In fifth grade, my English teacher held a contest to see who could read the most books in a semester. Proof that you read the book came by way of a book report. Nothing too fancy, just a one or two page summary written on wide ruled loose leaf paper. I won the contest, and to be honest, I have no recollection of the prize, only that it fulfilled a vendetta I had against Jeff Davis. He took second place, and the number of books was astonishing for kids our age. I think I completed 22 to his 20, or somewhere in that vicinity, in under five months. That was me...a regular child prodigy.
How did I make my way through so many books in so little time you might ask? It wasn't easy. Each day during reading hour as Jeff was nose deep in his latest book, I would pretend to read a book while cavorting with fellow students and causing general mischief. Every three days or so, I would flip the book over and summarize the publisher's summary from the back cover and turn it in. Shady? Maybe. Evil genius in the making? Absolutely.
I wouldn't read my first book cover to cover until seven years later. No, not the mindless drivel forced upon me in high school like Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, or All Quiet On the Western Front. There were Cliff's Notes for all of those.
The book was Fab Five.
And while my disdain for the current, somewhat ambiguous (in many ways) Mitch Album is prominent, back then he was cool. He was hip hop. He HUNG OUT with the FAB FIVE. The Mitch Album that appears on the worst ESPN show ever, The Sports Reporters, and drops a weekly column in the Life section of the Free Press, is not the man who once wrote the greatest single piece of literature of my youth. I don't imagine the Mitch I once knew took time off from spying on pick up games of "Freshman vs. Y'all" to spendTuesday's With Morrie.
Anyway, I was enamored by it. It multiplied my Michigan Fan factor exponentially. The diary-like prose encompassed a period of my life that included saving every newspaper clipping of the historic run of the five freshman, donning my very own black Nike socks under my black high-tops, and shedding my first sports driven tear when my hero called the most famous timeout in sports history. In an era of transition from Bo to Mo on the gridiron, an era that included five consecutive Big Ten football titles, Michigan Football began to make room for Michigan Basketball. This amazing avalanche of basketball prosperity was caused by one man, Chris Webber.
Poster-izing team after team, he was the face. The young, cocky, smiling face of the greatest recruiting class ever assembled. And as I read Fab Five, I realized that a time I thought I knew everything about had such a deeper story. A dejected Chris Webber struggled to gather together pizza money as the University machine profited by pumping out #4 jerseys at $80 a pop. Those bastards! How could they do that to Chris? This system sucks. We should be paying these guys. Somebody get Macey a goddamn pizza.
Then Ed Martin appeared, and a scandal reared its ugly head.
Chris took money, upwards of $200,000, as part of a money laundering operation designed to hide a massive gambling conspiracy at a local auto plant. Then he lied about it to a grand jury...and to the NCAA...and to Mitch...and indirectly to me. We all know how the story goes from there: sanctions, lost scholarships, an embarrassing NCAA tournament drought, and a Crisler Arena that on the inside looks like Cassie might have not only built it, but is the only one on staff maintaining it.
As for the pizza? Not only could he afford it, but he had enough cash to order it from Pizza House...though not every day.
The banners came down, banners built and raised on my hopes and dreams, folded and put away like the many newspapers that once hung on my walls in college. And while the corruption didn't end with Chris, it certainly seemed to begin with him.
Chris Webber was dead to me. Erased from the record books and disavowed from the Wolverines. The timely (for Chris) death of Ed Martin forced prosecutors to drop all the perjury charges, and Webber emerged completely unscathed. The only victim in this entire process was Michigan Basketball. Worse yet, Chris never even apologized, not a single peep. Anything would have worked for me, even a pile of Giambi-like doublespeak would have sufficed. But there was nothing.
After being let go from Sacramento,Webber's NBA career looked like it was taking a turn towards the journeyman level. Imagine my dismay when after a short stint playing second fiddle to AI, Joe Dumars acquired him to play for Detroit. Sold to the public as a homecoming, few even mentioned what was to me the proverbial giant elephant in the room. But everyone looked the other way as Chris became a productive albeit inconsistent member of the Pistons.
The season came to a close in Cleveland (that's in Ohio by the way) Saturday night, and I can't help but think that maybe it wasn't LeBron James that sent the Cavs to their first finals ever. Instead I submit that perhaps the game gods just don't want Macey to get a ring: college, NBA, or otherwise. And perhaps he doesn't want it either, sleepwalking through the second round and crapping the bed with 2 points and 1 assist in Game 4 of the conference finals, he continues to solidify his legacy as a choke artist under pressure, and in the end he's just a guy that called a timeout that wasn't there with a championship on the line.
And that still doesn't make up for what he's done.