Chris Webber turned 42 earlier this month but it’s hard not to think of Webber forever frozen as a teenage member of Michigan’s Fab Five.
Such was the impact of Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, all of whom joined the Wolverines as freshmen in the fall of 1991 and captured the nation’s attention with a distinct hip-hop look (long, baggy shorts and black socks) and remarkable on-court success.
Webber debuts as an NCAA game analyst for CBS and Turner this week (his partners are Marv Albert and Len Elmore), an assignment that comes two years after the end of the NCAA-mandated 10-year disassociation period between Michigan and Webber. As I wrote in Nov. 2012 when I profiled Webber for Sports Illustrated, I really like him as a broadcaster. He’s worked hard to be prepared and engaging for viewers. When I spoke with him last week in New York City, he said calling the NCAA tournament was not something he had longed to do, but he was very happy to get the assignment from his Turner Sports bosses.
“I have experienced every high in college and some lows that most guys could never dream of,” says Webber, whose Michigan teams appeared in back to back title games in 1992 and ’93. “So when I see parents hugging kids and kids either crying or dancing, I don’t know if there is anyone in the world who can relay those emotions better than I can. I hope to tell the story that these are still 19-year olds and [I understand] the pressure they are going through. It’s good to be able to come back. I am excited. It is a great stage and fun to be around the kids.”
It’s always impressed me that Webber will answer questions about his worst on-court college moment—the timeout he called during the waning seconds of the ’93 NCAA championship game against North Carolina.
“At the time it was the worst thing for me but it was a blessing in end,” Webber says. “[That mistake] helped put the blinders on and make sure my work ethic was good. I didn’t want to make more mistakes. There are a lot of positive messages about it that I share with kids every day. Sharing it has never been a problem but can I share it context during the tournament?”
Webber says Turner provides a ton of research and he’s read everything he can on the tournament teams. He’s also very close with Tom Izzo, the coach of Michigan State, as well as Steve Fisher, the current coach of San Diego State who was his coach at Michigan, and will use them for research. Webber’s first game comes Friday at 12:15 p.m. ET with Kansas-New Mexico State on CBS.
When the tournament ends, Webber will return to calling the NBA. With Greg Anthony indefinitely suspended, Webber has become the de facto No. 1 NBA analyst for Turner Sports. Two weeks ago in this space, Albert praised Webber’s work, and he and Albert have become friends and frequently text each other.
“I think Chris is terrific,” Albert says. “He understands the rhythm of the game, he’s not afraid to say something and he gets in and out at proper times. He is a pro.”
“It has been a long journey,” Webber says. “I have been doing this for seven years. I had offers from other places to try and be the No. 1, but Turner is like a family. I mean, I know it is business but it really feels that way. I don’t miss basketball because I have the locker room at Turner. I am humbled that Marv would say those things. I have gotten to work with Dick Stockton, Marv Albert and Ian Eagle. The way I approach it is I have to be as prepared as those guys and I have 30 years to catch up on being prepared. Hopefully, I take instruction well. At the beginning of the year, even talking to Steve Kerr when I knew he was leaving, I am competitive and I wanted [the top spot]. Working with Marv does not hurt. He is the best softball pitcher in the world. I’m very honored that people recognize your hard work.”
Webber says Albert has talked to him about pacing and cadence, and Stockton has worked with him on the value of silence in sports. “I’m better because I work my ass off but I also have some good mentors,” Webber said.
“Chris brings tremendous insight and entertainment to a telecast,” says Eagle. “He has a natural feel for the game, and you can tell how much he enjoys being around it. His exuberance is infectious. On big slam dunks I would have to prepare to box him out because he would get 'physical' at the broadcast table. We have a bit of a size mismatch. His pop culture knowledge is sneaky strong, so I'm ready for anything from a Sanford and Son to a Real Husbands of Hollywood reference. He's got a big upside as a game analyst.”
Webber said the only thing that would prevent him from staying in broadcasting long-term would be a significant role in professional basketball as an owner or in upper management. He enjoys working both on remotes and in the studio but he’s likely to do more game work next year given his success with Albert.
“The studio is so much fun but you can become attached to the studio,” Webber said. “I love the game. But I have to work on not being so excited. Marv has helped me channel that energy.”
Speaking of playing, Webber says he has played basketball just twice since he retired from the NBA in 2008, and one of those games came at actor Adam Sandler’s house.
“I was terrible,” Webber says. “I played on a team against [Sandler’s] team and I think they beat us. I might have pulled a hamstring dunking. It was that bad.”
The Noise Report
1. Here’s John Oliver destroying the NCAA tournament on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
1a. My Monday column was a television and online guide to watching the NCAA tournament.
2. CBS Sports college basketball studio analyst Clark Kellogg said he does not look at the brackets in advance prior to the airing of the NCAA Selection Show. (The staff at CBS Sports usually gets the picks about 25 to 30 minutes prior to air.) I have enjoyed just being spontaneous and reactive based on when the picks are revealed to the public,” Kellogg said. “That’s how I’ve done it last two years.”
Kellogg has been dead-on the last two years identifying low seeds making a run in the tournament. He championed Florida Gulf-Coast in 2012, Mercer in 2013 and this year he cited Buffalo and Dayton as early-round mid-majors to keep an eye on.
3. Via Austin Karp of the Sports Business Daily: CBS drew a 3.9 overnight rating for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Selection Show on Sunday, marking the lowest figure for the show in at least a decade. The telecast was down seven percent from a 4.2 overnight in 2014. Karp noted that this year's Selection Show had to compete with Fox's telecast of a late-starting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from Phoenix, which did not end until 6:45 p.m. Sports Media Watch said it was the lowest overnight in 25 years.
4. For those who were surprised that UCLA made the NCAA tournament, you were not alone. One of the most famous alums agrees with you. “Even I did a double take,” said Reggie Miller, who played for UCLA from 1983 to 1987.
4a. Loved this Madness Machine simulator from Wall Street Journal Sports.
4b. Cool one-minute previews for every team in the NCAA tournament from of Campus Insiders.
5. SiriusXM will air every game of the NCAA tournament on Sirius channels 91, 84, 92, 93, and 157 and XM channels 91, 201, 202, 203 and 204. SiriusXM College Sports Nation will discuss the tournament throughout the month.
5a. Here’s ESPN’s coverage schedule for the NIT.
5b In addition to Kevin Kugler and Clark Kellogg calling the finals on Westwood One Radio, the network will use Ian Eagle, Gary Cohen, Tom McCarthy, Dave Sims, Scott Graham, Wayne Larrivee, Kevin Calabro, Brandon Gaudin and John Sadak as play-by-play announcers and Jim Jackson, Kelly Tripucka, Kevin Grevey, Will Perdue, Donny Marshall, Mike Montgomery, Bill Frieder, P.J. Carlesimo and Bill Walton as analysts. Jason Horowitz and Alaa Abdelnaby will anchor the coverage from Westwood One's New York City studios.
5c. My deepest prayers go out to the family of ESPN college football writer and former SI staffer Ivan Maisel.