The Michigan Basketball Battle Between Jalen Rose and Chris Webber Over “Fab Five”

The Michigan Basketball Battle Between Jalen Rose and Chris Webber Over “Fab Five” article feature image
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Getty Images. Pictured: Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Michigan Basketball

Chris Webber and Jalen Rose have publicly dueled over the accounts of the “Fab Five” story, which they both lived when they played at Michigan. But the two have been privately battling over the trademark to the phrase for what is going on 18 years.

With the Michigan Wolverines getting the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1993 Final Four, when the “Fab Five” in their sophomore year lost to North Carolina in the championship game, the battle could become more public.

The connection to the “Fab Five” is even more prominent due to the fact that another member of that team, Juwan Howard, is currently Michigan’s head coach. 

Rose said in the press last year that his battle with Webber, which was solidified even more after the ESPN 30 for 30 on the group that Rose executive produced, was going to thaw with Howard at the helm. But that apparently, behind the scenes, that hasn’t happened.

Attempts to reach Rose and Webber for this story were unsuccessful. However, Rose responded later on Twitter following the publishing of this story.

The battle started in 2002 when Webber filed to trademark the phrase on clothing. Rose filed the next year, but was denied because Webber filed first. For eight years, Webber held on to the trademark until it was abandoned in July 2010. A couple months later, Rose was ready and filed to trademark “Fab Five.” Less than two years later, it was his. Rose, as is required to establish the mark, filed that he sold clothing with the phrase in 2012 and he filed to keep the mark after the six-year term expired in 2019. 

Hoping to get it back, Webber, in September of last year, filed to trademark “Fab 5.” Last month, an examining attorney for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office denied Webber’s application, citing that Rose’s mark was too similar. 

Case closed? Potentially not. 

Because of Webber’s involvement with booster Ed Martin, Michigan removed the 1992 and 1993 banners from their arena and deleted anything Webber from their record books. In 2018, at a football game, Michigan welcomed Webber back after a NCAA required 10-year disassociation from the school and put him back in their media guide, albeit with asterisks.

So here’s where the problem comes in.

In order for Rose to see the true value of his trademark, his phrase has to be linked with the Michigan marks. But because of the scandal, Michigan hasn’t been too eager to commemorate the “Fab Five.”

Rose’s ties with the university paid off for him Monday as BetMGM hired him as a spokesman to help them in the battleground of Michigan.

At the MDen in Ann Arbor, one of the biggest college retailers in the nation, there’s not one piece of gear that has that phrase. 

The store’s owner Scott Hirth says “given what happened, it hasn’t really come up.”

What’s funny is that the “Fab Five” phrase wasn’t really unique when the five heralded freshman, four of whom were in the Top 12 in the nation, landed at Michigan.

There was Fab Five Freddy hosting Club MTV with Downtown Julie Brown and some referred to the New Kids on The Block as the Fab Five. In sports, there already was a Fab Five that was referred to as such: The starting five of the Boston Celtics — Bird, McHale, Parish, Ainge and Johnson.

But with their amazing flair, their baggy shorts, and their success on the court, it wasn’t long before the kids from Michigan became THE “Fab Five.”

Now, as this Michigan team hopes to win the title for the first time since 1989, the mark should be more valuable than ever. Instead, it’s in limbo although Rose isn’t selling anything around the Fab Five, at least nothing tied to the Michigan logo.

“If Jalen’s not selling clothing, then it certainly can be challenged that he shouldn’t be able to hold the registration and Chris could file a petition to cancel what he has on grounds of abandonment,” said trademark attorney Josh Gerben.

Gerben said he has seen his share of two parties battling back and forth for the rights to a trademark, but, he said, “I haven’t seen one going on for 18 years.”

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