There’s a different version of Jalen Rose standing in NBA HQ’s elevator. After an early start on ABC’s Good Morning America and a pitstop at AOL Build on Wednesday (Oct. 7), the six-foot-eight NBA analyst and former 13-year league veteran is in chic, grey sweats, a gold chain, shiny aviators and most importantly, rocking his signature, six-figure smile. The type of grin that didn’t get proper attention till Rose’s first visit to the dentist as a first-round pick in 1994 as a Denver Nugget. Rose will eventually tell me in a 7th floor conference room and readers in his book Got To Give The People What They Want, his humble beginnings in Detroit didn’t allow for many things, including dental insurance.
Still, D-town’s gritty innercity streets and the imperfect role models surrounding him made Jalen Rose the charismatic court warrior and unfiltered on-air pundit he is known as today. While he switched into a well-tailored camel-colored blazer, slacks and dress shoes for our in-person Q&A, the realness seeped through as the former Fab Five member expanded on his book venture, the brotherhood, Bill Simmons and the importance of being yourself.
VIBE: You have a wealth of experience from being on and off the court. When was the specific moment you realized you would turn your life story in a book?
Jalen Rose: Just like being a founder of a charter high school, writing a book was never in my plan. They were just things that different chapters of my life I was fortunate enough to have. I realize that wow, between ages 15 and 35, that [was me] playing basketball basically 24 hours a day and consumed by that world that so many things went so fast that it was like a blur. So writing the book, the hardest thing to do was recall things as they happened in real-time cause everything just happened so fast.
There are certain anecdotes that really jump off the page, like how you found out who your father was through an old school movie projector. Were there any moments that were difficult to write or almost wanted to keep to yourself?
It was the same thing with the Fab Five documentary and I had this conversation with Chris [Webber], who eventually decided not to participate. If you’re going to do it, do it like we all die tomorrow and you said the truth. Whatever it is. That’s how I approached the book so nothing was off limits for me. I wanted to talk about good days, bad days, good decisions, bad decisions, and all ’cause Jalen is a common name now. I take pride in that. I appreciate that. I’m honored by it. I’m humbled by that and there’s so many people that can learn from my journey but I try to do it in a witty way and create a personality with it to hopefully inspire. That’s the whole goal of the book. Sometimes, people need a pat on the back and others need a kick in the butt. The book should represent both.
Speaking of the Fab Five, talk about the magic of the brotherhood. Also, is there any team you feel could possibly replicate that kind of magic that you and the boys had?
No team can replicate it. It will not happen and if it does, I want to watch their documentary 20 years afterwards and see the response. I felt teams before us had it that I wanted to emulate. I idolized John Thompson’s Georgetown teams and Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV team so really I felt like what we were doing [with the Fab Five] is just a graduation of what I saw them do because I was huge fans of theirs. I don’t think that brotherhood can be replicated because now it’s the disease of “me.” We were one for all, all for one, literally like we’re all going to training table, study hall, to the party together. We use to have a term called “nut check.” That’s like, ‘Check your ego at the door,’ and that’s what we said one-two-three in the huddle. When you have that, it’s more than teammates.
You put the spotlight on so many people who helped make you Jalen Rose from your mom to Grammy, Uncle P., Uncle Len, and Sam Washington. Would you say that part of your formula for success was learning how to work with the imperfections from them?
Absolutely! That’s what life is, there are no perfect parents so you try to take the good of the people that are around you, that influence you, that care about you and are from your neighborhood, from your circumstances. Growing up in the inner city of Detroit, unfortunately you lose your innocence early because you’re exposed to so many things that are happening so fast—good, bad, and indifferent. Sex, drugs, violence, gangs, cliques and so you have to take the good from each situation and be a chameleon in a lot of ways. You can’t walk down the street with blinders like none of this is happening around you. So if you’re able to function in those situations and then function in a collegiate situation, it creates a certain balance in life that I’m happy that I have.
You also have a swaggy intro from Bill Simmons, who’s like your mentor, your brother, your homie. What have you learned from him in the way he’s handled certain situations this past year?
Hard work and discipline. That guy is always working and that’s what drew us to one another—our passion for basketball and sports but our thirst to create quality content. We’ll sit there and do a NBA preview for six straight hours in a room and neither one of us will get up and go to the bathroom. That actually has happened. That’s how passionate we are about it. That’s how much we enjoy working with each other creating content and I’m watching Monday Night Football with him this weekend. It’s unfortunate that he’s not with ESPN anymore but you know how this industry works, seeing a lot of strange things happen and I would not be surprised if we continue to produce quality content sometime in the near future.
In the book, you go in-depth about the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. Why do you feel like it’s important to know about JRLA especially in today?
It’s a tuition-free public charter high school and basically the goal is to create an inner city school that can educate young people just as well and have them prepared just as much as a suburban private school that parents are fortunate enough to be paying $30,000 plus for a year when our kids get $7,200 per year, so it’s bridging the education gap. Also, you’re not encouraged to independently start a high school because they give the same money to a third grader that they give to an eleventh grader. So what most people do is have a K through 5 and/or start a middle school, roll some of that money over per student then start a high school. We independently just dropped in and started a high school. Imagine going in front of a board and saying, ‘I know we can have 400+ kids and get $7,200 per kid but we can’t have eleventh graders in here reading at a seventh grade level that I’m promising to go to college.’
Offer a quick pro-tip on trash talking.
Great confidence! Everyone wakes up in the morning and goes to look in the mirror and feels like something was different about them. We all do. We all want to be perfect people but we’re not. How you master your imperfections a lot of times can help your destiny so for me growing up, the first time I went to the dentist was when I was in the NBA. That was not a part of the house plan. If you fall and you chip your two teeth, your two teeth are just chipped. That mentality is something you have to carry because now with social media and cyber bullying, it’s astronomical how other people try to destroy your will, your goals, and your confidence, so you have to be strong. You have to be disciplined. You have to ignore the noise and focus on your goals.
It’s no secret that you’re a fan of hip-hop. Is there a rapper you enjoy who you haven’t met yet?
I was fortunate enough to go to a couple of cameo Summer Jams in the early ’90s in the Bay Area and it was day-long concerts so really I got a chance to meet everybody those couple of days. That’s when [MC] Hammer was the top artist out. I became friends with EPMD. I remember coming to East Islip to spend time with them. Came to Jersey, 118th street to KG’s Naughty barbecue. I’ve been to Yonkers with the LOX. I’ve been in a couple of their videos. But hip-hop artist that I have not met? Wow… it’s crazy. I can think of an athlete that I have not met. Tiger Woods. But it’s crazy, I can’t think of a rapper. That’s a good one!
You have your full-time gig with the NBA, podcast with Jacoby and now your book, where you sound off on topics, even beyond sports. Looking to Stuart Scott as an example, how important is it to be yourself especially on a national sports platform?
I love and miss Stuart Scott. He was someone that was an innovator on a national level for multimedia. While we were in college trying to break down the same barriers, cause ‘me and him have talked about this ad nauseam—rest in peace. It was kind of a symmetry there because that’s the exact same thing in the barriers he was trying to break down doing national media. Having a personality, referencing rap songs, telling jokes. Pookie & Ray Ray and ‘nem. Referencing movies and things of that nature, allowing you to be worldly as opposed to just, ‘Oh, he dribbled the ball down and a left-handed pass.’ Have some flavor is the word and because he was able to do that at ESPN, the national worldwide leader… Aw, man. That allows me to give the people what they want, hold a baseball bat and be unfiltered.