This day in sports history: Chris Webber's infamous timeout seals championship for North Carolina

Jason Owens
·5 min read

Yahoo Sports is digging into the archives, taking a look back at the moments that shaped sports.

Chris Webber was the centerpiece of one of college basketball’s all-time iconic lineups.

He was a No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft and a five-time All-Star who played 15 seasons in the league.

He’s since carved out a career as an NBA analyst and color commentator.

But the mention of his name among basketball fans immediately conjures one word above all else.

“Timeout.”

It was 27 years ago today that Webber made one of the most infamous blunders in sports history, his last act as a member of the Fab Five that secured a national championship for North Carolina.

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

The emergence of the Fab Five

The Fab Five remained intact for their sophomore campaign after taking basketball by storm as freshmen.

The most heralded recruiting class in college basketball history had lived up to the hype in 1992. Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson led Michigan to a 25-9 record and became the first all-freshman starting lineup to start in a national championship game.

There, the magic fizzled as Christian Laettner’s Duke Blue Devils trounced the Wolverines for a second consecutive national title.

But when all five starters returned for the 1992-93 season, Michigan took on the mantle as college basketball’s powerhouse. The Wolverines entered the season as the No. 1 team in the country. They returned not only with immense talent, but the same swagger that set the blueprint for basketball style for a generation.

The Fab Five signaled the death knell of basketball’s short-shorts era. Michigan’s baggy jerseys and knee-length shorts became the standard not only in college basketball, but in the NBA and in playgrounds across the country. The black socks and black shoes that signaled an embrace of their status as basketball’s brash villains remained their own.

Collision course with North Carolina

Michigan finished second in the Big Ten that season to Calbert Chaney’s Indiana Hoosiers. But their 26-4 regular season record was enough to earn a No. 1 seed alongside traditional powers Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.

The Wolverines would advance to New Orleans for the Final Four, where they defeated Jamal Mashburn’s Kentucky Wildcats in overtime to earn a berth in the national title game against North Carolina.

The Tar Heels had put together their own outstanding season, entering the tournament as ACC regular-season champions with a 28-4 record. It was a veteran team anchored by four upperclassmen in the starting lineup, led by senior forward George Lynch and junior center Eric Montross.

Michigan had won a 79-78 thriller over North Carolina in December, and now faced an ACC blue-blood for the national title for the second straight season.

Dean Smith secured his second national championship in the Superdome in 1993. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
Dean Smith secured his second national championship in the Superdome in 1993. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

The game

Michigan opened a 10-point lead in the first half that quickly evaporated as North Carolina went into halftime with a 42-36 edge. The Tar Heels leaned on Lynch (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Montross (16 points, five rebounds) along with sophomore shooting guard Donald Williams, who had the game of his life with 25 points while hitting 5-of-7 3-point attempts.

Webber, as he so often was was, was the focal point of the Michigan offense. He led the Wolverines with 23 points and 11 rebounds and found the ball in his hands in those final critical seconds in the Superdome.

UNC junior forward Pat Sullivan went to the line for a pair of free throws with North Carolina leading 72-71 and 20 seconds remaining after a foul by reserve guard and future Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka.

Sullivan sank the first. He missed the second. Webber rebounded the miss with Michigan trailing by two and a chance to tie or take the lead. He was immediately uncertain of what to do.

The timeout

Webber faced the frontcourt, apparently looking for someone to pass to. He then started to call a timeout before deciding to advance the ball himself.

He committed a traveling violation before taking his first dribble. The only person in the building who didn’t see the violation appeared to Jim Stupin, the official in the backcourt who declined to whistle the violation. A call there would have prevented the seven seconds of basketball history that ensued.

Webber dribbled the ball over the halfcourt and immediately found himself trapped on the sideline next to the Michigan bench by Lynch and and UNC guard Derrick Phelps.

Webber panicked. He signaled for a timeout and looked to the official on the sideline, who blew his whistle. The whistle didn’t signal a timeout though. It was for a technical foul.

Michigan was out of timeouts, and Webber’s signal for one resulted instead in a pair of free throws and possession for North Carolina with 11 seconds remaining.

Williams sank both technical free throws and two more on an ensuing personal foul to give UNC the final 77-71 margin that would secure head coach Dean Smith’s second national championship in Chapel Hill.

Rose: We knew we were out of timeouts

Weber has been reticent to discuss the moment since, even decades later. Rose told ESPN in 2017 that everybody on the court knew there were no timeouts remaining after discussing it in a huddle.

The play was immediately etched in college basketball lore. While it’s remembered as losing the championship for Michigan, the fact that UNC had a two-point lead and Webber trapped in the corner is often lost in the discussion.

The Wolverines still had a lot of work to do even if not for Webber’s blunder. But he did commit the error. Carolina hung a banner. Webber left Michigan for the NBA without a championship.

The rest of the Fab Five returned to earn a No. 3 seed in the 1994 NCAA tournament, where they would lose to eventual champion Arkansas in the Elite Eight.

And even after an outstanding career, the timeout remains Webber’s brand.