There may be no recruiting class in the history of college basketball more well known than the Michigan Wolverines‘ famed “Fab Five” squad that appeared in two consecutive NCAA Tournament title games in the early 1990s.
Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson changed the entire landscape of college basketball when they came to Ann Arbor in 1991 and while the group didn’t win either of those national title games, the impact they made on the game will certainly never be forgotten. While it’s now commonplace for freshmen to come in and make an immediate difference, that really wasn’t the case back in the day.
But then-Michigan head coach Steve Fisher saw the talent he had in the “Fab Five” and while he was initially hesitant to start all five as freshmen in 1991-1992, he eventually acquiesced, a move that obviously paid off as the group led the Wolverines to the Final Four in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, a run that began with a first-round matchup against Temple.
Now, for those unaware, one of Temple’s most famous alumni is Bill Cosby, who back in the early ’90s wasn’t yet a convicted felon but simply a standup comedian and the star of one of the most-watched television shows in the country, The Cosby Show. The four-time Emmy winner was extremely excited about his alma mater squaring off with Michigan’s “Fab Five” in the NCAA Tournament and actually contacted the team before the game to express that excitement.
Fisher saw this as a way to motivate his team but took things a step further by creating a lie to give his Wolverines even more motivation, a lie that he had to confess to when Michigan reached the Final Four.
The Michigan Wolverines’ ‘Fab Five’ took college basketball by storm in 1991-1992
When the “Fab Five” first came to the Michigan Wolverines in 1991, Steve Fisher initially only started three of them in Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Juwan Howard. After a time, Jimmy King was placed in the starting lineup as well and in the Wolverines’ 19th game of the season, Steve Fisher did the unthinkable and added Ray Jackson to the starting five as well.
In that matchup against Notre Dame on February 9, 1992, Michigan came out on top, 74-65, and the “Fab Five” accounted for every single point the Wolverines scored that day. The team finished the regular season with a 20-8 record, certainly much better than the 14-15 mark they’d had the previous season, and earned a No. 6 seed in the Southeast Region of the 1992 NCAA Tournament, which set up a matchup with John Chaney’s 11th-seeded Temple Owls.
Bill Cosby sent a fax to the Michigan Wolverines ahead of their first-round matchup against Temple in the 1992 NCAA Tournament
Ahead of the Michigan Wolverines’ first-round matchup with Temple in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, Bill Cosby sent a fax to Steve Fisher telling him how excited he was to watch his alma mater play against the “Fab Five,” for whom he had a lot of respect.
Fisher used this as an opportunity to motivate his team and added his own paragraph to the end of the letter, which stated that if the Wolverines could defeat the Owls and get all the way to the Final Four, Cosby would have the “Fab Five” on The Cosby Show as guest stars.
Michigan obviously went on to defeat Temple, 73-66, with the “Fab Five” accounting for all but seven points in the victory. The Wolverines then defeated 14th-seeded Tennessee State, who’d surprised No. 3 Arizona in the opening round, before knocking off second-seeded Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16, which set up an Elite Eight matchup with top-seeded rival Ohio State.
Steve Fisher had to confess to his lie when the ‘Fab Five’ reached the Final Four
Led by Big Ten Player of the Year and All-American Jim Jackson, the Ohio State Buckeyes were the top seed in the Southeast Region of the 1992 NCAA Tournament and had beaten the Michigan Wolverines twice in the regular season, both times by double digits.
But this Elite Eight matchup would be different as Michigan hung with their rivals the entire way and earned a hard-fought 75-71 overtime victory. Four of the “Fab Five” scored in double digits, led by Chris Webber’s 23, as the Wolverines earned a spot in the Final Four for the first time in three years.
Now, during this historic run, the “Fab Five” were still under the impression that if they reached the Final Four, they’d get to appear on The Cosby Show. So once Michigan disposed of Ohio State, the team was chanting “Cosby Show! Cosby Show!” in the locker room, as seen in the Fab Five documentary on ESPN. And it was at this point that Steve Fisher had to confess to his lie.
The Michigan Wolverines went on to defeat Cincinnati in the national semifinal before losing to Duke in the NCAA title game.
Stats courtesy of Sports Reference