity beyond his years, conceding the floor to Howard and Rose when needed. His career-defining moment: a coast-to-coast jaunt against Duke in the '92 championship game a year earlier, capped by a physically improbable behind-the-back bounce pass. Now aren't we all about rewarding the youngster who can lead by sharing?

It was Webber who in '92 reminded a world of freshman and freshmen-to-be: anyone can play this game. Even a snot-nosed freshman punk. Or five snot-nosed freshman punks, for that matter.

Imagine. Webber doesn't call for the "timeout that never was" and he's remembered for the player -- not the misguided person -- he was. Lennon in baggy shorts.

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