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2005: TORONTO STAR – The Image of his Father

June 23, 2008

October 8, 2005 — Jalen Rose, Toronto’s highest-paid athlete, is a
chip off the hoops block, the son of a No.1 draft pick. He’s also never
forgotten his beginnings in Motown, with a mom who struggled just to
pay the gas bill…

ST. CATHARINES – Caught clowning in the gym at St. Cecilia’s school,
Jalen Rose, age 12, was ushered to the office of the athletic director.

The latter knew potential, knew young Jalen was burying mounds beneath
a not-so-serious streak and the thick skin that grows on every child
born to forsaken Detroit.

So he showed the kid some grainy film of a bygone local legend, a
muscular hoops star who’d gone on to become the No.1 pick in the 1967
NBA draft. The legend’s name was Jimmy Walker. Walker was Rose’s
biological father.

And though the son knew of his father, it wasn’t until that day, in the
flicker of that old film projector, that Jalen Rose knew exactly what
he’d inherited. He was his father’s son, a spitting image, a budding
talent. He was predisposed to be a pro. But the talent came tethered to
the sad reality of his old man’s mistakes.

"It was a gift and a curse," Rose says, untying his sneakers after a
workout at Raptors training camp. "Sometimes I took pride in (being
Walker’s son) and used it as a badge of honour, and sometimes it
fuelled my fire and created some resentment. Because I probably felt
like the living situation I was in growing up, with a single parent
raising four kids, probably didn’t (befit) the lifestyle that the son
of a professional athlete should have."

Two decades later the lifestyle of professional athletes befits
low-level Mediterranean royalty. Rose is the highest-paid athlete in
Toronto since Carlos Delgado left for Florida, slated to make some
$15.6 million (all figures U.S.) this season. But he will still tell
you stories about kerosene heaters and hotplates, boiling water to wash
up because his mother Jeanne, who raised her children on her wages at a
Chrysler plant, couldn’t always afford to pay the gas bill.

But he will not tell you many stories about his father, because to this day he hasn’t met the man. And yet, he can’t escape him.

Just the other day at training camp, for instance, Eric Williams took Rose aside and laughed.

"I said, `Man, I’ll be damned if you don’t look just like your father,’" said Williams. "He’s Jimmy Walker all over again."

Williams knows of what he speaks. Both he and Walker are alumni of
Providence College, where Walker remains one of the school’s all-time
hoops heroes.

Rose, for his part, is no longer a fixture in the NCAA record books. In
the wake of a scandal in which a former University of Michigan booster
admitted under oath to giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to
Rose’s Fab 5 teammate Chris Webber, among others, the university
stripped two Final Four banners from the rafters and expunged Webber’s
era from the record books.

Yet Rose, whose ascent to fame began as the Fab 5’s point guard and
chief trash talker, remains undeniably a household name. As a younger
man, he once opined that his greatest fear was death, "because I can’t
imagine a world without me."

He’s fan-friendly and media-savvy, to be sure, a regular contributor on
a long list of TV sports shows. And yet he’s never been an NBA
all-star, never been on a NBA championship team.

As the 32-year-old captain of a competitively challenged Raptors squad,
he’s more than three years removed from his last playoff game, reduced
to recounting old glories because new ones don’t loom.

"People don’t remember: Michael Jordan and Jalen Rose had a rivalry,"
says Rose. "I hear, `Jalen you don’t play D.’ Let me go to the vault
and pull out some old tapes, when Jalen’s role was to play D."

Archival footage hasn’t kept Rose from occasionally raising the ire of his coaches.

Larry Brown, Rose’s first of three coaches during a six-season run in
Indiana, was no fan, complaining that Rose was "convinced he’s Magic
Johnson," and not in a good way. Brown’s successor, Larry Bird, who
presided over the club when Rose led the NBA Finals in scoring in 2000,
had his quibbles.

"The one thing about Jalen ? some days in practice, he’s just not there," Bird once said.

And last season Sam Mitchell, the Raptors coach, removed Rose from the
starting lineup for a 16-game stretch, searching for, though not
finding, more defence.

Indeed, Rose has been categorized as an underachiever because he hasn’t
lived up to the seven-year, $93 million contract to which Indiana
signed him in 2000, which expires after next season. But Rose has been,
in many ways, damned by circumstance.

Playing for the Bulls and the Raptors during lottery-bound seasons
doesn’t do much for one’s stock as a big-game player, though there are
those who haven’t forgotten.

"I don’t think there’s a shot he can’t make," says Eric Williams.

He’s a near genetic copy of a certain Jimmy Walker, age 61, who lives
in Kansas City and didn’t return phone calls for this story.

Rose has had contact with his father in the past, by letter and by
phone and by archival footage, but there may come a day when he meets
his flesh and blood in the flesh.

"I am willing," said Rose. "I have no negative feelings. I’m happy with
the seed I was given. It’s a lucky gene. I got a direct seed from my
biological father.

"I had an opportunity to tell him that and he knows that, and I feel
good about that. But I feel like it’s still for us to meet. I want to
make that happen."

By Dave Feschuk – Toronto Star