Black Enterprise – Jalenland: For the Ultimate Doer, a Higher Purpose Calls Back Home
November 26, 2013
By Darren Sands
November 22, 2013 — At 40, he’s a young man by every standard except that of a professional athlete. It’s only through that lens does the week of Nov. 10 make sense for Jalen Rose.
On Nov. 11 he tweeted that it was snowing in Detroit. The next day Mr. Rose did College Gameday at the United Center where four of the top five teams — Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky and Duke — played two riveting, highly watched games. The next morning he hopped on a 7 a.m. flight for an NBA Countdown meeting. On Friday he did the show with Bill Simmons and his good friend Sage Steele. None of that accounts for briefings on what’s happening on the school he founded. Mr. Rose also has a book coming in 2014 and founded Three Tier Entertainment, the production company that produced the Fab 5 documentary with ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.
“Jalen had College Gameday last night and flew in this morning from Chicago on a 7 a.m. flight, and he didn’t miss a beat,” Countdown coordinating producer Amina Hussein wrote in an email. “He’s just a tireless worker. Like that first kid in the gym, always working on his craft.”
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Mr. Rose made well over $100 million over the course of his playing career. So why is he working so much?
Is it the failure associated with not winning a national championship as a member of the University of Michigan? The sting of having never met Jimmy Walker, the No. 1 pick of the 1967 draft, who, it should be noted, happens to be his late father? Is it the work ethic he honed on the basketball court, the same attitude about work that seems encapsulated by the phrase Detroit vs. Everybody?
For Mr. Rose, it is a simple equation.
“The more I build up Jalen, the more I build up JRLA.”
He spoke by phone from Los Angeles, fresh out of a meeting for Countdown which ended in time for staffers to watch Game 1 of the World Series.
“I wasn’t a Hall of Fame player. I wasn’t a 10-time All-Star. I don’t have people just closing their eyes willing to give me a blank check. So I really have got to roll up my sleeves and be committed to do it. It allows me to be a beacon and a champion for the cause of graduating young men and women from high school and college.”
Rise of a multi-media superstar
Separately, Grantland founder Bill Simmons and former NBA star Jalen Rose are appealing–as producers of crowd-pleasing content (Mr. Simmons produces a reader-driven mailbag column and Mr. Rose’s mantra comes from the O’Jays’ “Give the People What They Want” ), both healthily obsessed with the NBA. Together they are one of the most interesting duos at ESPN, which has had success pairing personalities (i.e. the inseparable Jemele Hill and Michael Smith; in the past year they have launched a successful podcast and are a formidable duo on Numbers Never Lie). Mr. Simmons and Mr. Rose have developed an on-camera chemistry that makes Mike & Mike look like a failed experiment.
Mr. Simmons’ Book of Basketball has been called a Bible for hoops. His status has, of all things possible, afforded him a lengthy interview with the reclusive Bill Russell, in his home for hours on end. Mr. Rose however has finagled his chemistry with Mr. Simmons, his devotion to entertainment value and lasting connectedness to the league to emerge as one of ESPN’s most versatile talents. He knows college hoops and the pros with extensive contacts across the coaching and management ranks. He’s developed into an excellent studio analyst. His foray into multimedia has been marked by his work on the Internet, namely his podcast on the Grantland network.
Their chemistry was on full view during the Grantland-produced “Bill and Jalen’s 2013 NBA Preview”, a series of 18-20 minute videos which ranked and discussed each NBA team’s season. The videos analyzed shot charts of specific players, explored summer roster moves and let Rose loose on the topic of the city’s nightlife offerings.
Had he anticipated the experiment to be as huge as it was? “I actually did,” Mr. Rose says without hesitation. “That’s why we did them.”
In one sitting, Mr. Rose says, he, Mr. Simmons and the producers sat there for seven straight hours without eating or using the bathroom, and did it again the second day for five hours. “And the last time we did it for three-and-a-half.”
Grantland insiders aren’t shy about how grueling the process was, and Mr. Simmons, for his part seemed to feign mild resentment, saying at the end of the series, “That was a lot of work. I don’t know if we’re ever doing this again. It might have ended [David] Jacoby’s marriage, and I know it almost ended mine.”
But to Mr. Rose it represents the kind of dedication it takes to deliver content people will gravitate to, the kind he insists they want. “We wanted to show commitment to it. That’s like the work that you put in in the gym during practice that people don’t see. It’s a good lesson for young people that want to get into this industry. If you’re fortunate to be talented enough, you’ve still got to do the research and put the work in.”
Mr. Rose’s determination last year was crucial to last year’s NBA Countdown show, which featured Mr. Simmons and Mr. Rose, but also Magic Johnson and Michael Wilbon — both whom have since departed. Without a regular host, Mr. Rose welcomed the challenge of getting the broadcast in and out of breaks and sometimes pivot the discussion, Hussein said.
“I almost feel like we did him a disservice,” she said laughing recently. “But the fact that he was willing to take on that challenge speaks to his personality and the competitor in him. He’s definitely excited about challenges and he loves what he does, and always wants to do more. The benefit of having Sage [Steele] is now he’s solely an analyst. I think now he can focus solely on his points and formulating his opinions.”
ESPN extended Mrs. Steele’s contract in October, making her part of the Countdown team. She and Mr. Rose knew each other from when he played for the Indiana Pacers and she was a reporter at the local CBS affiliate.
“I’m an interesting linchpin because I’ve gotten the chance to work with each one of these individuals in my last 12 years doing media,” Mr. Rose said of Mr. Simmons, Mrs. Steele and new addition Doug Collins. “It’s our job to not try and emulate the previous edition. We need to be informative, funny, current and the type of show that when people watch, feel like they learned something that they didn’t know. The product speaks for itself.”
As for the new look and feel of the show, Mr. Rose vehemently denies that Simmons had anything to do with Johnson’s departure from the show, a rumor that had been promulgated by the sports blog Deadspin. Hearing of the rumor, he says was, “almost like being on a team in the locker room and knowing certain guys’ dynamic on the team, then you read something in the newspaper that’s totally off the team dynamic.”
“Magic Johnson,” he continued, “is one of the most successful people that just happens to play basketball in the world — he’s a Hall of Fame mogul. And I love Bill Simmons. But if somebody actually thinks that Bill Simmons has the power to run Magic Johnson off of anything … Magic Johnson could probably own Bill Simmons’ house right now if he wanted to.”
‘You know things’
David Jacoby, Grantland’s do-it-all producer, to use a basketball metaphor, finds Mr. Rose in his sweet spot, to use a basketball metaphor — giving him the ball where he likes it.
It was late October of 2012 when Rose correctly predicted that James Harden was going to be traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder. On the next Jalen Rose Report, Mr. Jacoby went all Rondo on the mic.
Mr. Rose broke into his trademark opening. “Got to give the peopleeeeeee … GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT! GOT TO GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED!!!”
“You know what the people want, Jalen?” Mr. Jacoby asked. “The people want the NBA season. And the people want NBA news.”
“Yes! The NBA is fantastic and I am so glad the league is back.”
“It is happening. The league started really coming back into the forefront late Saturday night — James Harden dealt to the Rockets. When you got this news what was the first thing you thought of?”
“I need to be Miss Cleo, because I just predicted it on our NBA show.”
“The first thing I said was that James Harden would be traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder.”
Ms. Hussein was watching the night Rose, emboldened by Mr. Harden’s refusal to sign a 4-year $55 million deal, predicted the star guard was about to be shipped.
“I remember when he said it. I was just sitting on my couch, thinking ‘Oh, Jalen, they’ll figure out a way to pay him … ”
It’s why Mr. Simmons paused during the preview of the Charlotte Bobcats when Mr. Rose predicted that Michael Jordan would come out of retirement and play one game this season.
“The thing about you,” Mr. Simmons said, “is you know things.”
What separates Mr. Rose from his peers is perhaps best described as a succinct knowledge and understanding of the type of alternative content people are interested in, aside from x’s and o’s and analysis of the games. It’s evident on topics Mr. Rose expounds on — pregame rituals (naps, meals), financial pressures rookies face, to being on the court when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points.
“He’s an epic storyteller,” said an insider at ESPN.
And, really, it’s no wonder: Mr. Rose, very early on, understood the entertainment value he brought as a freshman at Michigan. They filled gyms from Lansing to West Lafayette. They wore long shorts, cut their heads bald and forever connected hip-hop culture and basketball; it’s now a world where you don’t have one without the other.
From court vision, to a vision for the future, his basketball career could be interpreted as a series of calculated risks.
Mr. Rose captured the imagination of a generation with his style of play. A smooth, tall lefty point guard who modeled his game after Magic Johnson; he eventually developed a post-game, but it was taking a chance. It was a risk, in 2002, to tell a reporter from Fox Sports Net that he took money from former Michigan booster Ed Martin, who was facing federal conspiracy charges. That’s to say nothing of his outspokenness as a Michigan player,
Mr. Rose, however, does not consider those “risks.”
“In 2011, Detroit Public Schools said its 2010 graduation rate increased to 62 percent and its dropout rate declined to 19 percent,” he wrote earlier this year for the Huffington Post. “These numbers, which are an improvement since 2009, are dismal. Detroit needs and deserves better schools to provide more opportunities for its children, and its workforce.”
“The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is a success story that will one day bear replication; creating educational and professional opportunities in Detroit is important and necessary,” Mr. Rose said. “And it’s not, as some funders would have you believe, risky.”
“In fact, it’s risky not to.”