Got To Give The People What They Want: True Stories and Flagrant Opinions from Center Court by Jalen Rose
Just like Shannon Sharpe, in the world of sports media, Jalen Rose needs to be protected at all costs. No matter what goes on on the football field or basketball court, and even more so when it comes to the business aspect of sports and when sports intersect with politics and pop culture I look forward to hearing what these two have to say on the matter before almost anybody else. I don’t always agree with their comments but I always respect their passion and honesty. Where a lot of sports analysts tip-toe around race conversations, they never shy away from them; they welcome them. Keeping 100% is not just an image it is a way of life for them and it shows. They have no filter and know the rules of engagement of life in the sports media: a perfect and rare combination. As I said, they need to be protected at all costs.
In this book, Jalen Rose did not make himself into a mythical figure cruising flawlessly through life. Quite the opposite, in fact, he paints an authentic, believable and relatable portrait of the man he was and is now, which is one of the hardest things to achieve when it comes to people like you and me telling our stories but even more for celebrities like him, whose lives have been dissected ad nauseam by the media and who often feel the need to maintain a mystique about them, if nothing else, to protect themselves from a complete loss of identity and from external judgement.
It is a great thing, Jalen Rose is not concerned about what other people think of him because he lets us in on every aspect of his life without holding much, if anything, back. He discusses growing up poor in Detroit, the regret of never winning a national championship at Michigan with arguably one of the best starting fives ever assembled, the scandal that put a black mark on the on-the-court legacy of the Fab Five, his fractured relationship with Chris Webber, the father he knew about but never met, parenting his children while living in a different state and the state of the NCAA, among other things. Tough times and difficult circumstances are a big part of his story but they are not everything and from these tough literal and figurative places, Jalen Rose has always found ways to emerge stronger and more determined, which led him to have a solid 13-season career in the NBA. He is now one of the most successful sports media personalities in the landscape, as the founder and head of Three Tier Entertainment (a Los Angeles-based production and management company), as an analyst on ESPN and ABC and as co-host of Jalen & Jacoby on radio and TV. He also calls games on TV and makes regular appearances on various sports shows such as SportsCenter, First Take, and SportsNation. In 2011, he founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA): one of his biggest contributions to Detroit and a way of paying it forward. This is a tuition-free charter school that not only provides quality education to children who otherwise would likely be left behind but also life skills. As detailed in the book, there are multiple obstacles on the road to starting, maintaining and developing such a school but Jalen Rose has approached it like everything else in his life up to this point, with extreme confidence and the hard work to back it up. Another significant part of Jalen Rose’s personal legacy – and that might surprise some of you – is the seemingly limitless and boundless popularity of the name Jalen today. His mother made up the name by combining one of her brother’s name (Leonard aka Len) and Jalen’s father’s name (James aka Jimmy) and since the days of the Fab Five in the early 90’s there has been a boom of babies of all backgrounds and genders named Jalen or some variation of it.
Family (blood and otherwise) is a big theme in Jalen Rose’s life and many people have had a significant influence on who he is today, starting with his mother, who worked extremely hard to raise him and his siblings on very little, with the help of his grandparents and uncles. There were other adults who took care of the community, like coaches (school, AAU and YMCA) and men like Ed Martin (the man who would later be the at the center of the NCAA scandal that took down Michigan) who used their resources to ensure that no kid went without. As Rose grew older, those same people remained and others added their voices to the chorus of his supporters and mentors, including Steve Fisher (his coach at Michigan who took a chance on 5 freshmen, let them play their game, made Michigan a household name in basketball and paid a hefty price when the scandal broke out and subsequently when the university and the NCAA came down with their respective sanctions), Larry Bird and Isaiah Thomas, NBA legends and Hall-of-Famers who coached Jalen in the NBA. Isaiah Thomas later contributed to the JLRA in a big way. They all taught Jalen Rose valuable life lessons that he is now passing on to his own children and the countless children in Detroit and beyond who aspire to a similar path to success.
In a paradoxical way, his father, Jimmy Walker, who was completely absent, played a big role in how the life of the son he did not raise shaped up: Being Jimmy Walker’s son earned Jalen Rose a lot of respect on the playgrounds of Detroit, he vowed to be an NBA All-Star like his dad had been, he wanted his father to know his name, he also became a hero to the community and especially to the children, he was determined to be a better father. To date, they are the only father-son duo to have each scored 10,000 in their NBA career. People who have known both rave about the similarities between the two, from their low hairline to their pigeon-toed walk. So much in common and yet, they never met. Jimmy Walker passed away shortly before their scheduled first meeting and the closest Jalen Rose came to meeting his father was by looking at the large portrait next to the urn containing his cremated remains the day of his funeral. So close and so far, still. It just wasn’t meant to be, it seems.
Jalen Rose and the Fab Five were essentially erased from the record books after the NCAA scandal that later saw members of the team testify in front of a federal grand jury and their banners removed from the arena at Michigan, but nothing and nobody can erase the legacy of that incredible combination of talent and personalities. The baggy shorts, the shaved heads, the black socks, the loud mouths and the back-to-back appearances in the national championship game are etched into the minds and hearts of millions. The scandal had a series of consequences on the people involved and one of the most talked about is the rift it caused between Chris Webber and the other 4 members of the Fab Five and most notably with Jalen Rose. Where some might see Rose calling out Chris Webber several times in the book to shame him into coming clean and to make him the bad guy of the story, I see a declaration of unconditional love from one brother to another. The Fab Five was a brotherhood before anything else and these two, in particular, had known each other long before joining the team and had had each other’s back through all the ups and downs of life then. That is why the hurt is so painful and still raw, but it is also why there is hope. And if you take Jalen at his word, which I do, there will always be hope for these brothers.
To me, one of the most underrated parts of this book is the part where Jalen Rose talks about the importance of fate. He brilliantly explains how the success – or lack thereof – of pro athletes especially has a lot to do with things that are out of their control such as the team(s) they play for, the coach(es) they have, significant injuries they sustain… A basketball player or a football player can be the best at his craft, do everything right and it still might not be enough for him to have the success he could have under different circumstances. Other stars have to align for things to go as well as they can. Imagine Michael Jordan playing his entire career without ever being paired with a player of the caliber of Scottie Pippen, without ever being coached by Phil Jackson, playing in a dysfunctional team where the lack of continuity is the norm and/or suffering serious injuries during his prime. Hard to imagine, I know. Would we be talking about him the way we do now? As the GOAT? That does not take away from his greatness and all the intangible qualities that put him above everyone else. That is a legitimate question to ask, however, and an important factor to consider when assessing the success and “failure” of athletes at that level. It also applies to life in general, if you think about it.
As a Black man in America and as a former pro athlete and now a member of the media, Jalen Rose is uniquely qualified to speak on the impact of race in sports and he never hesitates to bring it back when others in his position attempt to keep it out of the discourse, especially on TV. This is yet another reason why his voice is so important. If you do not think race plays a part in sports, at any level but most specifically from high-school upward, you are either choosing not to see it or you are not paying attention. The way the Fab Five was treated as a group when they came onto the scene is a perfect example of the prism in which some people are viewed. Nobody had ever seen anything like them before and both media and fans outside of Ann Arbor rejected them collectively, painting them as a bunch of unruly and disrespectful thugs with not much brain to go with their brawn. These young men straight out of high-school knew exactly what was going on and chose to embrace what made them different rather than try to conform just to quiet the haters. They set out to keep proving themselves right instead of wasting time attempting to prove others wrong. Jalen Rose, who along with his teammates, got a chance to meet the late Muhammad Ali during the 1992 NCAA tournament, called in his book for the need for more Black athletes-activists at the pro level who would use their platform to raise awareness to social issues. He knows very well that athletes have a lot more to lose today with their big contracts and other endorsements but he also knows how important those voices have been in the past and can be today and tomorrow. When he wrote these words and later when the book was published, little did he know that his wish would be granted, big time, within months, with Colin Kaepernick sitting, then taking a knee, during the national anthem to protest the overall treatment of Black and brown people in the US and more specifically social injustices and police brutality.
The late great Stuart Scott is no longer with us physically and we miss him dearly. With his work on air, online, with his school and with this book, Jalen Rose is ensuring that outspoken, unfiltered, flavorful and honest sports voices like Scott, who do it for the culture, are a part of the everyday life of sports fans everywhere.
This book is so Jalen Rose that you can literally hear it in his voice without ever pausing to wonder if a ghostwriter landed him his skills. As talented as many ghostwriters are, you can often tell their voice from that of the person on the cover of the book. It makes at times for a more polished and compelling read but when the original voice belongs to a born storyteller like Jalen Rose, it would be a shame to add anything to it, except for the mandatory editing work. If you loved watching Jalen Rose play at Michigan and in the NBA, if you love listening to him doing college and pro games as a broadcaster, if you enjoy his commentary on ESPN and on Grantland, if you enjoy following him on social media, if you just want to learn how to properly trash-talk folks, you will love reading his words. If you don’t fit into any of these categories, I still recommend it, because it is a great read.
This book is him: Unapologetically Black, honest, brash, real, funny and on point.
“He turned off the projector, and we walked back upstairs. For the first time in my life, I knew who my father was. I can’t say I was sad, I can’t say I was happy, I can’t even really say I was numb from the shock. Honestly, I was thinking just one thing. I was going to the NBA.”
“When the things in front of you in life reveal how messed up the system is, you lose faith in the system pretty quickly. As a young kid that could mean getting into a lot of fights. As you get older, it’s more about how you think. You don’t trust what people say just because they sound like they know what they’re talking about. You develop a contrarian attitude. Your instinct is to disagree with the status quo and then, if you can, to try and shake it up.”
“The funny thing is, that actually almost makes too much sense. In our sports culture, an organization like the National Collegiate Athletic Association can decide to erase certain parts of history, while expressing no interest in giving back the billions of dollars it made off that history, and off the young men who were at the center of it.”
“People ask me why I always have a baseball bat resting on my shoulder in my Grantland podcast videos. The bat on my shoulder represents the chip on my shoulder, the same chip I carried around as a player at Southwestern, at Michigan, and in the pros. I’ve transferred it to media. People are surprised that I’m the lead studio analyst for ESPN? That’ I’m calling games in college and the pros, and all over Grantland? Perfect. That just feeds the chip. And my bat and I are just getting started.”
“You can’t go back in time. Mistakes are what shape you, missteps are what you learn from and misfires are what make you focus harder the next time. But there’s definitely one regret, one failure, that still haunts me almost every morning when I get up, and almost every night when I go to sleep. It’s really the biggest reason that back in 2007, when I sat there at Jimmy Walker’s funeral, I was full of fear. It has nothing to do with basketball, and nothing to do with my job today. It’s that my kids live thousands of miles away from me, in another city, and that means I can’t be the dad that I want to be for them.”
About the author: Jalen Rose is an ABC/ESPN analyst, executive producer of The Fab Five—the highest-rated documentary in ESPN history—and host of the Jalen Rose Report on Grantland and the Jacoby Podcast. Rose began his sports career at the University of Michigan where he reached two NCAA title games, and then went on to play for six teams in the NBA, most notably the Indiana Pacers when they made three consecutive Eastern Conference finals, including the 2000 NBA Finals. Rose established the Jalen Rose Foundation/Charitable Fund in 2000, personally donating close to $1.5 million to support the development and education of inner-city youths. His most substantial outreach initiative to date is the establishment of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA) in his hometown of Detroit.