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ESQUIRE.com: Jalen Rose Sounds Off on Resting NBA Stars: ‘Don’t Like It, Won’t Like It, Will Never Like It’

May 3, 2017

Plus, the ESPN commentator breaks down how NBA partying has changed through the years.
BY JACK HOLMES

While he admits he was never an “all-time great,” Rose is also one of the most well-liked professional athletes in recent memory. The evidence is in the names: Nobody in the public eye was named Jalen before Rose appeared on the scene as part of the University of Michigan’s Fab Five, but an army of Jalens played in this year’s NCAA tournament. We caught up with Rose for his take on his popularity, what lies ahead in the NBA playoffs, and NBA party culture.

What do you see ahead in this second round?

I think when it all shakes out, we’ll have our first trilogy in NBA Finals history: the Golden State Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unless there’s a catastrophic injury, I anticipate those two teams will make it back to the Finals. The Golden State Warriors have four All-Stars. The Cleveland Cavaliers have three. The question for them is, can they get their best players to elevate their level?

Who do you have for MVP?

Russell Westbrook. Coming into the season, the storyline wasn’t necessarily, “Kevin Durant decided to join the Golden State Warriors to see how many championships he could win.” The narrative was he left because he felt like he couldn’t win with Russell. That’s what people made it all season—not Durant and Westbrook, but the media and fans.

Westbrook had shown flashes of being an all-NBA performer and getting triple-doubles over the last couple years, particularly when Durant got injured. But for him to elevate his game the way he did—usually the guy who leads the league in scoring isn’t in the top three in assists and also lead his team in rebounds. He averaged a triple-double over an entire season for the first time in 55 years. The 50-point triple-doubles were amazing. But ultimately his ferocity and his focus and his discipline to play with reckless abandon carried a team to the playoffs, and it was phenomenal to watch.

The Celtics are quite a story this season. Did you see them beating out the Cavs for a one seed?

No one saw that. Unless you’re in the Celtics organization, nobody can say they saw that coming. And it’s an impressive feat to win the number-one seed when the Cavaliers still have LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love playing at All-Star levels. LeBron is still at an MVP level. That’s a terrific feat for a Celtics team that was built through the draft for the most part. You add Al Horford in the offseason, and all of a sudden Brad Stevens and Isaiah Thomas elevated their level of play.

They are the best-positioned team, currently: they won a number one seed, and yet have a chance to get the number one pick. That just never happens.

Where do you stand on resting players?

Don’t like it, won’t like it, will never like it. I’m all for players extending their careers, and I’m all for trying to be as healthy as possible for the playoff run. But there’s two separate seasons. In the regular season, you get paid to play 82 games. It’s not a right of privilege [to play only as many games as you want]—if it was, many players fortunate enough to play 10 years in the league could have played four or five more.

Plus, what does it do to the fans? You never want to take advantage of your customers. We talk a lot about which sport is most popular. Off reflex, people usually say football. But basketball players are more visible and notable, looking at commercials or the Forbes list or social media. In the NFL, you talk about protecting the shield. People go to watch the helmets play. In the NBA, the logo is a player: Jerry West. The league promotes the players. That’s what you’re selling the fans. It’s not just an obligation of the superstars to play 82 games—it’s an obligation for Brook Lopez playing for the Nets, because he’s their best player. That helps the integrity of the game, and it shows a level of appreciation for the paying customer, because they get to see what you promote.

Basketball is not like football: It’s not a car accident happening every play. Over the nine months, you can rest in practice and take off some minutes in games. But let me take you behind the curtain: Players don’t want to play half the game as opposed to 35 minutes, because that ruins their stats. It’s all or nothing.

You talk a lot about older players sticking around in the league to keep getting checks. Who impressed you in that department this season?

Definitely Vince Carter. He was playing quality minutes on a playoff team, and I played with Vince in Toronto 12 years ago. He’s been able to produce and age gracefully, versus a player like Paul Pierce, in the last couple of years because Vince is one of the greatest athletes that the NBA has seen. He can’t jump as high [as he once could], but he can still almost jump higher than anybody else. We were in the arena one night and [Carter’s Grizzlies] were playing the Clippers. I was like, “Vince, show these boys you can still do a 360 real quick.”

You talk a lot about “champagning and campaigning” back when you were in the league, but do you think it’s different now?

[When I played], you could be out at the club as a professional athlete or public figure without it having a negative or detrimental impact to you. Those days are virtually over. You can still do it, but you see a lot more horror stories happening with it now that people have social media. Just being out and about in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whether it’s altercations with other partygoers, for example, with Jahlil Okafor in Boston. Or even Thabo Sefolosha in New York City.

How did you get involved with education, and with the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy?

I always prided myself on trying to break the stigma of the “dumb jock.” I was fortunate to be a McDonald’s All-American, but I was also an honor roll student. I was a member of the Fab Five at the University of Michigan, but I was also on the Dean’s List there. I took pride in my education. When I started my foundation around 2000, education was the main cause we were passionate about, and I started to influence five public school students each year via scholarship.

The academy opened in 2011 as a tuition-free, open enrollment public charter school influencing the toughest demo of impoverished young people that truly needed quality high schools in the inner city. Ninety percent aren’t doing math at a ninth-grade level. Eighty-five percent aren’t reading at a ninth-grade level. We’re going to be with you for eight years: the four years you should be in high school, and the four years that young people should be in college. That’s where goals and dreams go awry—during that eight-year period.

Do you think charter schools are an important tool for creating opportunity?

I don’t care if it’s a public school or charter school or magic school or home schooling. My goal is just to make sure young people have a quality school to go to—and yes, charter schools represent that. Now, are there poor performing situations to all those I’ve just described? Of course. But charter schools, to me, represent that healthy balance for that student that doesn’t want to go to that high school in their neighborhood that’s been crappy for 35 years.

A lot of college players popped up this year with the name Jalen. How does it feel to have so many players named after you?

It’s the ultimate tribute to my mom. I had no choice in the name—it’s a combination of my biological father, James, and my uncle Leonard, who took me to the hospital to give birth. But it’s humbling, because I know the strength in titles and in names. If people don’t like you, they’re not going to name their kid after you.

Also, the unique thing is I’m not an all-time great. It’s one thing to have kids named Denzel or Shaq. But also, all those kids are black. In my case, they’re multiple races and ethnicities who’ve named their kids Jalen, and also girls named Jalen. So I’m truly honored. It’s almost like another level of responsibility that I carry—to be disciplined, to be responsible. I know I’m getting old when I’m calling the NBA Draft and a player named Jalen is drafted, or there’s a player in the NFL named Jalen.

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