Part of this is the iconic status of the Fab Five and part of it is Chris Webber's egregious error which sealed the championship for UNC. But as the New York Times points out, the Most Outstanding Player from two decades ago is nothing but a footnote now.
Michigan was trailing, 73-71, with 11 seconds left and had no timeouts, so the Wolverines were assessed a technical foul after Webber’s mental error, giving North Carolina two free throws and the ball. When people reflect on the Fab Five’s last game together, they tend to focus on the Webber gaffe, overlooking Donald Williams, the North Carolina player who was the star of the game.
Williams scored the last 4 points in the Tar Heels’ 77-71 victory, making the two technical free throws and also the two free throws after Michigan fouled on the ensuing possession.
He won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award as a sophomore after scoring 25 points in both the semifinal victory over Kansas and the title game win over Michigan — yet because of the Webber miscue, he is often lost in the shuffle of memories.
In his postcollege career, Williams — a 6-foot-5 shooting guard — was also lost in the shuffle of N.B.A. aspirants and is the last most outstanding player to never play in the league.
"I wanted to, that was my dream," Williams, 40, said recently during a phone interview from North Carolina, where he just finished his first season as the boys’ basketball coach at Northwood High School in Pittsboro and also serves as an intervention assistant for at-risk children at his alma mater Garner High School. "I always thought I should have played in the N.B.A. But I now know I was just blessed to have as long of a basketball career as I did have."
Obviously had Williams gone on to a successful NBA career, he would have been remembered differently. As it turns out Williams stayed two more years at UNC and during that time suffered a shoulder injury. His play was never quite as good as it was that weekend in the Superdome.
Of course it is unfortunate that the media only focuses Michigan in remembering that game. Over the weekend Jalen Rose voiced his opinion that Michigan was the "better team" and they "let" UNC win the game.
And Rose's emotional reaction to finally watching the game?
"It upsets me looking at the North Carolina bench, a bunch of no-name players that have championship rings that they can be proud of forever," he said, "and I don't have one. …
"It bothers me. There are a lot of great players that never got a chance to play for a national championship. And I got a chance to play for two.
"The first time we lost to a team that was better than us" — Duke in 1992 — "but I'm pretty sure in this game that we were the favorite. So what bothers me is that we let a team that we were better than beat us."
This might be a simple issue of semantics with Rose here. While you can argue Michigan had better players, you cannot argue they were the better team. Especially when you consider in two head-to-head games that season UNC lost the first one by a point on a last second tip-in and won the second one by six. The Wolverines as individual players may have been superior, UNC's coaching was superior by miles which was the ultimate difference. The Tar Heels played disciplined basketball on both ends. Michigan on the other hand was undone by Chris Webber trying to play hero by bringing the ball up himself, getting trapped then panicking and taking a timeout the team didn't have.
While Williams might be a "footnote" or as Rose said a "no-name" his life is far from a failure. He has spent his post-basketball career helping at-risk kids and recently started coaching basketball on the prep level. He may not have been a basketball star beyond his UNC days but he will always be a legend among Tar Heel fans. And he has and will be much more than that to the kids he has helped.