Jalen Rose Q&A: 'I consider myself to be the hardest working [broadcaster]'

Jalen Rose Q&A: 'I consider myself to be the hardest working [broadcaster]'

Interview

Jalen Rose Q&A: 'I consider myself to be the hardest working [broadcaster]'

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Jalen Rose has accomplished quite a bit throughout his life.

The 46-year-old is a host on ESPN’s NBA Countdown, Jalen & Jacoby and Get Up! He founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter high school in Detroit. He wrote a New York Times Bestseller titled “Got to Give the People What They Want.” And, of course, Rose was a member of the Fab Five who went on to play 13 NBA seasons – averaging 14.3 points during his career and winning Most Improved Player in 2000.

HoopsHype caught up with Rose to discuss his playing days, his successful transition to broadcasting, his school, his long-term goals, his predictions for this summer’s top free agents and much more.

I feel like you’re one of the best examples of an athlete who has thrived in retirement. Most players aren’t sure what to do when they retire because they’ve focused on one thing for the majority of their life. What advice would you give athletes who are nearing the end of their playing days and aren’t sure what’s next?

Jalen Rose: I think the most important thing is to idle down rather than transition after retirement. Only a couple people get to pick when their playing career is over. Kobe Bryant gets to dictate when he retires. Peyton Manning gets to dictate when he retires. I’d say 98 percent of athletes aren’t that fortunate. Instead, the leagues retire you. You aren’t making the call.

When I was playing in the NBA Finals in 2000, I was on a great Indiana Pacers team. Then, in 2002, I was traded to the Chicago Bulls. It was February and they had, like, nine wins. Right away, I’m thinking, “Well, I’m not going to the playoffs this year!” I had a relationship with the people at BET Madd Sports and I reached out to them, pitching them an idea to have me cover the NBA Finals because they weren’t doing it at the time. They liked the idea, we shot it, they edited it and it ran on TV. The following year, in 2003, I took that footage and pitched a similar idea to Fox Sports and the people at The Best Damn Sports Show Period. They loved it and they actually hired me. So in 2002-03, I’m a 20-point-per-game scorer in the league, but I’m doing a lot of work as a broadcaster. I worked with NFL Network when they started. I did the MTV Movie Awards. I did some work with Top Rank Boxing. I did broadcasts on NBC with Bill Walton and Steve “Snapper” Jones. I was on ESPN’s Cold Pizza before it became First Take. I was doing all of this while I was still in the league. So, in 2007, I had a decision to make: I could continue my basketball career, coming off a year in Phoenix where I had barely played, or I could start focusing on my multi-media career full-time. I chose my multi-media career.

Everybody wants to be the best at what they do, but that’s for other people to say. I do consider myself to be the hardest working [broadcaster]. Now, I’m fortunate that, as a former basketball player, I’ve been able to break down barriers because there were no basketball players who were doing Monday-through-Friday shows… The opportunities that were presented to me allowed me to show my versatility – working on Numbers Never Lie and College Gameday and NBA Tonight and doing sideline reporting for TNT when my brother Nick Van Exel threw a towel on my head. I used to be in the studio with Kenny [Smith] and Charles [Barkley] back in the day, before Charles was even working there! Now, I’m fortunate to have a wealth of experience because I’ve gotten the opportunity to appear on so many different programs. Before I called you, I woke up, did SportsCenter, did Get Up!, did my hit on First Take and did some posts on social media. I’m consumed by what I do. I’m passionate about it and I want to be the best.

A lot of athletes want to make the transition to media, but some simply don’t have the personality or talent. Some struggle with analysis, some don’t feel comfortable being critical of players. Early on, did you struggle or did you pick it up right away?

JR: To be honest with you, my major in college was Communications: Radio/TV/Film so I always felt confident. I felt like, “If I can’t be Magic Johnson on the floor, I’m going to try to be him off the floor.” That’s what I told myself because he was the guy I idolized. Really, if you notice, I just follow my idols. Magic worked in media. Isiah Thomas worked in media. They both have these nice big smiles; I needed veneers to get mine. (Laughs) I really just followed what those guys did.

It wasn’t hard for me to give a valid opinion about players while I was in the league because, as I said, I was a 20-point scorer myself while I was doing it. I had players and agents and managers and parents who would hit me up all the time like, “Yo, why did you have to say that?” But early in my career, you know what I would do? I would just send them the box score. Let me get this right: You want me to go on television to talk about sports and say how great you are when you had 10 turnovers and 2 made field goals last night? You may be great, but we’re talking about last night’s game. What do you want me to say? When people realize that it’s not personal, they’re usually fine with it. It’s never personal with me because I try not to name-call or be disrespectful. I’ve always just tried to say what I see and have a personality.

Jalen Rose interviews Ben Wallace for the Best Damn Sports Show Period after Game 5 of the 2004 NBA Finals. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

You joined Roc Nation Sports in May of 2018. They represent a lot of athletes – from Marvin Bagley III to Rudy Gay to Todd Gurley to Saquon Barkley to Robinson Canó – but you’re the first media personality to hire them as representation. Why did you decide to join Roc Nation Sports and how’s it working out so far?

JR: It’s been terrific. If you think about it, the marriage of rap music and sports – and basketball in particular – has always been harmonious. It’s inspiring when you see someone like Jay-Z, who’s had the level of success he’s had as an artist, be able to transition into a mogul who then accomplishes so much [in business] and puts together all these deals on his own. And people tend to forget, he’s married to Beyoncé! I mean, he’s winning the game of life! When you have a chance to partner with him – in my case as an ambassador and the only media member who’s signed with them – it’s a unique opportunity that you can’t pass up. They’ve helped me accomplish a lot of the things I want to do – personally and professionally.

They’ve also helped me on the philanthropic side, as the founder of a charter high school. They’ve allowed me to continue to do a lot of the things I’ve been doing with the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. I recently became a brand ambassador for PUMA, which was great because I’ve always loved PUMA. [Note: Jay-Z is PUMA’s Creative Director]. They’ve been a terrific sponsor of JRLA, outfitting our basketball teams (boys and girls, JV and varsity), our track-and-field team and our volleyball team. That’s been a terrific help because most people don’t realize that public schools get zero state funding for their sports and extracurricular activities. And, as a charter school, we get zero state funding for our facility. So it’s great to have a team like Roc Nation working with me and helping me continue to fundraise for JRLA, and it’s great to have a partnership with PUMA that helps me continue to outfit JRLA.

I first learned about JRLA when LeBron James opened his “I Promise School” last summer. There was talk of other NBA players who had started schools and that’s when I heard about JRLA in Detroit and David Robinson’s school (IDEA Carver) in San Antonio. How did that come together and what did it mean to you to open your own school?

JR: I always took pride in being more than a jock. I was fortunate enough to be a McDonald’s All-American in high school and that was the headline, but people didn’t realize that I was also a student who was on the honor roll. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the Fab Five, but I was also on the dean’s list at Michigan and I actually graduated from college. Education was always important to me and my family. Sports gave me the platform. When you have that platform, what are you going to do with it? I’ve always prided myself on being socially and politically conscious, and I’ve tried to do what I can to influence my community in a positive way.

Initially, I started the Jalen Rose Charitable Fund, which gave scholarships to public-school students over an eight-year period. I also started a scholarship endowment at the University of Michigan that is still active now. JRLA was just a graduation of that mission. I wondered, “How can I help more?” I started to get inspired around the time of the country’s economic downturn and I realized that my state was closing schools and opening prisons. I realized that this was my opportunity to do more and make a substantial impact in the neighborhood that I grew up in. To be the founder of JRLA and the president of the board, it means a lot. I spearhead fundraising and try to do all that I can to make sure our students have all the resources they need to not only graduate from high school, but also graduate from college. I found that it’s usually younger students who get highlighted rather than the ninth-grader who’s reading at a sixth-grade level. I want to help kids graduate high school and college. That’s my purpose.

There were people who inspired me. I knew that David Robinson had started his own school in San Antonio and I knew that Andre Agassi had built his own school in Las Vegas. Maybe I can be someone that helps spark that idea in someone younger than me and encourages the next generation that they can do the same thing? It’s refreshing and gratifying for me when I see people like LeBron James and Kevin Durant trying to do what they can to give back to their community and making an impact when it comes to education.

In 2014, you told HoopsHype that some of your goals included becoming “a minority owner of the Detroit Pistons and potentially becoming a general manager or president of basketball operations.” You’ve had a ton of success with broadcasting and everything else in your life so, five years later, are those still goals you’re interested in pursuing?

JR: I’m just proud that what I said then is still valid now. You know how we look back at our younger selves and ask, “Why did I have that haircut?!” or, “Why did I wear that red-and-white suit?!” (Laughs) We look back at ourselves and our decisions so when you started that question, I was curious to hear what you were going to say. But yes, those are still goals of mine.

My No. 1 [goal] is to be in ownership with a team – in particular, the Detroit Pistons. I would love that opportunity. I’m proud to see other players getting that opportunity like Grant Hill with the Atlanta Hawks and Shaquille O’Neal with the Sacramento Kings. I would welcome and love that kind of opportunity. Again, I follow my idols; Magic and Isiah are in ownership. As for becoming a general manager or president of basketball operations, it all depends on the opportunity. If the right opportunity presented itself at the right time, it would be something that I would possibly consider.

One thing that has always stood out to me is that you have great chemistry with your co-hosts, whether it’s David Jacoby or Bill Simmons (when he was still at ESPN) or Chauncey Billups. Did an emphasis on chemistry carry over from your playing career or is that just a natural thing because of your personality?

JR: I hope it’s a natural thing because of my personality. Just like as a player, in broadcasting you get to play with so many different people and ultimately you can develop something special from a chemistry standpoint. When that happens, you’re willing to make sacrifices – whether it’s not having to be a part of certain segments or laying off when someone has a good point or giving shout outs to others while you’re giving your commentary. In high school, I played with two other future pros in Howard Eisley and Voshon Lenard. Yes, I wanted to be the best player I could be, but I also learned how to be a good teammate. Same thing in college; we were able to accomplish so much as the Fab Five and part of that was making sacrifices for the other four guys. I was fortunate that in high school and college, they allowed me to be the captain, but I knew that I needed to make sacrifices. I needed to make sure that Jimmy [King] and Ray [Jackson] were just as happy as Chris [Webber] and Juwan [Howard] – on and off the floor – because those are my brothers. That translated to the NBA and it translates to the media.

I also think working on so many different shows not only allows me to show my versatility but work well with a lot of people. You know how this works – a lot of times in this industry, you work with the same person or the same group of people all of time and you end up [producing] the same show and same flow all the time. At Get Up!, what I’m wearing and what we’re trying to accomplish is different from what I’m wearing and what we’re trying to accomplish at Jalen & Jacoby. When I was doing something with Bill Simmons – and shout out to Bill because he’s the Podfather and I love him – it was a different look and feel than what I was doing at NBA Countdown, where I’m in a blazer, shirt and tie. You almost have to be like a chameleon and realize that you’re entertaining different audiences. What I’m talking about on the podcast is going to be different than what I’m talking about on NBA Countdown or Get Up!

Jalen Rose of the Indiana Pacers is guarded by Glen Rice of the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. (Mandatory Credit: Tom Hauck /Allsport)

I want to shift gears to your NBA career. You mentioned your time in Indiana, where you made a Finals run and had a lot of success. Looking back, how special were those Pacers teams?

JR: It was really special being part of those Pacers teams. I was born in 1973, so I grew up watching basketball in the ‘80s and my idol was Magic Johnson, especially because we’re both from Michigan. So I rooted against Larry Bird his entire career. I respected him. I appreciated his game. I always gave him his props because he’s the real deal. Like, LeBron James had to win his championship in Cleveland for me to even consider putting him ahead of Larry; that’s how great Larry was. But I always rooted against him and now he’s my head coach! (Laughs)

Back then, I remember thinking it was surreal that those guys knew who I was. I’m thinking, “Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas know my name! And I know their phone numbers!” Then, to have Larry Bird as my head coach and have him tell the world, “No, you guys have miscast this guy. I’m going to show you all that this guy can be a terrific performer.” For him to believe in me like that meant so much. And then for the franchise to have so much success during the three years that he was coaching was just fantastic.

I got to learn from vets like Reggie Miller – one of the hardest-working players and greatest shooters, in particular in the clutch, that the game has ever seen – and Mark Jackson – one of the smartest, best-passing guards that the league has ever seen – and Chris Mullin – one of the smoothest lefties that the guy has ever seen. I formed great friendships with the Davis brothers (Antonio Davis and Dale Davis) and Travis Best; those are lifelong bonds and we have amazing memories that will always be part of who I am.

Which season of your NBA career was the most fun?

JR: 2000. I’d say 1998 comes close because any time you can take Michael Jordan and the Bulls to seven games, it’s up there. We didn’t even make the playoffs the previous year! And I was a guy who had gotten 15 DNPs the year before under Larry Brown. Then, the next season, we not only made the playoffs, we’re playing in the Eastern Conference Finals?! We were up 15 in the second quarter and we should have held onto our lead, but that’s a different story for a different day. But the most fun has to be 2000 and here’s why: We won the Eastern Conference, I won the Most Improved Player award and my oldest daughter was born that year. It was definitely 2000.

The Fab Five obviously had a huge impact on the game and players who came after you guys. What does it mean to you that even now, after nearly 30 years, the Fab Five is still culturally relevant?

JR: It means everything. And when you talk about impact on the game and impact on today’s players, I always think about how crazy it is that people have named their kids after me. People like Denzel Washington and Shaquille O’Neal are two of the greatest at what they do, so people would obviously name their kids after them. But people have named their kids after me? We’re talking about a name that my mother made up! What? I’m sitting at the NBA Draft and hearing, “With the No. 3 overall pick, the Boston Celtics select Jaylen Brown.” What? Or I hear about Jalen Ramsey on the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s a common name now!

That’s when you know you’ve made it. You’re doing something right.

JR: Right?! Because if people hate you, they definitely aren’t naming their kid after you! That right there, to me, was like my personal [achievement] that the Fab Five helped make happen. And that’s special because that name is going to continue long after I’m gone.

I hate to bring up Chris Webber because I feel like everyone asks you about him, but you had said that him serving as the honorary captain of Michigan’s Nov. 3 football game against Penn State was huge in terms of being an icebreaker and repairing his relationship with the school. By all accounts, it seems like it went well. From your standpoint, has there been progress since then?

JR: Can you put in bold letters: I asked him this. (Laughs) What always ends up happening is people get it confused and think I’m unhappy with my life and I just want to talk about him.

I’ll make it clear that you didn’t go on an unprompted rant about Chris Webber.

JR: Alright! Here’s the thing: We’ve gone through a lot together. We grew up together. I consider him like a brother. I was happy for him and happy for the university that he got a chance to go back on campus and be celebrated by the football program and be the honorary captain. I think it was long overdue, by both sides. Now, hopefully the next step is for the university to properly acknowledge our group and what we were able to accomplish on campus.

I want to end by talking about this summer’s top free agents. I want to throw some different names at you and then you tell me what you predict the player will do and what you hope they do. Let’s start with Kevin Durant.

JR: If it was up to me, I’d actually like to see Kevin Durant remain a member of the Golden State Warriors. The last time I checked, he’s been there two years and won two championships and been named Finals MVP twice. That’s the mic drop. Now, if he decides to leave, I believe he’s going to end up a member of the New York Knicks.

Same with Kyrie Irving. I would like to see him stay with the Boston Celtics. They have arguably the best general manager (Danny Ainge) and coach (Brad Stevens) in the game, they’ve won the most championships, they have terrific young talent and they could possibly get up to four draft picks in the first round this summer. I would like to see him stay in Boston. But if he decides to leave, I think he also ends up with the Knickerbockers.

Kawhi Leonard is tough to predict. What do you think he’ll do?

JR: I hope – I really hope – he stays in Toronto. It would be amazing for him as a performer – because they’re balling this year and have a chance to do some great things – and it would be amazing for their fans, who have had so many big-time players ultimately end up leaving. As you know, I would want to see him stay. But if he does leave, I think it’s almost a sure bet that he ends up with the Los Angeles Clippers.

I would love to see Jimmy Butler stay in Philly to play with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris. But if he does leave, I believe he’ll end up with one of the New York teams or one of the Los Angeles teams. We’ll see. This will be an interesting summer.

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