A once-inconceivable happy ending was finally in sight — even though it was still a few miles away. And just as it seemed like the divide between the University of Michigan, Chris Webber, and the Fab Five was inching closer to reconciliation, it was hit with another roadblock just days before Webber’s long-awaited Hall of Fame induction.
“I enjoyed the conversation with Chris when we met several years ago,” Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel wrote in a statement. “But I can assure you I made no apology to Chris and, for those who may be curious, I never asked him to apologize to the University of Michigan. I wish Chris nothing but the best, and I’m happy that he’s being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.”
The statement was in response to a claim that Webber made in a sit-down interview with ESPN, in which he discussed…well, everything.
“That’s what happened. I was told [that] by the University of Michigan. I was told by the athletic director at the University of Michigan [Warde Manuel], that he was sorry,” Webber claims. “And he wasn’t even there at the time [I was playing]. He told me that he did his research and that he needs to apologize. His exact words [were], he needs to apologize to the 18-year-old Chris Webber because we didn’t protect him.”
After all that’s transpired in Ann Arbor between the two sides over the years, we’re now in a stalemate in which the face of the Fab Five and the man who runs the athletic department are in a verbal standoff. And if things couldn’t get even more dramatic, Michigan kicked things up a notch by releasing a statement about Webber’s Hall of Fame induction while the ceremony was taking place, as Michigan’s football team was playing Washington in a primetime game on ABC that didn’t feature a single statement or quote from a university official, in a move that was shady and calculated as hell.
“Starting every game in his two-year U-M career (70), Webber averaged a double-double, scoring 1,210 points (17.4 ppg) and grabbing 702 rebounds (10.0 rpg),” read the press release that feels like a watered-down version of his Wikipedia page. “His 175 blocks still rank third all-time. Despite the U-M program later accepting NCAA sanctions, Webber was instrumental in the Wolverines reaching two straight NCAA Final Fours and advancing to back-to-back national title games (1992, ‘93).”
In 2003, Webber pleaded guilty to a criminal contempt charge in federal court and admitted to giving former booster Ed Martin more than $38,000 as a repayment. It led to the Fab Five’s banners coming down, and Webber being disassociated from the school for 10 years. It’s also the reason why he couldn’t join the rest of his teammates in the stands when Michigan played Louisville in the 2013 National Championship game.
Webber had to watch the game from above the court in a suite inside the Georgia Dome.
“Oh, I didn’t mind watching them get honored. I was on the phone with Ray [Jackson] and Jimmy [King] at the game so that wasn’t a thing. The thing was that ... I couldn’t come to the game and sit with them because I was banned and it was not 10 years yet,” Webber explained in his interview with ESPN.
“No. 2, it was like people [were] always looking for something with me instead of looking at the story. And so if people would have just looked and said, ‘What year was this? Oh, he can’t come,’ it would have been that simple.
“But the toughest thing is ... we’ve [he and his wife, Erika] been trying to have kids for eight years and two days before that [game], we were as disappointed as you could be after a [failed] pregnancy. And so that really turned me to being pissed. Here we had lost the baby the day before the Final Four. One of my teammates goes on [TV] and says, ‘Hey, come to the game,’ as if he doesn’t know there’s this. And then I have to walk into the game with my wife, with her supporting me.”
Throughout this entire ordeal, fans have had to pick sides. You either ride with the Fab Five and believe that they’ve been treated unfairly — especially in this era of NIL — and think that Michigan should welcome them back. Or, you side with the university because “rules are rules.”
But, no matter what side you’ve picked, what can’t be argued is that reconciliation has been put on pause due to a lie. Between Chris Webber and Warde Manuel somebody is lying. And the saddest part is that given the history of how things have played out in this situation, we’ll probably never know who it is.