After a prosperous 14-year career in the NBA, Jalen Rose pitched BET to cover the 2002 NBA Finals and soon found success as a basketball analyst, offering his own unique perspective to the game and bringing a player’s mentality to your TV sets. After stints with TNT and FOX Sports, Rose found his home on ESPN, first on the pioneering sports recap show SportsCenter, then on NBA Countdown. Rose eventually joined fellow analyst Bill Simmons as a contributor on Simmons’s website, Grantland.com.
We caught up with Rose as he was traveling from Atlanta (where his family resides) to Miami to start ESPN’s whirlwind of Christmas Day basketball coverage.
EBONY: So as you travel during the holidays and are forced to spend time away from your daughters, does that affect them?
Jalen Rose: Well, my oldest daughter is 14, and I’ve been doing this since 2002. So for the last 12 years of her life, this is all she’s known. She’s grown to have a sense of understanding of what it is that I do and why I do it. She knows that I do this to provide for the family. Of course there are times that I wish I could be home and spend more time with my family. But it’s a difference between having your dad tell you that he can’t be there because he’s working, and actually seeing your father do what he does best and what he enjoys in the form of his job.
EBONY: You’ve finally landed at ESPN, working with some of the best commentators and analysts in sports journalism. Does your current job keep you competitive, and if so, how?
JR: Well, I’ve always been competitive. As a kid from Detroit, I played whatever sport was in season: football, basketball, wrestling, whatever it was. I was an active kid. I played in the AAU basketball circuit, and I distinctly remember going to play Chris Webber before we both signed to the University of Michigan. He played for Detroit Country Day, and I remember traveling out to their gym and seeing how nice the neighborhoods were. They literally had boats out on the water [laughs].
But it showed me that this game could take me places I never knew existed. So transitioning into sports journalism, I took the same mindset. I knew becoming an analyst would allow me to see the game from a new perspective.
EBONY: How is it interacting and working with former players who are also analysts now?
JR: The announcers like Chris [Webber] and Shaq [O’Neal], all of us who’ve played the game, it allows us to take a different perspective. We’ve gone up against the best, so we can use those experiences to talk about today’s game. We also put our best effort forward with our new careers. They’re trying to be the best, as I am. And I prepare and do research to make sure I give the best coverage I can. You can’t be successful by settling.
I’m one of few analysts who cover multiple aspects of the game: All-Star games, the draft, the Finals. These rookies, like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins? I’ve seen them since their college days, and in some cases high school. So it allows me to have a more in-depth approach to the commentary. Statistics don’t make the analyst. You still have to hone your craft, and you have to be able to deliver. I have the utmost respect for my peers, but I take pride in who I am as an analyst of the game.
EBONY: Do you feel like it’s hard to be unbiased talking about the game and certain players now?
JR: Not at all. It actually makes me as unbiased as possible. If I cut on a player for his bad performance, I’ll get team reps, agents, managers, even friends of the player come at me about it. “Man, Jalen, why’d you get on [insert player here]?” And I’ll print out a stat-line sheet and send it to them to show where I’m coming from. I’ve been blessed to play against the great players of the past like Jordan, Malone, Shaq, Olajuwon, and the players of the present in LeBron, Carmelo and Wade, and am proud enough to say I’ve hung 30+ point games on all of them! [laughs]. But that experience keeps me honest and it allows me to do my job the way I do it.
EBONY: Taking it back to your college days, you were part of the “Fab Five” that not only made waves on the court but also in the malls and stores. Everyone was wearing their shorts longer, their socks black and their heads bald. In 2015, do you see any change in the relationship between sports and popular culture?
JR: One hero in my life that I’ve had from college on to now was Muhammad Ali. I studied his quotes, his style and his strength. He was a revolutionary in every sense of the word. So when things started to happen with the marketing of our team, his ways were inspirational to me. I knew we had to make a statement. Whether it was us wearing all-blue shirts instead of the Michigan “M,” or it was protesting the book written about us at that time that we didn’t see any money from, I had four other brothers who was with me to ride that out.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that it allowed for future players to be able to express themselves. I had guys like Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett—two of my era’s most expressive players—come to me and thank me for breaking down that wall of inner-city expression. They could wear their tattoos. They could wear their cornrows. So it further proved that a stand of that nature had to happen. We were the minority of the NBA, so it was important for us to express ourselves.
It’s important for African-Americans to express themselves period. We’re 400 years behind. We should be able to shine whenever and however we feel. But when we do that, we get the backlash of the media, just like we did as the Fab Five. I look back on the [NFL Cornerback] Richard Sherman situation. He made an amazing play that sealed a win for his team, and was in no hesitation to share that with the world. But he was labeled as a thug. If that was a White quarterback, he’d be labeled as “fiery” or “passionate.” Richard Sherman is from Compton and went to Stanford University. I’m from Detroit and attended the University of Michigan. The label “thug” doesn’t apply for us, and countless other Black men in this country.
EBONY: What do you think about NBA and NFL players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts?
JR: I love it. It speaks for a group of people that struggle the voice being heard. What some sports fans need to realize is that it’s perfectly fine for your favorite athlete to be involved with things other than sports. You want them to be invested in the community, whether it’s domestic violence to police brutality to disease awareness. I appreciate those athletes who look past the box score of the game.
When I started the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, one of my main goals was to strengthen the relationship between the community and the police officers who defend it. That relationship wasn’t there back in the Sixties, when it was more “overseer vs. citizen.” So I think when players make statements like this, it brings the conversation of these issues to the forefront, and I applaud them for it. If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.
Cory Townes was born and raised in Philadelphia, and currently lives in Brooklyn. A devout Philly sports fan, Townes is the Social Media Manager for EBONY.com. When he’s not cheering for his Philadelphia Eagles or creating musical playlists for the people, you can reach him on Twitter @CoryTownes.