What Would John Stuart Mill Think of the Fab Five?

Blog Post #3

Section 10

Michigan’s famous Fab Five changed college basketball forever. The players’ individualism shined as they refused to conform to the standards of college basketball in the early 1990s. The fab five is the nickname for the legendary 1991 recruiting class of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson. When former Michigan head coach Steve Fisher brought these five-star recruits in, they instantly became the center of attention in college basketball. Four of them were McDonald’s All-Americans and three were ranked in the top ten of the ’91 class. These players came in with a swagger and confidence that forced many to view them as cocky, but this new level of confidence is what permitted them to change the “looks” of the game of basketball that still exist today.

Michigan's Fab Five

Michigan’s Fab Five

Back in the 90s, basketball players had a much different appearance than they do today. Players wore short shorts and white socks without any flashy shoes or gear. The fab five approached Coach Fisher and told him they were going to bring a new style to the court. They wore long, baggy shorts, black socks, and black nike shoes. Additionally, they
had bald heads, tattoos, and earrings. Not only was their appearance different, but so were there actions. They acted how they wanted to act. They talked smack, listened to inappropriate music, were goofy with media, and were not shy in stating their minds. College basketball had never seen five Freshman so different, yet so dominant. Unlike most, the fab five didn’t care about their public perception, even though many white Americans were worried that they were becoming bad influences on their children.

Former NBA player John Stockton wearing old school short shorts

Former NBA player John Stockton wearing old school short shorts

Similarly to Ed O’Bannon, one issue they specifically spoke out against was that the university was making millions of dollars off of them and they weren’t seeing a single penny. Nike was selling their long black socks and black shoes and the M-Den was selling their jerseys on State Street. Some of the players didn’t even have the spending money to eat out or go to a movie. The players eventually decided to protest against the university by warming up in plain navy blue shirts and shorts that didn’t have any Michigan labels on them. No team until the fab five had the courage to protest an issue that was not as pressing back then as it is today.

The fab five were going to be themselves regardless of their reputation, which is exactly what John Stuart Mill would have advocated for. In chapters three and four of Mills’ book, “On Liberty”, he discusses the value of individualism. He argues that people are free to have their own opinions and make their own decisions as long as their actions do not harm others in society. At their two years together at Michigan, the fab five’s individualism was not harming anyone. In fact, it was helping the school of Michigan and the game of basketball. The school was making tons of money, the fans were witnessing back-to-back national championship appearances, and the appearance of basketball players was changed forever.

Unexpectedly, the story of the fab five did not end after Chris Webber’s famous timeout call in their 1993 National Championship loss to North Carolina. Four years later, Weber was indicted on charges of lying to the grand jury about taking money from Michigan booster Ed Martin. It was later revealed that him and three other Michigan basketball players had borrowed up to 616,000 dollars from Martin. Webber’s decisions hurt a multitude of different people. Coach Fisher was fired in 1997, the school took down all their championship banners, the program lost scholarships and postseason eligibility for two years, and the school’s reputation took a short-term hit. The fab five’s individualism had once elevated them to the top of the basketball world, but certain players’ decisions eventually harmed an entire community. Weber chose to be different than some of his teammates, and his decisions had harmful consequences on an entire community. While Mill would have supported the fab five’s appearance and protests on the court and with the media, he would not have advocated for one of Weber’s off the court decisions.

-Aaron Simon

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2 thoughts on “What Would John Stuart Mill Think of the Fab Five?

  1. This is an excellent blog. You made an outstanding connection to not just one readings but two. I loved how you incorporated the sports theme especially with the special connection to Michigan’s Fab Five team. I would agree with basically everything you said. I think that had the Fab five team not been so different then basketball as we know it today wouldn’t nearly as great. This post is particularly great because of the counter argument you made at the end about how sometimes being an individual and not going along with traditions and rule can be harmful to others. There is a clear conflict when having to decide to either be an individual responsible for yourself and maybe others or confirming and harming yourself by suppressing your need or desire to be different.

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  2. This was a great blog idea. The connection you made between the Fab Five’s choice of clothing and Mill’s idea of individualism is brilliant. The players didn’t conform to the social norm which was upheld by other college teams and the NBA as a whole. They decided to do what they wanted, which made them one-of-a-kind. Players around the world loved their decision and adopted their style as theirs. The Fab Five’s individual choices, through advertisement and media attention, quickly went from out of the ordinary to the main social norm. Great post.

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