How the Fab Five Saved John's Life: A Reader's Letter


Only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive.  ~ John Dewey (Professor of Philosophy, University of Michigan, 1884-1894)

A man I’ve never met or heard of, a stranger, wrote me a letter on Saturday morning.  It’s not the only one I got in response to my open letter to Chris Webber.  But this one, more than any other, stopped me absolutely cold in my tracks so simple, direct, and vivid was it in its declaration of why and how things like the Fab Five, their banners, and Michigan basketball matter.

They saved John Gorman’s life.

He generously gave me permission to share it in full on my blog.  What’s more, he asked me to try to get the letter to members of the Fab Five and to Athletic Director Brandon and President Coleman so that, in his words, they might

see the importance in recognizing the Fab Five era, and how it is a much bigger picture then who is right or wrong. It impacts more people then they might fully understand.

The thrills of Michigan’s run to the NCAA Championship Game, the reunion of four of the members of the Fab Five, and the last-minute appearance of the fifth — Chris Webber — at the game have now given way for many Michigan fans to anxious speculation as to which members of this year’s team will declare for the NBA draft.  It’s understandable, we don’t want the goodness to go away.

But John has a firm grasp on a larger perspective from which we can all benefit.  For this one man, both this year’s team and the Fab Five continue to fuel his inspiring drive to stay alive.  Read on…

Dear Mr. Colas,
     I recently discovered your open letter to Chris Webber floating around the internet. Thank you for writing such a heartfelt plea for him to attend last Monday’s championship game. Reading your letter stirred much emotion in me. It brought back a lot of old feelings concerning the Fab Five and the impact they had on my youth.
     I am now a 38 year old married man with two kids living in rural Wisconsin. I would like to point out that I am also a white, blue collar male, not the stereotypical “Fab Five fan”. But back in 1992-93, I was a 17-18 year old kid who’s entire life was basketball, and those young men were like gods to me. I collected everything, from posters to magazines with them on the cover, newspaper clippings, Sports Illustrated issues with articles on them. I proudly wore my Jalen Rose jersey with my baggy shorts and black socks almost entire weeks at a time. Whenever the summer tournament season came, my friends and I would shave our heads bald, and make annual trips to the local Nike store to get the newest socks and shoes, and to see who could get the baggiest shorts. We lived and breathed basketball, and every hot summer day was spent in a driveway, open gym, or at a playground in pickup games. If we could not find enough guys to get a game or it was too hot to play we would sit around, shooting buckets or laying under a tree to cool off and talk any and all things hoops, and Fab Five.
     During the dark years of Michigan basketball and as we all grew older our interest waned, and that magic was gone. I quit playing  basketball about 10 years ago and as I grew older completely quit watching the game altogether.  I would still tune in every year for the conference tourneys and March Madness but it wasn’t the same. The feeling was gone. But then Coach Beilein came to Michigan, and slowly I could see that the program was headed back in the right direction. Last year I found myself watching more and more and enjoying it. Then something happened that changed my outlook and feeling for the sport altogether.
     Last July, I woke in the middle of the night with severe chest pains and my wife took me to the ER. I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat. Here I was, a 38 year old man, out of shape because of years of not exercising right, taking buckets of heart medication, and wondering what I was going to do. Add a severe lower back problem from years of physical labor from my former job as a landscaper and my options at viable exercise and fitness are very limited. I tried walking, running, bike riding. I found myself bored. Weightlifting was always a grueling tedious activity that never really got my attention so I wondered, what can I do to get myself in shape again, get healthier, and not die on my kids by the time I am 50?
     It was around the fall when college basketball started backup for the year and here I was sitting and watching not only the Michigan games, but any game I could find on TV. Before I knew it, the excitement and joy I once had in this great game had returned. I then caught on TV one late night the ESPN documentary on the Fab Five, and it was like I was 18 again watching my heroes playing in the tournament once again. At that moment I decided no matter what it took I was going to play basketball again. I have since then purchased a hoop and have been playing nonstop (Wisconsin weather permitting). My ultimate goal is not only to lose the extra weight that has led to my heart problems, but to be in game shape by this fall so that I may join a league of some sort.
     I share this with you because it shows the true power and impact those five men can have, and have had, on a person’s life. No matter what mistakes they made in their lives, they got back up and continued on, and that has been a source of great inspiration to me. By just attending a basketball game, Chris Webber took the first step towards fixing his mistake. Seeing him walk into the arena reminded me of myself, walking back into a life I once had and regaining the joy it gave me.
     As I did some more research into you and exactly what your ties to the university are, I was surprised to see you teach a course at the university about basketball and culture. What better a teaching tool for your course then those five great men? Nobody can better explain the ties between basketball and its cultural influence then Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, Jalen Rose, and Chris Webber. The fact that five kids from the inner cities of this country can come together with their baggy shorts, bald heads, black socks, trash talk, and bravado and showmanship and influence a tall skinny white kid from the farmlands of Wisconsin is all you need to show the impact they had on society.
     Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope that your efforts to get the legacy of the Fab Five back into the fold at Michigan are successful. The banners need to be put back up. Not just for the school and the players, but for guys like me who have been impacted by those five men. GO BLUE!
John T. Gorman
Sussex, WI

There’s not much more I would want to add to John’s letter, other than to endorse whole-heartedly his insistence on the profound and vital importance of the University of Michigan administration officially recognizing the Fab Five and their teams, proudly embracing the deep, literally life- giving impact they’ve had, and — by adopting that broader perspective — releasing old grudges and grievances.  Jimmy, Ray, Jalen, and Juwan have unstintingly embraced and given to the University.  Chris Webber took a brave first step last Monday night by attending the championship game under intense scrutiny.

The NCAA imposed ban prohibiting the University from associating with Chris Webber ends on May 8.   I’ve said it before, but not so well as John: Michigan should be as proud of the Fab Five, and as proud to hang the banners of the 1992 and 1993 Final Four teams as they justly are of the 2013 team and of the coaches, players, staff, and fans who helped make this year’s success possible.

If you want to join me in supporting John and me in our efforts to impress upon Athletic Director Brandon and President Coleman how important this issue is: please write to them directly, by clicking on the links below.  Tell them your story of what Michigan basketball, the Fab Five, and the banners mean to you!

Write the Office of President Mary Sue Coleman

Write to Athletic Director Dave Brandon

And whether or not you take the time to let them know how you feel, please take a moment to circulate John’s letter as widely as possible, as he asked, by sharing this post through your social networks.

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