What if…Chris Webber hadn’t called timeout?

This is the fifth post in our ongoing series of the Top 10 What Ifs in college basketball history.

It’s probably one of the most sickening play-by-play calls in history:

Billy Packer: “Oh he walked!  He walked and the referee missed it!”

Jim Nantz: “Webber brings it into the frontcourt.  They have no time-outs remaini–”


Nantz: “He called a timeout and Michigan doesn’t have any!”

Packer: “YES!  HE GOT BY WITH A WALK, AND JIM, HE CALLS A TECHNI…HE CALLS A TIMEOUT HE DOESN’T REALIZE THAT’S MICHIGAN’S…TOO MANY.  And so it will be a technical foul, North Carolina shooting, AND the ball.  A HUGE mental mistake.”

As Jim Nantz would put it… the Fab Five came up short again.

As entertaining as some of the previous “What Ifs” have been, this is the first one that really could have impacted college basketball as we know it today.

What if…

Chris Webber hadn’t called timeout?


For argument’s sake, let’s just pretend that Webber didn’t call timeout and the Wolverines went on to win the game.  (Remember, they were trailing at the time…it’s not like a win was a foregone conclusion.)

The great C-Webb’s career may have played out much differently.

It’s not like Webber had a bad career or anything.  5 All-Star appearances. 5 All-NBA teams (1 first, 3 seconds, and 1 third).  Career averages of 21, 10, and 4. But I think even he would tell you that it was a little bit of a disappointment.

If you compare him to his three other peers – Duncan, KG, and Dirk – he was more physically gifted than anyof them.  If he had been better than Dirk, KG, and Duncan, he may have become the greatest power forward of all time.

He was powerfully built, with some of the best hands a big man has ever had.  He could shoot the midrange jumper.  He could post up.

But his most special quality?  His passing. Not many big men in history have had the court vision or passing ability of Chris Webber.  When he teamed up with Vlade Divac, it was poetry in motion.

But then came crunch time, and for whatever reason, perhaps because of the timeout, Webber would literally run away from the spotlight.


We can all remember him running to the high post, getting the ball, and then turning around with his back to the basket as he waited for Bibby or Peja or anyone to come get the ball out of his hands.

He was even afraid to pass! Only a handoff would do.

As it turns out, maybe he was just the unluckiest player of all time.  If you watch the UNC-replay closely, you can see someone on the Michigan bench motioning for him to call a timeout.  If you watched any of those Lakers/Kings series over the years, you know that the Kings caught some of the worst officiating in NBA history.  Maybe all of the cards were always going to be stacked against Webber.

But there’s always that idea that “you make your own luck.”  Apparently poor C-Webb just never learned how to make his own, and he always seemed to be scared of the ball when the game was close.

The Fab Five might be more Famous than Infamous.

So let’s say that C-Webb didn’t choke in that spot and the Wolverines did pull out the close victory.  Doesn’t the entire world remember them differently?

Oh sure, we would still probably have a bad taste in our mouths after all of the banners came down a few years ago, but they still would have been champions.

If they had beaten North Carolina – college basketball royalty led by the great Dean Smith – then the Fab Five would have been looked upon as a resounding basketball success. The way it is now, they are simply looked upon as a cultural phenomenon.  They brought “hip-hop” into basketball.

I don’t need to tell you how most white people look at the previous two statements. A win would have made all of that secondary.  They would be more famous than infamous.

College basketball may have fundamentally changed.

The saddest part of the previous point to me is that because of all of the “cultural” stuff, people failed to see the beautiful basketball that the Fab Five created.

In the rush to label them “thugs” and “gangsters” people missed the breathtaking passing, the swarming defense, and the overall unselfish basketball that they were playing.

One of my least favorite parts of the replay of the timeout is the seemingly indescribable joy that is just oozing out of Billy Packer as he’s screaming, “HE CALLED A TIMEOUT!”  Listen again.  Maybe it’s just me, but he seems to be begging the ref to call a travel.  When it’s not called, he basically scolds the youngster and then bursts into joy when he realizes that Michigan is going to lose.

Say what you want about the Fab Five, but this much is true: at the time, most college basketball fans wanted them to lose.

UNLV had freaked out the blue-blooded college basketball world a few years before, but Duke had eventually restored order. The clean-cut “team players” will beat the talented but selfish showboaters every time!

But here came Michigan, ready to change basketball again. Fortunately, for those who loathed the Fab Five, Michigan’s best player called a timeout when they didn’t have one.  Nobody needed to worry.  The establishment had been upheld.

Unfortunately, we may have been robbed of a different brand of basketball that was just as beautiful as anything you will see on Hoosiers.


What if…?

But hey…at least they still gave us the baggy shorts!


Top 10 College Basketball What Ifs of All-Time Series (All)

10. What if Hank Gathers hadn’t died in the middle of a game?
9. What if Christian Laettner had been suspended for stomping on Aminu Timberlake?
8. What if Houston hadn’t been upset by NC State?
7. What if the NCAA rules had been different for Pete Maravich?
6. What if Chris Webber hadn’t called timeout?
5. What if Gordon Hayward’s shot hadn’t rimmed out?
4. What if Coach K had been fired from Duke after 3 seasons?
3. What if LeBron had gone to college and the one-and-done rule was never instituted?
2. What if Kentucky had beaten Texas Western?
1. What if there wasn’t a snow storm to keep John Wooden from going to Minnesota?

About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.


  1. Gemini True says:

    This is stupid!!!  Webber DID Walk, and the ref admitted that he purposely looked away because Webber tried to call timeout before he walked, and the ref didn’t want to call it at that juncture.  So, that should have been Tar Heels ball right there.  Second, he ran into a trap in the corner with both Lynch and Montross guarding him(by the way, he travelled then as well).  So, most likely, he would have turned the ball over.

    Last, they were still down 2 points.  Who said they would have hit a shot to win?  Michigan panicked, and UNC didn’t. 

    This is a stupid what if!

  2. Gemini is right, this is counterfactual is SO many ways.  Webber walked originally (in the back court) because he lined up and stepped out to make a chest pass outlet, and only at the last split-second (too late) saw that George Lynch had scoped it out, and  would have easily intercepted.  Webber dragged his pivot foot by a good 12-18 inches. Not incidental, caused by a great play by Lynch, one Webber fell for.  Middle of the game?  That gets called 100% of the time, even if done by Austin Rivers.

    As Gemini said, he was trapped in the corner (and yes, he egregiously travelled again, though admittedly sliding around by a trapped man is often not called).  But here’s the additional key; none of his teammates were helping him out.  Webber had foolishly dribbled down into the corner, and he had nowhere to throw the ball. Review the film if you don’t believe it … there was nobody open, and nobody coming.  6-5-4 … what was he going to do?  Literally any pass to a teammate would have been intercepted; even with the double team, the rest of them were of position to receive a pass.  Go  look at the tape and see where Rose and the rest are.  Not really their fault; dribbling down into the corner was insane.

    Truth is, the only thing he could have done with a 10% chance of working was to take what would have been a very, very bad shot, and hope it at least hit the rim, and that a Michigan player could board it put it back.  Even hitting the rim from that angle, trapped, was a long shot, but if he did it, the Heels would have been somewhat out of position for the rebound (2 of them being in that trapping position).  With 3 possible positive (if unlikely) outcomes, that was really his only move. 1) Lorenzo Charles (shot falls short, gets put back), 2) rebound, quick putback, or 3) that ridiculous shot goes in.

    Maybe 5%.  But more probably, the ball either bounces around and the clock runs out. Or Lynch somehow gets the ball, as he did all game.

    Sorry, but this is stupid.

  3. Let me add one more thing.  Webber’s move (given the original travel not called) was to make an offensive play.  Time’s running out; beat your man and take a shot, or MAYBE pass to an open Rose or other teammate.  He was running away from the big play then.

  4. hoops fan says:

    UM fan here.  The Fab 5 did NOT “invent” the baggy shorts look.  Look it up…

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