Jalen Rose: NBA’s Inside Man

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Photograph by Chris McPherson

Jalen Rose has come a long way since bursting onto the national scene as the Fab Five point guard who helped the Michigan Wolverines reach back-to-back NCAA Finals. After playing for six teams over 13 pro seasons, the 41-year-old Detroit native has emerged as a lead analyst for the NBA on ABC. And in his spare time, he’s founded a charter school, produced documentaries for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, and launched a podcast on Grantland. “I felt like I needed another outlet from my suit-and-tie-Disney-buttoned-up look,” Rose says. “I want my media to be raw and uncut, and I want to articulate it in a spectacular, vernacular Detroit style.”

On his podcast, Rose’s irreverent mix of game recap, talent assessment, and inside scoops on upcoming player deals has earned him a huge following. When LeBron James announced his decision to return to the Cavaliers, Rose was among the first to forecast the string of trades that sent the draft’s first pick, Andrew Wiggins, to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for forward Kevin Love. “Getting information is just about being current and knowing a lot of the people involved,” says Rose. “I’ve fostered relationships around the league for over 20 years. And when you treat the 15th man on the roster like you would a Hall of Fame–caliber player, everyone respects that.”

Your podcast feels off-the-cuff. How do you prepare?
Having grown up a hip-hop fan, I feel like I should be able to freestyle if I’m very knowledgeable and I’m good at what I do. I don’t have a laptop in front of me. I just go. That’s who I am if you had a chance to kick it with me and watch sports. It’s just that I’m at work, so the beer is replaced by water.

Do players get angry about what you say about them on the air?
That happens. There was a time when I had friends in the league who would text me because they felt like I gave them a hard time. And I just texted them the box score: You got 6 turnovers, you were 3 for 14, and y’all lost by 7, so was I supposed to give you a Hall of Fame speech today?

How did you make the transition from playing to broadcasting?
I played in the Finals in 2000, scoring over 20 points a game. In 2002, I was covering it, interviewing the Nets and the Lakers. I had a contact at the BET network and pitched them the idea: “All you’ve got to do is send the camera. I’ll shoot the B-roll on top of the building where I’m staying. I’ll get access to practice. We can interview Shaq. We’ll get Phil. All I need you to do is send out the camera.” They did it, and they liked it. I used that as my sales pitch the next year for The Best Damn Sports Show on Fox.

Are you still in touch with the members of the Fab Five?
I won’t go into family business, but I’ll say what’s public. Right now me and Chris [Webber], we’re not necessarily seeing eye-to-eye. He felt like I should have done a couple of things differently, and I felt like he should have done a couple of things differently. He should have been in the Fab Five documentary. It would have been a great opportunity for him to tell the story unfiltered. He chose not to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s kicking himself in the butt because he wasn’t in it.

Your 30 for 30 discussed the NCAA’s decision to vacate the Fab Five’s wins because Webber took loans from Detroit businessman Ed Martin. Did you know what was going on?
I introduced Chris to Ed Martin. So of course I knew what was going on. Ed Martin — who I love, rest in peace, and I love his wife, as well — was giving back to the community 10 years before I came along. Me and Chris decided we were going to the University of Michigan at Ed Martin’s house. All Chris had to do was tell [the grand jury] the truth. That’s why I’m not mentioned in any of that. I told the truth.

How should the NCAA address the issue of paying athletes?
I think there should be a $2,500 stipend each semester. If the incentive is to graduate, why not give students an incentive to stay and graduate? I remember being at the Final Four and I was watching them do the pregame stuff on Louisville and they were talking about [coach] Rick Pitino’s horse running in the Kentucky Derby. And the first thing I thought was, “Hmm, a lot of players helped him buy that horse.”

What was the inspiration for starting your Detroit charter school?
When I was [in high school], we were going to practice in the summer against Country Day. And I’ll never forget driving on those windy roads past Cass Lake, and I was like, Wait a minute! Are they on boats and Jet Skis right now? I might as well have been in Hawaii. I wasn’t exposed to that. A lot of people don’t get the anger that comes from poverty. When you’re educated, it allows you to be more worldly. It’s more than just what happens in a classroom.

Your father played nine seasons in the NBA. Is it true you didn’t have contact with him?
My father, Jimmy Walker, was the first pick in the 1967 draft, but I never met him. He passed in 2007. I found out about him in middle school. I was old enough to understand who he was, where he went to college, and what his game was about. Older players like Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have come up to me to talk about him.

What do you do as the ambassador of the National Basketball Retired Players Association?
There’s a special room in the Hall of Fame for retired players like Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird. When the rest of us retire, people are sitting at the bar going, “He’s tall. Did he play?” The key to being a retired player is planning while you’re still a current player. I’m hopefully here to help deliver that message.

Have you ever considered coaching?
I would love to be in minority ownership with the Detroit Pistons. That’s one of my goals. And I would love to be in a position to help put a team together, whether as a president or general manager. But I also know that I have the temperament for being a coach. I love being in the fire. I love hearing the gym shoes squeak.

Which teams do you think will play in the NBA Finals this season?
If Derrick Rose is able to play at an All-NBA level, I would have to give the Bulls the edge coming out of the East. They have cohesion. They have defensive toughness, and I think they are better in the interior than the Cavs. But if Rose is not able to do that, then I would clearly go with the four-time MVP LeBron James. And I’m going to have to give the Spurs a chance to get their first repeat.

Will the Knicks make the playoffs?
I think they will. Carmelo Anthony gets a lot of ribbing for “not being LeBron,” but you can only go with the hand that you’re dealt. All top-caliber teams — the Spurs, the Cavs, the Bulls, the Clippers — have three All-Stars. Perennial playoff teams have two All-Stars. The Knicks only have one, Carmelo Anthony.

Is it true that you never curse?
I actually stopped when I was playing for the Bulls. My team was struggling, and I was watching the tape, and I was yelling at the opponent, yelling at the ref. And I just didn’t like the way that looked.

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